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Interns 2017

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Mona El Nadouri (France) Master’s Degree in International Relations, June  2017 - August 2017

First of all, I would like to sincerely thank Kees Cornelis Hulsman, Drs. the director and editor-in-chief of the Center of Arab-West Understanding (CAWU); without him this internship would not have happened. I would also like to extend my most sincere thanks to my mentor, Matthew Sparks, who I honor and whom I hold in the highest esteem, and who wanted to make me his responsibility for two months, and for that I really had a lot of luck. Mr Matthew Sparks  and Mr Adel Rizkallah  warmly welcomed me and were always willing to give me advice, attention, support and kindness as well as making themselves available whenever I needed them. My thanks also go to all the staff at the center to whom I am so grateful.

As a French student who holds a Master's Degree in International Relations with emphasis on  the Middle East from  the National Institute of Foreign Languages and Civilizations in Paris, in May 2017, I applied for a professional internship at the Center for Arab-West Understanding of Cairo. Egypt. Two days after sending my application to the center, Cornelis ‘Kees’ Huslman, Drs sent me a reply accepting my internship request. I felt immense pleasure and happiness that my new experience in Egypt was about to begin. If part of my satisfaction was undoubtedly due to the fact that I was going to do an internship in my  field of research, it was also because my internship would take place in Egypt, a country of which I am very fond due to the Egyptian origin of my parents.

My most important personal goal was to improve my English language skills and acquire a particularly useful vocabulary in the discipline of my research which, first and foremost, requires excellent editorial skills. Also, I must mention my long-term interest in working in research; a this has always been passion of mine!   In specific, I have a great interest in understanding and analyzing major issues concerning my region of specialization the Middle East. I was able to deal with some very interesting questions from  sociological, cultural and political points of view. To combine these different fields of studies was, for me, an extremely enriching experience and in addition, provided me with an intellectual springboard to continue my research. Indeed, the very rich and unique database that the research center possesses, the Arab-West Report Database, has fed my critical thinking in the analysis of socio-cultural relations between individuals on an individual scale, as well as on an inter-state and transnational scale. One of the questions that was of the greatest interest to me was the relationship between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. I was delighted to see that there are indeed major social developments in Muslim-Christian relations despite what the media often conveys to us. Indeed, there is a very ambitious will to promote dialogue, peace and tolerance between all citizens and human beings, regardless of their confession or opinions. The inner point of view of the people I have listened to via the recorded interviews on the database  was quite impressive and positive. I understood that beyond all conflicts and hatred, a happier future will be established by dialogue and attempting to understand others. This was in fact the main reason that motivated my desire to continue in the field of research; in order to continue the analysis of the societies of today and tomorrow and to protect the future by science.

I am extremely proud to say that my goals to increase my understanding and my critical analysis skills, as well as the ability to express myself better have been far exceeded. The passion and expertise of the people with whom I had the privilege of working for two months enabled me to broaden my horizons and skills well beyond my expectations. Living for two months in Cairo, a city I had never visited before, was a very rewarding experience for me both professionally and emotionally. I fell in love with the capital with its wonderful cultural heritage and its streets that give a glimpse of a very special atmosphere, but also what attracted my attention were the Egyptian people. A beautiful people living with patience and generosity despite the economic and political difficulties they frequently face which can constitute a brake on their social lives. However, I especially remember the elderly woman I met in the subway during the youth break. Although this woman seemed to be very modest, she gave us dates with the biggest smile that I will never forget. I also remember the Syrian family who had taken refuge in Cairo who told me how their Christian neighbors were generous to them during the month of Ramadan.

Finally, I will conclude by saying that it is good to remember that everyone has different perspectives on life as a result of his experience, his history and his place in society. Cultivate empathy to never fall into judgment and intolerance. We are different but complement each other by our views, our strategies of dealing with struggles and life, our ways of doing things and our ways of seeing life. We are indispensable to everyone even though we sometimes think that differences are irreconcilable. No strategy is better than another as long as the dignity of human beings and nature is respected and preserved.

