Intern Zainab Mehdi’s experiences at CAWU

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Mon, 2017-07-31
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While studying at the University of Essex, I decided to apply for an internship somewhere in the Middle East. After spending some time researching potential places to work, I came across the CAWU website and applied for the journalism internship almost immediately. Writing about topics based on the Middle East is a personal hobby of mine which is why I felt certain that working with CAWU suited my interests the most. I have been fascinated by the history, culture, and politics of the Middle East from a young age. British-born to Iraqi parents – and a nativeArabic speaker – I have travelled extensively in the region, including to Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey. Of particular importance was my trip to Iraq in 2013.


Having spent six weeks in Baghdad, I was enthralled by personal encounters with ordinary Iraqis, many of whom recounted memories of their life under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. My time in Baghdad also taught me to question narratives about the Middle East that often dominateWestern media.


My early interest in the history and politics of the region led me to study a BA in Modern History and International Relations and pursue a degree in MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.


During the past couple of months, I can proudly say that I have obtained substantial experience of working in the Middle East that has contributed to a better understanding of my future plans. My duties with CAWU involved analysing and writing reports based on a large database of first-hand interviews with scholars, politicians, doctors, teachers, etc., conducted on a number of issues, including Egyptian history and politics, Iraq before the invasion, treatment of religious minorities, and so on. Besides serving the goal of recovering a multiplicity of voices from the Middle East, the interviews and reports allow us fresh insights into the problems of the region. Overall, my experiences in Cairo have further strengthened my passion for the history and politics of the region and has guided me in my decision to ultimately pursue a professional career in journalism or government.


Cairo is the capital of Egypt, where all the action happens. Cars honking repeatedly, bus drivers fighting with one another and pedestrians running for their lives whilst crossing the road are all things that every person living in Cairo should get used to. The most difficult experience, however, was dealing with harassment. Men like to stare whether it be on the metro, microbus, restaurant or café and the one way I dealt with this issue was walking out of the situation as soon as possible. At times, I have yelled and caused a scene because this kind of occurrence is not something that I am used to in London. Overall, I would say that even though these norms can beslightly annoying, it should be noted that Cairo is a place bursting with religion, architecture, monuments, and visual and spiritual richness. These treasures should not be ignored because I believe that no country is perfect and that every visitor should try and appreciate the beauty that comes within a specific kind of region.


Wakalat al-Ghoury. Photo: Zainab Mehdi



One of my most favourite places to go to in Cairo is Sayida Hussein at night as the Khan El-Khalili bazaar is not too far from the beautiful mosque itself. Both Egyptian men and women will bargain in loud voices, playing around with their merchandise while simultaneously haggling over the price. Famous cafes such as Naguib Mahfouz and the mirrored El Fishawy were two preferred destinations of mine because not only did these cafes serve delicious Turkish coffee and refreshing teas with mint but these two places where amazing chill spots where you could unwind and listen to Oud musicians playing to Enta Omri by Oum Kalthoum.




Sayida Hussein. Photo: Zainab Mehdi



Visiting both Coptic and Islamic Cairo has taught me many new things about religion and especially religious issues prevailing in Egypt including discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic minority among Egypt’s majority of Muslim believers. Eager to learn more about Egypt’s Coptic Christians, I took great pleasure in visiting fascinating and beautiful sites such as El Muallaqa (the Hanging Church), Mari Girgis (St.George Greek Orthodox Church), and St. Sergius.




St. George Church. Photo: Zainab Mehdi



Living in Egypt has broadened my perspective on life and values. Life in Egypt can be very complicated but at the same time, life can be very simple. Nowadays, Egyptian people struggle to live because of its drained economy but despite the rise of inflated prices, families remain united and hardworking. This overall struggle has encouraged me to always appreciate what I have and help others in need of support or assistance. Upon arrival in London, I know that I will miss basic things like buying medicine anytime without needing a prescription, the warmth, Egyptian hospitality and generosity, spontaneous rides on the Nile Felucca, snacking on filling and traditional meals, and most important of all, working with an amazing and encouraging team at CAWU. No matter where we all end up in the years to come, I will always have a special place in my heart for all my work colleagues. I hope that I will come back to Egypt again one day and especially Siwa; an oasis which I absolutely fell in love with.


July 31, 2017

Zainab Mehdi

Research Intern at the Center for Arab-West Understanding