A Turkish intern experience in Egypt

Sent On: 
Thu, 2021-12-02
Newsletter Number: 

Mehmet's favorite photo


We have interns coming from all over the world. One of them was Mehmet Emin Ilhak from Turkey. As so many interns have done, he visited Siwa oasis and compared this interestingly to villages in the east of Turkey. People are largely self-sufficient and thus villagers do little shopping. They grow their own food and consume it in addition to selling it in the market. But one of the most impressive aspects of Siwa is that farming is very advanced in comparison to eastern Turkey.


Mehmet conducted an interesting interview with Jordi, well-known in Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili district for the four souvenir shops he owns in this part of Cairo. His family initially lived in Asyut, a large city in Upper Egypt. His father migrated to Cairo in search of a job and better education. His father became a successful trader in souvenirs in the Khan al-Khalili which is a popular district for tourists, both foreign and Egyptian. Jordi learned during his years at high school how to do embroidery and carving-style work in other shops in the district and discovered how he could use his skills to create a good income. He studied Ancient Greek and Latin at Ain Shams University and went annually 3-6 months to Barcelona where he studied Catalan and Spanish and developed a business with the sales of Egyptian souvenirs. Going to Spain was a big step and Mehmet asked if he had no fears. “If you have fears, you cannot achieve anything. Especially if you are doing this job, you have to be brave and take some things into consideration. Of course, I had a hard time when I first went there. I was selling everything, trying to survive and improve myself,” Jordi responded. Jordi returned to Egypt after eight years and developed a business in the Khan al-Khalili. Jordi is despite all economic difficulties in Egypt successful “I can do what I want, I can travel wherever. it is very peaceful here, I would rather spend my time here at the shop than sitting at home, as you can see it is fun. I sit here peacefully smoking my shisha every day.”


Mehmet also interviewed Ahmed Tatawi who stems from a well-to-do Egyptian family. He is well aware that many Egyptians are dissatisfied with their lives. The main reason for this are the huge inequalities in Egyptian society, the differences between the rich and the poor. “If you have money, you don’t have to work and you buy the time, and at that time you can spend a pleasant life doing your hobbies. What I also want is to have a pleasant life, for this I have to work first, but it is not a problem. My point of view on life is that you have to do whatever you want within the possibilities you have,” Ahmed says. “When you see the poverty in the city center, you usually think that the country is completely poor, but there are also many rich people living in this country. I do not distinguish people as rich or poor. In my eyes, there are good people and bad people. Comparing it is like racism. What matters is the character and sincerity of the person. But as I said, while the rich people of Egypt generally lead a very comfortable life, the other side of the city does not know about it.”


Experiences such as those of Mehmet help to broaden the perspective of young people. The Center for Arab-West Understanding plays a major role in bringing young people to Egypt and engage in visits, interviews and projects. But the Center for Arab-West Understanding is small and we are talking with AUC about transferring all our activities to AUC. That would greatly strengthen the work we have established in the past 20 years.


December 2, 2021


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report