In order to renew my weapon licence, I was required to take a medical examination that had not been required previously. The Ministry of the Interior stipulated that this medical exam should be administered at its Security Camp in Medinat Al-Salam off the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road. I kept postponing going there, unable to face the prospect of confusion and chaos to which government departments have accustomed us for decades. Perhaps Egypt is one of those rare where dealing with the bureaucracy requires a fixer, a person who bears the brunt of the red tape, all those documents and stamps, journeys in and out of offices and convoluted procedures usually ending with “Come back tomorrow”. You cannot send a fixer to take a medical exam in your stead, however.
That is how I ended up going to the camp in the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road, come what may. But there was a surprise in store, starting at the camp gate where I found a decent man awaiting for me as if he knew beforehand of my arrival time, which he couldn’t have. I’d made up my mind to get rid of that weapon, which I inherited from my father and is of no use to me. I only ever remember once a year for fear of becoming the owner of an unlicenced weapon. The man asked for my identity card and handed me a receipt informing me that they would ask for it inside, then he gave detailed directions to the person who was driving me.
As for the second surprise, it was the medical building, which I found tidy and clean, and I was guided to go to one of the upper floors through an elevator in good condition. When I reached the intended place, I found a woman who seemed to be a nurse or doctor’s assistant. She collected everyone’s papers in an orderly way before leading us to a spacious, clean hall, clarifying that there was a cafeteria attached for those who might want to use it. She left us all in shock. A few minutes later the same nurse came to accompany me to the examination room where a qualified specialist examined me for internal, ophthalmological and psychological faults before asking me to go back to the hall where they would hand me the certificate.
In the hall I ran into a friend, Mahmoud Murad, the son of the late politician Mustafa Kamel Murad, with whom I have old family ties. I noticed he was accompanied by an acquaintance, a police general with enough official clout to ease the bureaucratic burden. But the whole process took less than an hour and went very smoothly – a very pleasant experience.
It may be argued that this camp is the exception, but in the same week I was similarly surprised at the Tax Authority in Maadi. An elegant venue that had me wondering whether I got the address wrong, a polite and efficient receptionist, and smiling government employees all confirmed my belief that Egypt is indeed changing. It is changing in silence, without hubbub but in gradual steps that some may not even notice. For the development that Egypt is witnessing right now isn’t confined, as some propagate, to constructing roads and bridges. Bridges are what everybody sees every day but we are also building the biggest solar power plant in the world and the biggest fish farm in the Middle East, and we are clearly modernising government services. I have no doubt that the new republic will see the same kind progress in every other aspect of life after ending emergency law, declaring a National Strategy for Human Rights and reorganising the National Council for Human Rights – not to mention the recent prison releases.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.