Smoke-Free Alexandria: The Worst Business Decision Ever?

A man sat in the smoking room of one airport to have a cigarette before boarding his plane, on his way out, another man approaches him:

  • Man: How many cigarettes do you smoke a day?
  • Smoker: Do you smoke?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Do you own this plane?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Then why do you ask?
  • Man: Well, if you had saved all the money you spent on smoking, that plane on the runway could have been yours.
  • Man: Thanks for the advice. I smoke and I OWN this plane. My name is Richard Branson (owner of the Virgin brand).

Those who know me know that I rarely criticize the decisions of our decision makers. However, when a decision maker comes up with something that would hurt our already unstable economy, I’m more than willing to make an exception.

A little over a month ago, Adel Labib, the governor of Alexandria, started some sort of a campaign to free Alexandria from the ill effects of smoking. To achieve that goal, two major decisions were made:

  1. Banning smoking in closed public places, including but limited to public transportation, restaurants, and coffee shops.
  2. Banning “Shisha” from ALL coffee shops in Alexandria.

Now in theory, that may sound like a good thing. I mean, smoking, with all its shapes and forms, is deadly harmful for health, not only for the smoker but also for everyone around him/her– the second-hand smokers. Europe understood that and banned smoking in public places long ago. Us catching up now cannot be a bad thing, right?

Before answering let’s take some facts into consideration; in Egypt, cigarettes are not a luxury, but rather a primary commodity– for reasons we all know. I don’t have the exact numbers but a huge percentage of Egyptians, probably even more than half, are smokers, and most of them fall in the 18-40 years age group. Such group tends to meet outdoors and usually end up sitting on some sort of a coffee shops, where they will eventually have a smoke, either shisha or cigarettes, with their drinks.

This guy, along with thousands just like him, is or will be out of work

Let’s be realistic here, most of the coffee shops regulars go there for the smokes. I mean let’s face it; you can drink almost anything at home except shisha. So if you ban the shisha from every coffee shop in Alexandria, and force people to sit outside if they smoke cigarettes, the number of customers will inevitably decrease, especially in winter, where the Alexandria’s weather will make it impossible for smokers to sit outside. That decrease will cause significant losses for the coffee shops owners, eventually leading most of them to close their businesses, which will have two devastating effects. First, a massive damage will be done to the Alexandrian economy, as its primary source of income is the tourists, who consider having that perfect shisha in front of the amazing night sea a main part of their yearly visit. Second, closing those coffee shops will force the release of their workers, who are usually either young newly graduated guys who couldn’t find a decent job, or older ones that work there as a second job to get by.

Now, let’s assume that public ban of shisha from Alexandria is the first step towards its public use ban in all of Egypt. If that happen, many of the factories manufacturing the shisha- yes, they are manufactured in factories, did you think they grow on trees?- will be closed, also leading to the release of their workers, and this time we are not talking about a dozen of guys, but hundreds of workers living below poverty line and mostly supporting big families. Putting them out of work is just not right.

Do not get me wrong, it is not like I am supporting or encouraging smoking in any way. I just believe that there are smarter, less damaging ways to reduce the ill effects of smoking in Egypt. I was actually delighted when the tax rate on smokes’ sales was increased. That was a smart way to reduce the number of smokers– as not everyone, especially the light smokers, was willing to pay the extra money. In addition to that, the government can enforce strict laws to prevent the sale of smokes to kids younger than 18 years, make clever ad campaigns, ban smoking in the media, and so on.

Yes, smoking is bad for both our health and for the environment. But, unemployment and starving to death is much, much worse.

So, what do you think? Is the Alexandria smoking ban- and eventually moving on to every major city of Egypt- harms more than it helps, or is it a necessary evil?

Your comments are much appreciated.



MUFIC Batch #6 Graduation Ceremony: A Mediocre End to an Epic Era

  • Date: Thursday October 14th, 2010.
  • Time: 10:00 AM.
  • Location: Menoufia University Ceremonies Hall, the one where President Hosni Mubarak announced the amendment of Article 76 of the Egyptian constitution in 2005 itself!
  • Event: Faculty of Computers and Information batch #6 graduation ceremony.

