Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Letters from Egypt: Work is Overrated

I make no quams about my disdain for the typical Egyptian work mentality. I know you’re probably wondering exactly what that entails and I have to say, it is very little. And I mean working VERY LITTLE. Some people might say Cairo is one of the cities “that never sleeps.” FALSE! Cairo sleeps, just not until after 4 am and then many sleep throughout the daylight hours.

If you wake up to go to work before 9 am, you’re one of the few (and mostly only foreigners are doing this with a few Egyptian exceptions). Employees stroll into the office after 10 am, but expect to leave at 5 pm (and sometimes even earlier). No call, no shows run rampant. Giving a two-week’s notice is so preposterous that I have to wonder if it has ever been heard of. And even more so, the excuses you will hear constantly as to why the smallest work task wasn’t completed will definitely beat Saved by the Bell’s Zach Morris’ lines any day.

And why shouldn’t the people act in such a manner? It isn’t as though the Egyptian government provides a better example. In fact, the government is also a fan of as little work as possible proclaiming a new national holiday just days before the actual “holiday” (which makes me wonder if the Mubarak administration pre-empts a hangover because a big party is going to occur, and decides to make up a day so officials can recuperate).

Monday (January 25) was announced National Police Day only two weeks prior to the event. That leads me to another lingering question – what exactly are we celebrating – the police falling asleep on the job? It isn’t for traffic control, safety or even to disburse potential riots (you might want to go to the military personnel for those). However, the country allotted yet ANOTHER day off from work. Yet, the country wonders why it lags behind economically, politically and socially. (Picture source: Andy Simonsen)

Egypt has an abundance of natural resources, a strong tourism industry, and many other amenities that should propel it to be the leader of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. And while you could tap into many reasons as to why it is still considered a Third World, I’m only going to touch base on one major issue: getting out of bed during regular business hours.

Giving the country a new day off only hinders progression in every sector. Sure, you can talk about the education and poverty levels. How can a decent education be provided when schools are shut for long periods of time over the H1N1 scare (although it has been contained, yet here in Egypt, apparently more time should be taken) and a new holiday being issued adds on leaving very few days to learn. In addition, many upper class Egyptian families pull their kids from school early in order to travel abroad for the summer term.

Just to give you an idea, here’s a school schedule of the days that a friend teaching at a local international school has off (June 17 will also be the last day):

Teachers started work on 17 Aug
Students started 27 Sep (delayed until after Eid as per ministry)
6 Oct holiday
Thanksgiving 26 Nov until 6 Dec. (ministry added a week on for H1N1 scare coming from Saudi Arabia)
Christmas 18 Dec until 3 Jan
Coptic Christmas 7 Jan
25 Jan National Police Day

Deducting all the holidays, the five day school week totals 71 days thus far this particular school has conducted. For a more realistic figure, you would need to also factor in a child’s number of absenses (which if the adult world is of any indicator, I’m sure it’s relatively high). The Mackinac Center for Public Policy cited that “some countries, such as Korea and Japan, average more than 200 days of school per year.” According to "Market Education: The Unknown History," by Andrew Coulson, in 1909-1910, the average American student spent 113 days in school. By 1969-1970 that average had climbed to 161 school days; today that number is approaching 180 days.

How can businesses make any money when they’re forced to give employees off for such ridiculous things as National Police Day (once again, created maybe two weeks prior)? This is in addition to the standard vacation time and let’s not forget the average work day during Ramadan...

The book called Don’t They Know It’s Friday is about doing business in the Middle East. I wonder if the author has included what it’s like in Egypt…with business almost nonexistent.


Eat of the Week:

El Chico

Located in City Stars mall in Nasr City (same floor as the cinema)

A popular chain throughout the US, El Chico is your chance to satisfy that craving for TexMex. I went before watching the release of Sherlock Holmes and was pleasantly surprised. Have I had better Mexican food? Of course, I lived in Tucson, Ariz. for a year. However, for Egypt, not bad…not bad at all. My neighbor is from Texas and swears by this place. I enjoyed the chicken and spinach enchiladas with my neighbor recommending the nachos.

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