An interview with the spouse of the ambassador of Egypt in Seoul
By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with Vice Chairperson Cho Kyung-hee
Egypt is known in Korea as one of the most famous countries in the world for the brilliant culture and history. By happy coincidence, Amal Nosseir (spouse of the ambassador of Egypt in Seoul) has similar admiration for the Korean culture and history.
“I admire very much the way you promote your culture. It is done in a pleasant and smart way,” said Mrs. Nosseir at an exclusive interview at the Embassy of Egypt in Seoul on Dec. 18, 2019.
“The cultural associations in Korea are very active and they introduce all diplomats to many areas and places and customs it would have been hard to know on our own, promoting more understanding and ties among different people and is always admirable when visiting different cities to see the pride each city has in its own heritage and the interest to preserve it,” she said. (See excerpts from the details of the interview.)
As was mentioned afore, Egypt is a very, very special country to Korea. Located on the African continent and yet belonging to the Middle East region of the world, Egypt has five times the land size of the Korean peninsula and a population that exceeds 104 million in number.
According to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Egypt created the world’s first civilization along the River Nile some 5,000 years B.C.
Egypt also has a very important geopolitical position in the world providing a link among Asia, Europe, and Africa.
As soon as Korean students enter middle school, they learn world history and there come first the brilliant ancient history and culture of Egypt, including Pyramid and Sphinx as well as the Suez Canal.
Egypt is also widely known in Korea for the Cairo Declaration in 1943 when the leaders of the United States, Russia, and China declared, “…mindful the enslavement of the people of Korea, we are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent."
In particular, the President of Egypt visited Korea in March 2016 and upgraded the bilateral relations to that of “Comprehensive Partner Countries” stipulating drastic increases in exchange and cooperation in various fields.
In October 2014, Korea established its first Culture Center in Cairo for the first time in the Middle East Region.
Excerpts from the interview with Madam Amal Nosseir (Mrs. Fahmy) follow:
Question: Please introduce the First Lady of Egypt.
Answer: Our First Lady is Madam Entissar el Sisi.
Women always played a key role in Egyptian society through history, weather as Queens or senior state officials or as inspiring spouses of influential men through Egypt’s history.
The Egyptian first lady is the wife of President Abdel Fattah el Sisi at a very critical juncture of Egypt’s modern history over the past few years. She became first lady in 2014 and played a key role in supporting the President through the rough transition period that Egypt went through.
Egypt’s first lady sponsors many activities in support of Egyptian youth and their future as Egypt is a young population with 60% of it being youth. Most recently she participated actively in Egypt’s World Youth Forum 2019 held a few days ago in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is a modern Egyptian mechanism started by our President to act as a forum to discuss and propose innovative solutions to deal with challenges facing youth in Egypt and around the world.
Our first lady also pays a lot of attention to the progress of a healthy and strong family. In this context, she is actively engaged with many civil society organizations in areas of social welfare and charity.
She is the first and foremost hostess of the Presidential residence, organizing and attending official ceremonies and functions. All this, besides serving as a role model of a supportive wife, and a dedicated mother.
Q: What is your role in Korea as the spouse of the ambassador of Egypt?
A: The purpose of representing your country abroad is to promote, strengthen and deepen relations between both countries on all levels. Ambassadors and spouses have played such roles, sometimes through the same channels, other times through different channels.
The Ambassador’s spouse in our culture is as important as the Ambassador in promoting and representing her country but in different capacities.
She acts like a cultural attaché to Egypt in the country she is serving in with her spouse, responsible for forging strong links with the local society and its various institutions, promoting tourism and Egyptian customs, foods, and norms to the host society.
I had the honor in this regard to interact with the Korean society and many of its various institutions in different cultural contexts to the benefit of both our societies.
I also believe her role is not only to introduce her country to the Koreans but also to introduce Korea to the Egyptian people and utilize the Knowledge she acquired about Korea through her stay to promote mutual understanding and ties between both societies and their people.
Q: Please introduce the details of your family.
A: My late father was a Judge in the Egyptian Supreme Court, so we were raised on the virtue of fairness. Justice with mercy is always an important element guiding our interactions with others.
My mother was the director of Egyptian television media production. She also had as one of her main responsibilities to critically review scripts, so we were introduced through her on how to be objective in perceiving others and at the same time the importance of respecting society and its values and norms.
I am the oldest of three, I have a brother who is a mechanical engineer and a Sister who is a medical engineer. My sister took a leave of absence to look after her husband and children.
I attended a French Catholic School in Cairo. I majored in political science and minored in Economics at American University, where I met my husband and pursued postgraduate studies in politics and leadership.
I joined the Foreign Service in Egypt as a diplomat after having my first son. My last position before I settled in Korea was Deputy Assistant Minister for North American Affairs.
I have three sons. The eldest studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon University during our posting in the USA, the second son studied media and communications at Fordham University in New York, and our youngest son, who is with us here, is a graduating senior at Yongsan International School.
Q: Please introduce the most important activities I took part in since arriving in Korea.
A: I was invited by the International Women’s Association of Commerce and Industry to be the main speaker at the 'Global Women’s Leaders Forum 2019' held in Busan last October. I spoke about the steps taken by the Egyptian government to enhance women's empowerment and leadership.
I was also the main speaker of the Ambassador’s Spouses Association in Seoul (ASAS) 'Global Health Forum', an event organized by both Asan Medical Center and the ASAS to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Asan. I was the first speaker in the Forum and I spoke about 'Health Challenges Facing Women in the Middle East and North Africa', and a case study about Egypt's interventions and achievements for women's health.
