Engagement in dialogue changes one’s life

Sent On: 
Mon, 2020-02-10
Newsletter Number: 

We all grow up in our own sphere of life, nationality, culture, religion, etc. and then become shaped by our education and experiences. If those experiences are limited to one’s own group, we risk seeing the world as a “us against them.” We fight to maintain our own style of life and way of thinking. But if we engage in dialogue with people outside our own group, we see how similar people of other cultures, nationality and religion really are. Culture is man-made, it can be appealing to someone or not, but it does not change that, in essence, we are similar.


Comfort Dickson, editor of the Maadi Messenger and former intern at the Center for Arab-West Understanding, asked me to write about how my life has changed and was enriched due to engagements with peoples of other cultures and nationalities. The Maadi Messenger allowed us to republish my article in Arab-West Report. I only left one word out of the text from the Maadi Messenger. The text mentions peoples of different nationalities, cultures, religions and races but honestly, I do not believe in the concept of different races, black or white or whatever shade of color we may have. The differences between humans are not in the different color we might have but in different cultures or religions we might adhere to and those differences are man-made, possibly based on centuries or longer old traditions.


Key-moments for change in my life were my meeting with late Dutch diplomat Daniel van der Meulen (1894-1989), my first visit to Egypt and my work with student interns for the Center for Arab-West Understanding. To read my story in Arab-West Report please click here. For the story in the Maadi Messenger please click here.


The Austrian Ambassador to Egypt in 2014 told me that our NGO cannot change Egypt and that is true, neither do we have those ambitions but I responded that we do change the students who are coming to intern with us. They meet with people who are different from them and yet discover the many similarities. One of these students was Cleo Mampaey from Antwerp, Belgium. She visited Belgian prisoner Leslie Maras in prison. Leslie has taken drugs in 2006 to Egypt and was sentenced to life in an Egyptian prison. A prison sentence for life means in Egypt 25 years. Leslie and his parents are from Antwerp. Leslie has changed in prison. He had no idea in 2006 what he was doing. He was in need of money and some people advised him to bring drugs to Egypt. He now knows how wrong this was. People from well-to-do families can resort to a good lawyer and get the best legal support possible. But Leslie is from a working class family that does not have the funds to help Leslie with the much needed legal care. This is not to challenge the Egyptian court verdict but to see other ways of support such as working towards a prisoner exchange treaty which Egypt has with different countries but not Belgium. This is what one can call class-justice; the poorest members of society who do not get the same access to the legal system as rich members in society have.  


Many people who have visited Leslie in prison have seen how much he has changed. Cleo wrote Leslie a very moving personal letter in which she described how her brief visit to him has changed her life. Cleo wrote Leslie “We complain so easily and so often. The weather is rather bad, the bus does not show up, and so on. You have taught me that these things don't really matter. You have taught me what does matter. Family. Love. Enjoying. Putting things into perspective.” We have asked Cleo, Leslie and his parents permission to place Cleo’s text in Arab-West Report. This is truly a moving letter. To read her letter please click here.

My life story and Cleo’s letter are examples how dialogue can change us. That is an enrichment to our lives and this is what we share with our interns.



February 10, 2020


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report