AIX LES BAINS: How very French; sitting in a side walk café discussing philosophy, on a sunny weekday morning over coffee with an Egyptian expatriate.
Emad Hassan, formerly of Alexandria, has lived in France for 13 years. Married and with two children, France is now his home, though like most expatriates he has developed an alternative view of his former home.
“Egypt is like Aladdin’s lamp, waiting for someone to polish it and let out the genie, Hassan said.
“The qualities of Egyptian society are unseen; its qualities are suspended, waiting to be released.
“Egypt has many assets. Even the wonderful Egyptian smile is an asset, but the country is not marketed properly.
“Egyptians live in the past. They have a long history of survival, though they have survived through a negative philosophy, Hassan said.
“Egypt forces people into a state of resignation. The people are frustrated from living under economic pressure and the flow of indoctrination from both the State and religion keeps them from making choices .
“When I arrived in France it was as a student at Grenoble University, not as an immigrant worker in a restaurant.
“I’ve always enjoyed languages and I learnt French in an Academy, the proper way.
“I am not the type of immigrant who is only about making money, to one day return home and live in the big villa.
“France is a refuge for me. It enables me to live my life as I want and not as I am obliged to live.
“But liberty in France is a stereotype, Hassan said.
“The struggle for liberty is a style of life, it is not reality. You find suffering Egyptians full of liberty.
For Hassan liberty is defined by a person’s ability to choose, independent of the consequences.
Anwar Sadat was such a man.
“He sacrificed his life for peace. Few people choose to make a choice independent of consequences.
“Sadat found liberty when he was in prison. In cell 54. He developed an interest in Sufism and learnt German when in prison. This is freedom. Mental force of life, to live day to day by your convictions.
“I try to also live by my convictions. I carry my land [Egypt] inside of me, what I learnt in my childhood and what my religion teaches me. Whether I am in France or in Egypt is not the important thing; it is living by my convictions, which is important, Hassan said.
“Anwar Sadat was a real man. I don’t have a political relationship with him, it is a philosophical one. If you haven’t read his autobiography, ‘Looking for Identity,’ I strongly recommend it; he really understands what Egypt is .
“Egypt is a paradox, Hassan said. “The contemporary Egyptian man may have the outer image of religion, but because of his obsession with satellite TV, he is confronted with images of the west which he doesn’t truly understand.
“The occidental world knows that TV is a fantasy, but it has become a geo-political tool to control the Third World.
“When I return to Egypt, I can feel the smile has changed. People’s lives are dictated by TV, which portrays the West as a paradise, which it is not.
“The liberty in the West is misunderstood in the East. The liberty people enjoy, they fought for, and there is a balance between governments and the people.
“But western governments would not get away with treating their own people the way they treat the people in the Middle East and the Third World, Hassan said.
“Egypt needs to embrace her thinkers; Naguib Mafouz, Om Kulthoum, Sadat, and Mustafa Mahmoud amongst others. She needs to polish the lamp and not be just a museum, Hassan said.
“Egypt has always been a crossroads of ideas and one of these philosophies Sufism, which has deep roots in Egypt, offers a vision to apply mysticism in daily life.
“I teach oriental and classic dance and Arabic, which satisfies my Egyptian side, Hassan said.
I find it fascinating how expatriates the world over blend into their new nations. It is like Hassan explained; that humans are very similar creatures and will react in different ways depending on how they are treated.
Also true about expatriates is that because they view their country through a much wider lens they are more critical in their analysis and like Hassan, who appears quintessentionally French, can often morph into the national stereotype.
This stereotype is hardly a negative image, as it embraces the classical essence of the new culture.
And that is the way it goes in a French café; a lot of chat about life, philosophy and nothing in particular is resolved. Though questions are many, answers are few, lunch beckons and the French wine does too.