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  • Thursday ,17 September 2009

An extra month's holiday for some…

By-Mohssen Arishie-The Egyptian Gazette

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Wednesday ,16 September 2009

An extra month's holiday for some…

Citizens across Egypt have almost stopped visiting governmental offices entirely, because they say it's impossible to get civil servants to do anything for them during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Anyone wanting to get something accomplished in a governmental office during Ramadan is simply wasting their time and effort, they add. It's a tradition for governmental employees in Ramadan to become lethargic, as they fast during working hours. “Civil servants are 'out of service' during the holy fasting month,” quips Mahmoud Othman, a 45-year-old shopkeeper. “It's better to avoid them altogether during Ramadan. Some years ago, I ran into an embarrassing situation in the municipal offices in el-Sayyeda Zeinab [southern Cairo],” he says. Othman's family had decided to tear down an old house they owned in the district and replace it with a high-rise. “I remember walking into the municipal offices with my uncles, as we wanted a demolition licence. It was Ramadan, but no-one wanted to talk to us. “Of course, we were going to liberally grease their palms for their help, but they said do us a favour and come back after Ramadan,” recalls Othman. Ramadan, during which Muslims have to abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, is expected to end on Saturday. The fact that 'greasing employees' palms' is a euphemism for bribery should explain why the officials refused to negotiate the size of the bribe with Othman's uncles until the spiritual month was over. “Employees refuse to accept bribes in Ramadan, because they don't want to squander the spiritual value of the holy month,” he said sarcastically. Therefore, civil servants spend their working hours in Ramadan reading Islam's holy book the Qur'an, repeating to themselves the holy names of Allah on prayer beads or gently resting their heads on their arms on the desks, until they're roused from their slumbers and told to go home. Sami Farag, an entrepreneur, who had a similar experience with a different municipality, says that if these people were really observing the practices of their religion properly, they would work even harder in Ramadan than at any other time of the year. “Working hours are reduced in governmental offices in Ramadan," he said. "As a result, lethargic employees, who normally do very little work anyway, do even less during the holy month!”