You would know it a mile away, the guys were overdressed, the girls were overusing and abusing makeup to the point that it becomes a hard task not to throw up whatever you had for breakfast, and everyone was seen wearing ugly red and blue coats similar to the uniform of the French Campaign army that invaded Egypt in 1798. It was THE annual graduation ceremony of the Menoufia University’s Faculty of Computers and Information students.

Now that's what I DON'T call fashion!

Now, our faculty is famous for two things regarding its graduation ceremonies: first, it is the only faculty in Menoufia University that organizes a separate ceremony for its alumni. Second, these ceremonies are guaranteed to be the worst 2-3 hours of your life! They almost always suffer from chaotic floor organization, feeble speeches, and horrendous acts performed by our so-called theatrical team. That year was no exception, although I have to admit that it was slightly better than last year’s nightmare.

The organizers spent over an hour queuing us (graduates) outside the hall so that we can be seated in order, which didn’t happen! I can almost assure you that none other than the people in the first two or three rows where they were supposed to!

The ceremony started with the presence of the faculty dean and vice dean, I could not help but notice a big sign in the background saying that the ceremony is sponsored by the Menoufia University president, who was NOT present, nor any official representative of him or the university administration!

Things kicked off with a speech by our ranked-1 student Ibrahim Abdullah, which felt more like hearing someone read the phonebook rather than a speech. I have absolutely nothing against Ibrahim, he is one of the politest, kindest people you will ever meet, but he was reading his speech with absolutely no heart or enthusiasm, making it so obvious that he was given that speech to read, and maybe even given it an hour or so before the ceremony!

Next were the speeches of the dean and vice dean, which were, least to say, forgettable. At an event like this, you expect the speeches of the big guys to be… big! You know, to give you a sense of achievement, make you feel how well you did, and inspire you to take your next step. And that simply did not happen.

The speeches were followed by honouring the top ranked students and then calling out everyone else to get their certificates. At that moment I was confused; you see, the reason any graduate of Menoufia’s Faculty of Computer and Information sits through the 2-3 hours of hell, also known as the graduation ceremony, is getting their certificate and taking a picture with the honourable dean so that they may print, enlarge, frame, and hang it out on the wall so that they may tease the neighbours coming to say congratulations whose kids are majoring in Arabic at the Faculty of Arts or something. So if they get them their moment then, what would make them sit through the not-so-jolly rest of the ceremony? Then I realized it, a four-letter word; FOOD! The “benefits” we get in exchange for the ceremony fees- yes, we pay to attend our own graduation ceremony- included a lunch meal, and sure as hell no one would go home without having their lunch. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are a nation motivated by our lust for food, not scientific degrees or even the desire to brag about them!

The ceremony resumed, and as soon as I saw the faculty’s own theatrical team on stage, I knew that the nightmare would truly begin; unfunny people trying- so hard- to be funny by doing acts that are NOT funny. This year though, it was not that bad, as matter of fact, the three acts they gave were surprisingly really good, funny, and well performed. The reason behind that was the fact that the acts were COPIED from a great but not so famous play called Qahwa Sada (Black Coffee). I had absolutely no problem with re-doing parts of good plays, what I had a problem with, however, is exploiting the obscurity of the play and take credit for the acts by NOT mentioning that they were from another play.

Other segments of the ceremony included a forgettable poem, some religious song, and a song by a kid who can play the violin well, but trying to be the next Tamer Hosny, enough said!

What really caught my attention was a poem given by one of our students called Hagar, who is famous for being one of the faculty’s political activists and a fierce attacker of our government. As expected, the poem contained implicit and explicit attacks directed at the government. I could not believe that someone gave her the green light to read such a poem in the biggest faculty event of the year. Someone must have definitely been on crack, and a good kind as well.

All in all, it was not horrible. I actually quite enjoyed it. It was not great, but definitely better than last year’s chaos. It was nice having all the students of batch #6 under one roof for the last time.

And, to my dear fellow graduates, congratulation on the big achievement. It has been an epic four-year era, but we are finally done. The rest of our lives begin now, make sure you make the best of it.