To the Mogamma! Visa Renewals and a Visit to Tahrir

The past two days have involved a great and perilous adventure known as Renewing my Visa. Permission to Remain in the Country needed to be Obtained. While normally this activity is not problematic in Egypt, since foreigners usually bring needed money, the matter of recent  events has made engagements with the bureaucracy less predictable than normal. Rumors were circulating that visa renewals were getting more difficult, with one Egyptian newspaper claiming (in sensationalist manner) that foreigners should just stay away or go home. 

Nevertheless, I had no plans for leaving, and my visa was expired. Which meant that I had to brave the journey to Tahrir to visit the dreaded Mogamma–an enormous government office building that is the scourge of everyone who needs more than a 30-day standard tourist stay. A gift of the Soviet Union in 1952, the Mogamma remains a bastion of Soviet-Era efficiency and charm in the heart of Egypt.

Hence the  dread.

I arrived  shortly after the 9am opening time on Tuesday, accompanied by my housemates (one of whom also needed her visa renewed–misery requires solidadrity). Tahrir was relatively quiet, but closed to automobile traffic and Occupied by a number of makeshift tents. In January and July of this year, revolutionary activities actually blockaded the Mogamma building. Fortunately, the current protests aren’t denying access.

Photos of Tahrir are currently frowned upon. I tried to be discreet.

El Tahrir Square, with the Mogamma in the background

My efforts at discretion were probably unsuccessful.

Tents in front of the Mogamma in Tahrir

Inside the Mogamma, there was first the fairly painless line to get my passport and visa photocopied.  Then there was the first window, to get the paperwork for a re-entry visa, followed by a second window to get the visa extension paperwork. A third window sold me stamps to pay for my visa extension, which I brought back to the second window, which sent me back to the third window because my first set of stamps was insufficient, and back downstairs for another photocopy of my visa page. Back at the second window, I dropped off my passport, extension paperwork, pile of stamps, photocopies, and supplemental passport photo, and was instructed to come back in two hours to window number 38.

While this process was annoying, it was actually made better by the fact that there’s a fairly low volume of tourists right now.  Last time I renewed my visa, the process was comparable, but complicated at each window by nearly endless queues. At least this time around, the queues were short.

Two hours later, after lunch in the khan-el-khalili, we returned to the Mogamma and the fabled Window 38, where a woman held up stacks of papers with passport photos attached. When you recognize your photo/paperstack in the window, your visa is done. In my case, though, because I needed both the extension (now finished) and the re-entry (unable to be processed simultaneously), I had to take my newly-returned passport back to window number one, where I was told that it would be ready the following morning.

So. They didn’t fail to renew my visa, or order me out of the country, or otherwise tell me that I couldn’t stay. My foreign self is still welcome. But because bureaucracy is never done, my visa was not actually ready the following morning.

It was ready ten minutes past closing time, the following afternoon.

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