Monday, April 5, 2010

Electronic Government in Egypt

By Dr. Amani Amin

Over the past twenty years or so, I have lived in Paris,Washington, Harare and Geneva longer than in my city of birth, Cairo. While this makes me feel a foreigner in my own city, it has given me the privilege of being able to see Egypt from a different perspective and empowered me with some objectivity.

It goes without saying, that upon each return to Cairo I observe changes - some for the better some for the worse. However the most striking change lies not in the city itself but rather in its inhabitants and quoting Dr. Galal Amin’s interesting book I ask: “Whatever happened to the Egyptians?"
Delving into the many philosophical or sociological aspects of this question is not my purpose here. I simply need to know why we have become so negative? Why is it that we can only see the glass half empty?
Everywhere I go, friends and family do nothing but complain and, frankly, I worry about the impact this may have on my sons who do not know Egypt as well as I do.

I feel fortunate that I can see things differently, that for every instance where one may find reason to complain, there are so many others we should be thankful for. The nascent Egyptian electronic government is just one example of many success stories we should be proud of. It is one simple example that I have experienced first hand and would like to share with you.

My family and I have been back in Cairo for over a year. Last year, to renew our car’s license, we first had to pay the fees at the post office, then we wasted two full workdays at the Agouza traffic center. The new license was already an achievement compared with the long lines in the sun one had to go through a few years ago. This time around, when the renewal date came up, I remembered an article I had skimmed through about the Egyptian e-government and how it had become possible to renew one’s license over the internet. Dream on, I had said to myself at the time, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

I went online to find a neat web site. After registration, I was given access to all services and proceeded to the car license renewal service. I was asked for the car’s license and motor numbers and on submitting them, a page appeared with all my car details and exactly how much renewal would cost. I was given the choice to either pay by credit card or upon delivery and my preferred time for the delivery to take place. When I made my selection I was informed that an agent would promptly deliver my license. Still skeptical, I e-mailed to ask how many days it was expected to take. Since it was late in the evening, I hoped for a reply the following day.

Instead, the next day at noon, I received a call on my mobile phone from a Mr. Mohamed who said he was from Giza Traffic Department and that my new license was ready for delivery. At 4 pm Mr. Mohamed arrived and I had my new license. The process online took ten minutes. Mr. Mohamed’s visit to my home took less than five.

Moreover, a few hours later I received a polite response to my e-mail from Mr. Korani, the director of the computer department to check if I had received my license at the agreed time.

This was not the States or Geneva or Paris. This happened right here in my hometown and it makes me proud. My sincere thanks go to all the people responsible for this success story. I am sure the ministries of the interior and telecommunications are doing something right. There must be many right people in the right places because they have proved it to me, the citizen, first hand. My special thanks go to Mr. Mohamed who delivered my license and to Mr. Korani who saw to it that the system worked and that my e-mail was replied to. I bow in gratitude and admiration to each and everyone behind Egypt’s electronic government.

To my fellow Egyptian citizens, to my sons, this story is for and about you. This story is about “My Egypt”, the Egypt that dwells in my heart wherever I go.

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