How Egyptians use up their time in Ramadan

“I don’t start working before 2:00 pm in Ramadan,” an Egyptian CEO acquaintance told me over a decade ago. At the time, sunset (meghreb) was at 5:00 pm, which gave him two 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 that 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 in the quality of this year’s Egyptian television Ramadan series. However, when I prompt them to use their valuable time in alternative activities, they decline to change their Ramadan ritual.

God gave each human creature a total of 24 hours a day either to invest in advancing their life or to spend on socializing, which in my view is the greatest sign of equality among men. 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 minimum skills and aptitudes are often rewarded with a decent life.

Sadly, large numbers of our fellow Egyptians do not believe in this formula; the less fortunate believe that their daily life suffering should be balanced by some entertainment, while the few fortunate ones don’t provide good examples or guidelines – as a result, we are left with an unproductive society. Meanwhile, although the Egyptian 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 Egyptian government, as well as the governments of many other Islamic 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, working hours depend on their sleeping habits, meaning that 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 few minutes before they are interrupted by commercial breaks that triple the time length of the series, 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 (sixty million 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.

Ramadan is the month of extra activities! We not only eat and drink more, but we are willing to donate more money to less fortunate people. However, since people work fewer hours during Ramadan, I will advocate to privately assigning them additional tasks for which they receive extra financial compensation. I wish that I could offer poor people a voucher that they can spend on medical checkups instead of cash for buying more food. But our masses do not value being urged to work more or to attend to their medical fitness.

God certainly wants us to have a better life – and the only way to improve living standards is to be more productive. I tend to criticize our government for its ineffective expenditures; however, the efficiency of the 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.

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