Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

The moving Mugamma

For the past 60 years a fixture of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, could the government administration building the Mugamma be about to move, asks Mai Samih

The moving Mugamma
The moving Mugamma
Al-Ahram Weekly

The idea of moving the Tahrir Administrative Complex, or “Mugamma”, was first mooted by former governor of Cairo Abdel-Azim Wazir when he issued Decree 1455/2005 to move the offices currently hosted by the Mugamma building in order to ease traffic congestion in central Cairo. 

Wazir ordered a committee to be formed to arrange the process, but things came to a halt after the 25 January Revolution, with protesters laying siege to the Mugamma building in 2011 and then again in February 2013. However, last November calls again began to be made to move the offices housed in Mugamma.

But not everyone agrees. According to Ali Seddik, an employee at the Mugamma, it would be impractical to try to move the government offices the building houses elsewhere. “We need interventions to be made in order to avoid jeopardising people’s welfare,” Seddik said. “But the place is magnificent, and it would be difficult to find anywhere better to serve citizens from Marsa Matrouh to Aswan.”

Somaya Mohamed, a government employee who has been working in the district for 32 years and constantly visits the Mugamma, agrees. “We are used to this place. It would not be logical to move a government building to a faraway place just to avoid some troublemakers.” 

“Some people can barely afford to take a bus to come to Mugamma. How can the government expect them to go somewhere even further away, causing them to take yet more buses,” another employee asked, speaking under condition of anonymity.

“There are many departments in the Mugamma building that would be difficult to move,” said another employee. “The police should work more effectively to protect the building and those who work within it. But I think that what we are seeing now is only a temporary wave of protests that will fade away over time, so it would not be right for the government to respond by moving its offices.”

Another employee agreed. “They did not move the departments when we were in a better economic situation than we are in now. So how will they do it today,” he asked.

Raafat Mohamed, a street vendor, said that moving offices out of the Mugamma would not be an easy decision. “There are some 26 ministries in the building, and all of them will have to agree to leave. It can’t just be a unilateral decision on the part of the governorate of Cairo. Many employees live near the Mugamma, and their children go to schools nearby. It would be devastating if they were asked to move.”

Osama Abdel-Aal, manager of the Mugamma building, suggested a partial solution to present problems. “Because Tahrir Square is and always will be a place for demonstrations, I think that government departments that serve a lot of people should be moved and ones serving a limited number should remain in the building” in the interests of efficiency, he said.

Abdel-Aal listed some of the problems faced by workers in the Mugamma. “Some people come here to do paperwork, and then if they are not served quickly they start causing trouble. I advise people who want to do their paperwork efficiently first to find out exactly where they need to go. The Mugamma is efficiently secured from the inside, but we want it to be secured from the outside as well, such that no one will be able to close it down. At the moment, the doors of the Mugamma building are open 24 hours a day seven days a week without sufficient security,” he said.

If the government does intend to move offices out of the Mugamma building, there are steps it needs to take, Abdel-Aal said. “Some departments would take a lot of time to move, like the passport office, which would take around two to three years to move as it is attached to an electronic network connected to the airports and airline companies.”

Abdel-Aal also doubted whether anyone else besides the government would be interested in using the Mugamma. “What would happen to the building,” he asked. “It would be better for the government to use the building rather than rent it to a private company. Under present circumstances, investors would not be able to open their companies there anyway.”

According to Seddik, one way around current security concerns would be for the government to apply existing legislation. “The government should find a solution to the security problem by applying the demonstrations law,” he said.

The Mugamma, as most Egyptians call it, is the biggest government building in the country. There were already 10,000 employees working in the building in 1970, with some 5,000 visitors using the building each day. By 1992, the number of visitors had gone up to 50,000, and today the figure is around 35,000.

The complex houses 11 ministries, among them the ministries of the interior, education, higher education, social security, youth and sport, manpower and justice. It was initially built to save expense and to bring government departments together under one roof, making paperwork easier. The building has 13 floors and 1,400 offices. In 1971, the offices were reshuffled so that each ministry had its offices on the same floor. The building cost LE2 million to build and has been managed by the governorate of Cairo since 1960.

Abdel-Aal added to the profile of the Mugamma. “The Tahrir Mugamma was the first major administrative building in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East. It was built in 1950, and it was established to help end people’s administrative difficulties by grouping all the government departments they were likely to need in one place.”

In addition to the various ministries, the building also contains the offices of the Cairo governorate, those of some banks, the national telephone company and the post office.

According to Abdel-Aal, “the most important departments for most people are the passports and migration department, which serves many Egyptian citizens, Arabs, and foreigners, and the manpower department, which provides foreigners with work permits. Finally, there is the social affairs department that supervises non-governmental organisations.”

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