Fears of being exploited to lay off government employees… A new experience to work from home in Egypt

Cairo – Before Ibrahim Salem – a recent returnee from Sudan, who is witnessing a stifling crisis – gathered some of his psychological and physical safety, he was surprised a few days ago by the decision to transfer him among a large number of Ministry of Education employees to the new headquarters of the ministry in the government district in the Administrative Capital.

Until recently, Salem was stable in his work within the Egyptian educational mission team in Sudan, but the crisis in Sudan turned everything upside down, as he tells Al-Jazeera Net, and he became concerned about the news of the administrative capital and the way to get there from the city of "Al-Ayyat" in the south of Giza, On a journey that takes about 4 hours, one way, and the same back by public transportation.

Salem was not optimistic about announcing the start of the "remote work" experiment, which will last for 6 months, before it is circulated to all sectors of the state's administrative apparatus, as part of a government treatment to overcome the distance between the employees' residence and the new workplace, which is about 70 km from the heart of Cairo. East direction, as well as other travel distances from the suburbs to it.

The government experiment aims to reduce the number of times the employee attends his workplace in the new capital to only twice a week, but Maher Abdel Mohsen, an accountant at the Ministry of Health's general office, questions the feasibility of applying this, and expects what he calls the daily journey of torment to continue.

Abdel Mohsen also expects, in his interview with Al-Jazeera Net, that the experiment will not lead to practical results, and he explains, "Remote work is not suitable for Egypt in its current circumstances, due to technical problems in communication via the Internet."

The government meeting in the presence of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in its new headquarters in the Administrative Capital (from the official website of the Administrative Capital)
The government meeting in the presence of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in its new headquarters in the Administrative Capital (the official website of the Administrative Capital)

success and fears

On the other hand, the Ministry of Communications – which is concerned with supervising the digital transformation of the government neighborhood in the Administrative Capital – expects the success of the experiment and confirms the efficiency of the equipment.

However, a member of the technical team (who refused to be named) admits to deficiencies in some technical matters, indicating that the employee himself needs a long preparation period, with his help with suitable communication devices and the Internet, before he can communicate with the required competence with his employer within the government district.

A member of the technical team at the Ministry of Communications said that the fixed internet speed in Egypt witnessed stability during the first quarter of this year, as the service speed reached 47.6 megabytes at the end of last March, while the global average is 75 megabytes, indicating that Egypt is the highest in Africa.

He also mentioned that the government appointed an advisor for digital transformation affairs for each minister to facilitate the transition process, adding that a partial success of the idea of remote work appeared during the Corona crisis, which encouraged the government to move forward in this direction.

A picture of the government district from the official website of the Administrative Capital
The government district in the Administrative Capital is waiting for the completion of the transfer of employees (the official website of the Administrative Capital)

Spending rationalization

As for the government, which will pay 4 billion pounds annually ($130 million) as a rental value for its new headquarters to the Administrative Capital Company, a company owned by the army, do not hesitate to say that the aim of generalizing “remote work” is to rationalize operating expenses and provide water and electricity.

However, Professor of Economics at Cairo University Imad Nassif believes that any experiment requires defining the goal first, explaining to Al-Jazeera Net that the government's goal in this regard is very contradictory, "How do you talk about rationalizing spending and at the same time paying rent for its headquarters 4 billion pounds, according to what President Abdel Fattah announced Al-Sisi recently, adding that "the government headquarters in Old Cairo were free."

Also, Professor of Communications Engineering at Fayoum University, Magdi Abu Al-Maati, considers that Egypt still lacks the technological infrastructure necessary to achieve the "remote work" system with the necessary efficiency, and he says in his interview with Al-Jazeera Net that the goal may have been political to support what he calls the most important project for President Sisi.

Abu Al-Maati believes that the government is seeking to move to the Administrative Capital and achieve a reasonable employment rate in it at any cost.

He believes that the motto of government institutions and agencies currently in the era of digital transformation is "the system is a reality", referring to the faltering completion of many transactions, even in banks, due to the weakness of the Internet and the inefficiency and training of sectors of employees to digitize transactions.

The future of employees and harassment

In a different context, labor activist Khalil Al-Dahshan believes that the undeclared goal of the "remote work" system comes within a plan to get rid of workers and employees, noting that the state's administrative apparatus includes more than 6 million employees.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera Net, Al-Dahshan considers that the government is in the process of making a practical move to get rid of at least half of this employment in implementation of the terms of the International Monetary Fund, saying, "Remote work is only a practical experiment to verify the actual number of employees required to be eliminated."

The labor activist admits that the government apparatus suffers from a "saturation" due to the spread of employment according to what he calls nepotism, but he stresses that the solution should never be at the expense of those he describes as "overpowering."

In the same context, an official in the Youth Centers Sector at the Ministry of Sports talks about "harassment" to push employees to resign, and believes that a trip back and forth to the Administrative Capital is sufficient to achieve this.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Al-Jazeera Net, says that he may not be able to implement the concept of "remote work" as the government wants, expecting that at least half of the ministry's employees will end up with "early retirement."

He also points out that the nearest place for employees to live around the Administrative Capital is in Badr City, which is about 20 kilometers away from the government district, and at prices that exceed the capabilities of this class, considering that this falls under the category of “harassment.”

Government facilities

In turn, the government is almost constantly announcing facilities to deliver employees to the new government district, starting with equipping housing units in Badr City, leading to experimenting with the "remote work" system.

The government also decided – according to an official statement – to pay a transportation allowance to the employees of the new neighborhood, at a rate equivalent to 300% of the basic salary. The government also classified these employees among the groups eligible for a reduction in public transportation fares.

The government defends plans to shift to remote work, and says that the administrative capital, which covers an area of 714 square kilometers, roughly equivalent to the size of Singapore, offers a new concept of life that requires an exceptional development boom.

Ali Dawood, a sustainable development expert at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, describes the move of employees to the government district and work according to the latest technology as a "major event," noting that the headquarters contains 10 ministerial complexes that serve 34 different ministries.

Daoud told Al-Jazeera Net that the new capital will be the first Egyptian city to fully operate with smart systems, explaining that the government has moved intensively on the ground to qualify the human element necessary for the new transformation.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Administrative Capital Company, Khaled Abbas, announced in statements to local newspapers that the transfer of all ministries has been fully completed by the end of this month.

The government describes its new capital as one of the most important smart cities, and that the goal is to relieve pressure on Cairo and transfer employees to ideally equipped places that serve everyone.

The government also considers that achieving the transition there and the digital transformation with the necessary efficiency sends an important message that "Egypt is capable of completing its largest project."

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