The Listening Tour: Reflections from Egypt
Time in Egypt was an interesting shift of pace. While there’s a Euphrates Chapter in Alexandria I spent time with, there was also a lot of room to connect with friends, strangers, and organization partners in Cairo and hear about their experiences in peacebuilding in Egypt, the climate of working in Egypt, and their current challenges and hopes for the future.
The first several days in Cairo I spent the most time listening to daily interactions and conversations of people around me, both those I knew personally and those I didn’t. Whether that was in the comforting home of a dear friend, within the beautiful walls of historic mosques, or walking down the busy, boiling streets. Each interaction I heard highlighted the rich history of Egypt, the current economic and political struggles, the power and legacy of interfaith coexistence in the country, and the lively, beautiful spirit of the people.
The relaxing sounds of the Mediterranean Sea welcomed me to Alexandria. I met with Amir, the Chapter Leader, who introduced me to his family who are also Chapter Members. Self-identified as a “family chapter,” they have an intimate foundation and openly welcomed me to be part. After introductions, we dived right into discussions on the work of Euphrates, managing fears about working on peacebuilding in the MENA region, and strategies for the Chapter. Since the Alexandria Chapter is just emerging and sought guidance, we shared the role of listening to each other, and built equal space for everyone’s voice in the room. We continued the discussions from a local office to the gardens of Montaza Palace to car rides in Alexandria’s hectic summer traffic to sitting down for ice cream. Though a short time was had with the Alexandria Chapter, we quickly established a warm relationship, and fostered hope and potential for the future of Euphrates in Egypt.
The one full day spent in Alexandria turned out to be a National Holiday, and the President was on his way to Alexandria, so main tourist sites were closed. However, two wonderful friends brought me around for some desired sight-seeing to the Alexandria National Museum, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, a glimpse of the Roman Amphitheater, and strolling along the lively yet calming waterfront.
Upon return to Cairo I took some time for myself, and decided to roam solo in the Egyptian Museum, a grand and mesmerizing gem in which one can happily get lost for hours. The museum lays at one edge of Tahrir Square, and as I stood outside the museum gate waiting for my Uber ride and watching the city’s mid-day traffic slowly roll through the square, an older Egyptian man struck up a conversation. Opportunities to listen are everywhere. We shared casual conversation about where I’m from, the purpose of my travels, places to see in Cairo, his line of work and life in Cairo. Then, he quickly transitioned into talking about the current political and economic state of Egypt. He looked at me and asked, “Can you do me a favor?” “I can certainly try,” I replied. “When you return to the United States, tell people about your time here. Tell them what you liked about Egypt. We need more people to know about it and all the great things. Egypt needs a lot of help,” he said. “I will absolutely do that. I promise.”
And that’s what I heard most. The voices of people so dedicated to such an incredible place, and seeking support and ways to improve it. While Euphrates’ presence in Egypt is still emerging, and has a long road ahead to being established, I am certain that peacebuilding will be possible by continuing to deeply listen to, learn from, and stand in solidarity with such powerful, resilient, committed, and heartwarming people.
So, what now? What next? Myself and the Euphrates team will be meeting in-person later this month in California. We’ll be reflecting deeply on the summer, I’ll be passing along all data collected as well as my recommendations, and we’ll brainstorm what the future holds for Euphrates in India, Egypt, and beyond. Though we don’t know exactly what’s next (there’s excitement in the unknown!), I look forward to the wider Euphrates community working together to ensure a co-created, co-owned future for the organization and the movement.