'Cairo, Egypt, the Middle East, the Arab world ... I will come back one day

Mona El Nadouri 

Shangyun Shen

Brought up by a Christian family in the midst of a Chinese Muslim community (Ningxia Hui Ethnical Autonomous Region). I was always inquisitive to discover the morphogenesis of my homeland territory and the functional relations among Christian, Muslim and traditional Chinese culture, that’s why I chose Arabic Literature as my BA major.

Later during my overseas studies in Lebanon and the Holy Land, exposures to the dazzling Middle Eastern heritages offered me a unique prism to dissect the history and ethnic religions of the region. I also came to realize that, distinguished from their Chinese counterparts, Middle Eastern monuments are usually still alive as social and sometimes even economical foci of the local communities, which underlines their significance. I thus gradually developed a great interest into the charming but somehow eccentric Oriental Christianity (that was my first stereotypical impression) and its interactions with other beliefs in the region. So I  rummaged on  the internet and suddenly came across something I had never heard of before; the Holy Family tradition in the Middle East. In my search,  I  bumped into a shabby but rather informative website on the tradition. It enabled me to have a glimpse into  the fascinating stories told by regional Christians for millenniums and made me want to explore more in this field of study. I found the website’s owner, so to speak Kees, and through him, I got the chance to intern with CAWU.
My time at CAWU was an undoubtedly  pleasant and beneficial experience. I remember that my first days in the office were occupied with classification work to sort out all the articles in the Arab-West Report database on the subject of the Holy Family tradition. It was tedious, but got me introduced to the field very fast.
My subsequent work at CAWU centered on publishing about the tradition. At first, we planned to write a book on the topic, but budget and bureaucratic challenges put our plan to a halt. This was in fact a good lesson for me; it broke my utopian dreams  on the difficulties encountered in the academia and dragged me into the cold but realistic world. Following this setback, we focused on updating the old website. It was an amazing déjà-vu that I was going to rejuvenate the old website  that got me interested  into the beautiful world of the Holy Family tradition.
I was glad when CAWU entrusted this mission to me, and was even a blissful moment to me when the brand new website got published. It also provided me, in the last days of my internship, with another chance to peregrinate alongside the Christ Child, Mary, Joseph and perhaps Salome the midwife on their fight into the land of Egypt.
Another fruit I harvested from this internship is the  precious friendship with all the lovely colleagues. We all came from different cultural backgrounds but shared the same passion for studies of humanity that brought us together. Thanks to the large numbers of local interns, I had an emersion in Egyptian culture. We exchanged our thoughts on a variety of things and shared the happiness along the way. Together with people from other countries, CAWU is such a melting pot of deferent ideologies, I can delve into a mysterious  conversation to talk about the Indo-gods with my American fellow, or trekking through a jumble path to explain the Trinity to my French-Moroccan peer, or just have some idle chat to express my point of views on the recent politics with whomever during lunch break.
With the help of CAWU’s connections, within less than a year, I already can sit at a table prepared by a Coptic bishop in Upper Egypt while inquiring his ideas on the Holy Family tradition. I later went to the same village that suffered from terrorism to express our condolences. I was even invited for a TV show and eat some delicious falafel to convey my love for the culinary culture of Egypt…

It is precisely with all these precious experiences from CAWU that I was able to pointed out the worrying situation of Egypt’s Coptic heritage conservation in my personal statement for the new MA program which I was applying for; the following selection interviewers were also quite intrigued and even amazed by my know-hows and past work in the field. I guess this did do me a good in acquiring the full scholarship.

Now that I recall, when I was finally bidding goodbye to Egypt on the plane from Cairo to Beijing last summer, I recognized some  sounds in between the engines’ vroom, as if cries of the Divine Infant, prayers of the Holy Mother, whispers of the Old Carpenter have been reverberating restlessly to reach my ear and echo the prophecy of Hosea: “Out of Egypt I called My son.”