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Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Trip to the Mogamma

We didn't obtain our Egypt visas from their consulate in Chicago for this year's visit.  Our plans were changing up until we left and so we took the more expedient route of buying a 30-day entrance visa at the Cairo airport which we could then renew downtown.

The seat of the Egyptian government's administrative affairs is this imposing building known as the Mogamma, located on the southern edge of Tahrir Square.

Its labyrinthine corridors curve gently to conceal their true length.  We only are familiar with the second floor which houses the "Administration of Immigration and Passport Control."  The marble corridors are lined on one side with offices, occasionally visible through a partially opened wooden door.  The halls are not only lined with offices, they're lined with hundreds of people waiting patiently for what, we can't even imagine.   A few of the offices have the formal seating you might expect in an upper-class private home, but most appear to contain desks and credenzas covered with tall piles of paper.  The opposite, and outward facing side of the corridors are lined with clerical workstations fronted by numbered windows where the administration grudgingly meets the public. They always make it seem as though we're interrupting their work.

Entry to the Mogamma is through a door near the center section of the bright sunny plaza.  Passing through the metal detectors leads one to the very dim center rotunda, past several security police apparently selected for their unusual tall height and places one at the foot of a dark marble stairway.  No matter what time one enters, the stairs are crowded with visitors both ascending and descending.  Reaching the second floor, another metal detector looms and the obvious westerners are waved quickly through while the swarthier patrons are given a close look - as is the case in almost all security checks here. It was a pat-down for locals here. Purses and bags of all patrons are X-rayed, of course.

Knowing the procedure from past experience, we sought out the visa application forms (window 12) and retreated to the first floor for photographs - no glasses, please.  A fee, a small tip for the photographer, another for the photo-trimmer and we were soon back passing through security on the second floor again.

With applications filled out, and pictures in place, we are directed to go to the bank.  Bank of Egypt has  a branch located conveniently about a hundred yards down the back hallway on this floor.  570 Egyptian pounds (about $30) apiece gets us the necessary paper to return to window 12.  The nice lady returns our passports with instructions to return the next day to Window 16 after 9:00 o'clock.  I repeat the instructions carefully and she confirms them.

This seems like an improvement over the previous experiences we have had - they kept the passports overnight at that time.  We had invested less than two hours and still had passports in hand.

The next day we arrived early and headed for window 16.  Now we're told we need to go to window 12.  At window 12, we surrendered our passports and were told to return at 1:00 to window 38.  (This section closes at 2:00 - don't be late!)

The scene at window 38 as 1:00 approaches is unlike anything you may have experienced, even in a dream.  People of all nationalities are crowded together pushing to be at the head of the line(s).  In total, I would guess there were close to 200 of us.  We were from China, Korea, Philippines, Turkey, Indonesia, Greece, France, Spain, England and various Arab and African countries.  A fellow from Yemen, living in Seattle, remarked that "It's the United Nations out here!"  The scene bore more than a passing resemblance to a mosh pit.

Distribution of passports with newly inserted visas began.  A lady with a soft voice and behind glass would call out an Arabic name, holding up a passport (she usually had her hand over the picture - not helpful.)   If the name was not Arabic, she called out the owner's country.  A man awaiting his visa near the front helpfully called out the country names again loudy in perfect English.  This was quite helpful since there was a different group of names being called out nearby by a clerk with a loudspeaker.

The passports would be passed back from hand to hand through the crowd.  Linda was handed and rejected a U.S. variety.  Those at the front of the crowd said the photo was hers but when she checked, she found it was a different blonde lady.  They all look alike, after all. Several others were similarly rejected by members of the crowd.  It took about 45 minutes before "America - Thomas" was called.  I responded with a loud "Yo!" - in US Army mail call fashion, and received mine.  Linda soon had hers as well.

Our second day at the Mogamma lasted four and a half hour hours.  Allowing for travel, you can pretty much call it a full days work.  Looking back at the experience we said, "It was kind of fun and kind of not fun." We're hoping that we have time for sending the passports to Chicago next year.


Aliza said...

We just completed Day 1 of the process. We arrived at 8:20 AM and were out of the building by 9:15 AM, ready for a cup of tea. (I had two, actually!) Let's hope tomorrow goes just as smoothly. Thanks for the instructions that helped get us through the first day so quickly, Tom!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the information. Is the building open Monday through Friday for visa extensions? I have been reading that you need a stamped rental contract, but is this necessary if you are just trying to extend a tourist visa for a month?

Thanks so much, Kim