During our preparations at work before this Ramadan, the usual challenges needed to be addressed. First was that, apart from some corporates, Egyptians do not wake up early in Ramadan. They begin working after 1 p.m. and continue until an hour or two before Iftar, with some even beginning work after Iftar. There were also the perennial traffic issues: normally if you leave your office anytime in the three hours before Iftar, you ‘might’ make it home right on time to break your fast.
We had to manage this properly if we wanted to produce a daily newspaper and still have time to see our families during the holy month. We set up a whole system for the different sections, the plan was to work on the non-newsy pages in the morning, layout these pages early on because those do not need us to interact with anyone during the morning hours when people are still sleeping. Then by 1 p.m. we should begin our usual reporting, interviewing and phone calls. The plan also included working hours; we would have two shifts in order to cater for the traffic and the delay in beginning to work.
Everything was set up to cater for the Ramadan culture of our fellow Egyptians. But things did not go as planned. I was surprised to find absolutely no traffic jams in the couple of hours before Iftar as I headed home from work. The ring road from Dokki to New Cairo has seen no change, one would not imagine that it is six pm on a Ramadan day. I had high hopes that maybe our government had done something inventive, but I saw no traffic police. I had no idea what was going on.
Days passed and by now we are into the second week of the holy month and we are dealing with the second strange phenomenon: a reporter can only reach Egyptian sources in the early morning hours, and after 2 p.m. no one is available. I feel like this is a different country!
Whatever happened to Egyptians? When did this happen? No one has a clue and everyone is just as surprised as I am. Has the culture changed suddenly? Who changed it? And how come everyone is in agreement? Could it be some side effect of the revolution? Or Mursi’s call for work ethics?
Whatever the answer is, I am left with a not-working plan, a big mess instead of a carefully orchestrated way to send the paper to print and all around me people are following a new strategy: Egyptians decided to work during Ramadan!
(The writer is a columnist at the Egyptian Daily News, where this article was published on July 31, 2012)