This November, I had a delicious and duly missed English breakfast in honor of H.E Ambassador Gareth Bayley, the British Ambassador to Egypt - courtesy of the British Egyptian Business Association’s unequivocal hospitality.
Like all Scotsmen I’ve ever met, Ambassador Bayley would not let you enjoy your meal without bombarding you with humorous stories. But one story was, to me, a bit of a dark humor - here it is:
Planning a visit to the Middle East with one of his colleagues, the latter emphasised a series of business opportunities in the UAE, encouraging him to talk to investors here and there, and so on. Then when the conversation came to Egypt, his colleague stressed on the necessity of visiting the pyramids and a few museums - and stopped there – (the end).
I dropped my dearly held sausage-stuffed fork and had no thought in mind but “you bloody orientalists! If only Edward Said was here…”
But upon reflection, it seems counterintuitive that the same person who’d see Egypt (historically the first nation to modernise in the region) in an orientalist light, would not see the UAE in a similar light. It seems, rather, that it is the story told about each nation that matters - and the story of Egypt seems to be yet trapped in history.
Investors, diplomats, and policymakers are not sophisticated academics with the luxury of knowledge, time, and headspace to think critically about the stories they are told. They are busy people who don't have the time to actually learn about things - for they would rather use their time and headspace to create possibilities out of what they already know.
Our job as policy advisors is to simplify knowledge for overwhelmed policymakers; and hence part of what we ought to do as Egyptian policy advisors is to postulate an easily digestible story of Egypt, simplifying its complexities, whereby its heroes are not Sphinx and Cleopatra, but Sayyed and Zeinab.
This story must be scripted now, before it is too late; and it should be told by us, policy advisers with a profound interest in encouraging a diverse and long-term foreign investment portfolio, and not by distant media anchors or business and political leaders overwhelmed by the slew of opportunities to exhaust here and now. When asked about what my job at Moharram and Partners is, from now on my answer will be “rewriting the story of Egypt to both businesses and policymakers.”