Alumna Rasha Khalil in Egypt
After a few days of severe sandstorms, grey skies and no way to breathe; the sun is finally shining in Cairo! I arrived in Egypt on the 28th of November last year, and started my job as a librarian / tutor on the first of December at the wonderful Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC). During the first weeks I had a lot of work to do: I was searching for an apartment in Cairo, coping with the traffic, learning how to manage the library, and the institute had a grand opening coming up in January so we had to organize a three day event celebrating the institute’s jubilee and renovation. In between meetings with the Netherlands Embassy, the ordering of promotion folders and setting up an open day for the library, I had to be introduced to other librarians in Cairo and attend the meeting of the Egyptian Library Association (ELA). After three hectic weeks we got a two weeks Christmas break, that I enjoyed with my family who came to visit me in Cairo.
After the Christmas break we only had a few days before the big celebrations would start and all the guests would arrive. It was really nice to see my old professors from Leiden, Drs. Kon, Prof.dr. Sijpesteijn and Dr. Heshmat, walking around the institute and to hear updates about what is happening in Leiden.
After a week of grand festivities and tours through the institute, Cairo and its surroundings a new challenge crossed my path: The Cairo International Book Fair! Not fully aware of how big (and heavy!) the challenge really was, I took my travel bag, money and the car to go to the fair and buy books for the library. After many stands and bags full of books I decided it was better to come again in the following two weeks of the fair because it was impossible to go through everything in one day. The Cairo International Book Fair is the largest and oldest book fair in the Arab world, it was canceled in January 2011 due to the Revolution. This year’s book fair was therefore all about the revolution and the Arab Spring. Nearly all the new publications, seminars, cultural activities and even the decorations at the fair were about the revolution.
My image of the revolution in Egypt changed as soon as I arrived. In the Netherlands it seemed as if Egypt was thrown up side down and all people were participating in demonstrations. I was kind of shocked to see that in other parts of Cairo every day life was practiced as if nothing was happening on the other side of the bridge. Now however, Egypt is breathing the air of revolution even more, with the presidential elections coming up. The few last weeks there have been huge demonstrations on Tahrir square and in Abbasiyya because of controversies concerning some of the presidential candidates.
It seems as people are, now more than ever, aware that the revolution that started last year is still unfinished. On the other hand the road of Egypt’s revolution will be a long one, because not all Egyptians agree with the continuing demonstrations. The cry for stability, work and food is becoming much louder and this creates a great division between the Egyptian people.
The ongoing events, and rapid changes make Egypt the ultimate place to be in as a former student of Middle Eastern Studies in Leiden. Also the presence of the Dutch spring term students provides an extra dimension to my stay. After terrible traffic jams and tensions caused by daily events it is a great relief to exchange ideas with the students or to provide help for their research topics and daily assignments. With much more courses offered at the NVIC in the summer, I hope to see more students from Leiden coming over to experience life in the countries their studies are about.