I presented Egypt Day at Korea down syndrome society, during which we decorated the meeting room and transformed it to Pharaonic castle and I presented movies and explanation about Egypt ancient history and marine life in the red sea and the youth there had a chance to taste Egyptian food and we prepared some electronic games for them and I brought my 2 pets to entertain them.
I was invited last November as a guest of honor and to give a congratulatory speech at the end of year dinner by Expat professional and businesswomen network international in Korea held in Songdo city.
I always take part in SIWA charity Bazars, Red Cross of Korea events to support the underprivileged, ASAS events for raising money for charity. I also joined ASAS in presenting gifts to hospitalized children, and Ambassadors’ spouses visit to furniture museum wearing Hanbok dresses. I hosted ASAS monthly meeting at the beginning of 2019. I believe Asas is a very important channel where Ambassador spouses can really contribute and interact with Korean society. The activities are endless. This is just a small sample.
I am also a member of the “Garden Club” another channel to interact and learn more about Korean Society.
Last week we organized a huge reception at the Korean National Museum to celebrate the opening of Ancient Egypt’s Gallery.
I joined some temple cooking classes and enjoyed temple stay experiences.
Always participate in Hanbok show organized by the Korean Cultural Association and I actually enjoy wearing the Hanbok a lot.
I organized a Korean Egyptian fashion show at the embassy presenting a blend of both Pharaonic Queens costume and beautiful Hanbok in a nostalgic scene.
We organized an African day celebration, an important event to introduce Koreans to the customs, developments, and potentials of our mother continent.
Q: In Korea, we have a number of very important items of virtue for women, and among them is one named Naejo, which literally means, “Domestic Support” meaning the role of the wife of a man who is the head of a family in Korea. If you have a similar item of virtue in Egypt, please introduce it in detail.
A: Family ties and support between family members are at the core of Egyptian society. That is why I mentioned earlier the great attention given by our first lady to healthy progress of a strong family. The wife's support to her husband at all levels is part of our identity and what we are brought upon.
During our journey together to support my husband, especially with his big load of work as a diplomat, I had to step back and put my career on hold in order to care for our children and run the household and family affairs, so that he can focus on doing his job as a diplomat in the best way possible.
Q: What are the traditional food and beverage of Egypt?
A: I came from an area famous for its good and unique dishes. There are many famous Middle Eastern dishes where each country in the area adds its own flavor. Egyptian kitchen is known worldwide.
We have the Kebab which is a form of grilled meat and chicken with special spices.
Fol and Falafel, made out of beans are very popular in Egypt, especially in breakfast.
Koshari, a vegetarian dish made with pasta, rice, lentils, tomato sauce, and several forms of spicy sauces.
Egypt is also famous for many delicious desserts like Baklava, Konafa, Egyptian rice pudding and milk pudding called Mehalabiah.
As for beverages we have a famous cold beverage of sugar cane juice, hibiscus in a cold or hot form and Egyptians drink a lot of tea they like it deep and dark-colored.
Q: What are the typical customs of Egypt?
A: Because of the long history of Egypt and the vast area of the country we have several costumes each belonging to a certain area in the country. For example, there is the Bedouin costume in the Sinai Peninsula, where girls spend months making it since it is all hand embroidered there is also the colorful Galabia (long dress) of the Egyptian peasants, all this along with the Pharaonic costumes which remain as an inspiration for international high and couture houses like the recent Pharaonic inspired show by the house of Channel. Egypt is also famous with its gold and silver jewelry since ancient times, we have Pharaonic golden jewelry and also silver jewelry with Arabic calligraphy designs.
Q: Many countries have different festivities and cultural events. Please introduce such events in Egypt.
A: Egyptians celebrate many festivals, some of them have a religious origin but also became a social celebration to the whole society others have Pharaonic origin.
The whole month of Ramadan is a celebratory month where friends and family gather to eat at sunset and then some go out to entertain in folkloric café’s
We have two religious celebrations one right after Ramadan and we celebrate eating a special kind of cookies and the other feast is two months after Ramadan where all Egyptians eat lamb. In both events, kids celebrate by wearing new clothes and receiving gifts and family and friends meet to celebrate.
Our Egyptian Coptic Church celebrates Christmas on 7 January every year but we also celebrate Christmas on 24 December where streets and entertainment areas are decorated with Christmas ornaments.
We celebrate Easter in April, a festival that has a Pharaonic origin. We celebrate with colored eggs and smoked fish and people enjoy the Spring weather in parks and gardens.
Q: Please introduce whatever we might have inadvertently left out from our questionnaire which may be important.
A: There are a number of things I like most about Korea.
I admire very much the way you promote your culture. It is done in a pleasant and smart way. The cultural associations in Korea are very active and they introduce all diplomats to many areas and places and customs it would have been hard to know on our own, promoting more understanding and ties among different people and is always admirable when visiting different cities to see the pride each city has in its own heritage and the interest to preserve it.
The second thing I admire a lot is the gathering of family and friends around traditional Korean food coming on several steps which gives a chance for people to talk and socialize and get to know each other more. I think this is very important in the modern fast-paced style of life where people use expressions like “let us grab a bite” showing there is always no time, and family members communicate through phone text. It is very important to always find time for face to face interaction and communication. Also during our visits to many restaurants managed by families, it is very nice to know that the mother wakes up 4 or 5 in the morning to prepare food herself, and I learned that Korean food takes a long time to prepare. This shows the care and nice spirit of Korean women. With
all the fast pace of modern life there should be some elements of heritage and customs we need to stick to in order to balance our lives and give it more meaning.