How Egyptians use up their time in Ramadan
An Egyptian CEO acquaintance once told me: “I don’t start working before 2 p.m. in Ramadan.” At the time, sunset (Maghrib) was at 5 p.m., giving him just a couple of hours of work prior to heading home. In Egypt, the spirit of Ramadan is wonderful and is very much enjoyed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, productivity is completely absent during this month, as Egyptians believe they should be socially compensated for fasting.
We Egyptians spend the nighttime entertaining ourselves (eating, socializing and watching TV). We then restore our energy by sleeping through the morning hours of fasting (either at home or at work). “There isn’t a single entertaining soap opera,” many of my relatives and friends have said, expressing their disappointment at the quality of this year’s Egyptian television series during Ramadan. However, when I prompt them to use their valuable time for alternative activities, they decline to change their Ramadan ritual.
Each one of us has a total of 24 hours a day — either to invest in advancing their life or to spend on socializing. The returns we receive on our hourly pursuits depend on whether we invest our time in being more productive or in being better entertained. I am aware that education and ability play a role in providing people with better returns; however, I am a strong believer that hard-working and honest employees with minimal skills and aptitudes are often rewarded with a decent life.
Sadly, large numbers of my fellow Egyptians do not believe in this formula. The less fortunate believe their daily suffering should be balanced by some entertainment, while the fortunate few don’t provide good examples or guidelines. As a result, we are left with an unproductive society. Meanwhile, although the government could play a better role in leading and motivating its workforce, it tends instead to rely on a few affiliates, completely giving up on pulling the fruitless majority forward.
The efficiency of government won’t count for much if the working society is itself inefficient.
The Egyptian government, like the governments of many other Muslim nations, reduces official working hours during Ramadan, from eight to six hours daily. Whereas the West has invented “flexible working hours,” in Egypt we have adopted “convenient working hours.” For many Egyptian executives, their working hours depend on their sleeping habits, meaning they only arrive at their respective offices after having gotten the rest they desire. In fact, six productive hours could be more beneficial than eight unfruitful ones, but our society is lacking in productivity; in Ramadan as well as in the remaining months of the year.
This year, Egyptian TV is broadcasting soap operas for only a few minutes before they are interrupted by commercial breaks that triple the length of the show, annoying audiences who have surrendered to being the victims of our entertainers and clear commercial targets. Egyptians are complaining that one of our famous comic actors is earning an excessive fee (60 million Egyptian pounds) for his role in this year’s Ramadan TV series. They don’t realize that, by watching these mindless TV shows, they are indirectly paying his fee.
The only way to improve living standards is to be more productive. I tend to criticize our government for its ineffective expenditures, but the efficiency of government won’t count for much if the working society is itself inefficient. The holy month of Ramadan could be better spent thinking of the best methods for advancing our lives. Wasting hours glued to tasteless soap operas will leave us living in this vicious circle of poverty and illiteracy forever.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.