In an exclusive interview with the Azeri Observer Magazine, Spouse of Egyptian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ines Eissa, talks about the role of women in contemporary Egyptian and Azerbaijani society, the hardest aspect of a diplomats’ life, the inspiration she receives in Azerbaijan and explains why Baku was love at first sight.
BY NARMIN RZAYEVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: How do you find your posting in Azerbaijan? Is it any different from what you expected?
Answer: My posting in Azerbaijan is very enjoyable. Azerbaijani people are very warm, welcoming and gracious. I essentially admire this mysterious mixture combining modernity and authenticity. When I arrived in Baku, I fell in love with the city before even reaching the residence. It was “le coup de foudre.” The country is inspiring and from the first minute it reflects serenity and inspiration at all levels. In this regard, I would also like to stress the welcoming and comforting environment and support extended to diplomats by Azerbaijani government and people, which had a substantive effect on our adaptation upon our arrival. The most memorable and surprising thing for my husband and I is when we were honored and received by Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, 48 hours after our arrival in Baku. That was a great surprise, and gave us tremendous encouragement to start promoting relations between the two brotherly countries.
Q.: What are your personal responsibilities as a spouse, as the Head of the Egyptian Mission?
A.: Well, this is the most difficult question you can ask a diplomat’s spouse, as we do not have a precise job description. Most of our duties are unexpected and unplanned. The basic responsibilities are participating in the activities of the diplomatic communities, related to promoting relations with the Azerbaijani society. We continue to strengthen the representation of Egypt at the social and cultural events in Azerbaijan. To cut a long story short, as the spouse of an ambassador, your main responsibility is ‘to be present’ as your presence has to be visible and most effective at all times.
Q.: How do you spend your free time?
A.: I like painting, reading and music. Classical hobbies. My main painting theme is focused on women, bordering between self-portrait’s and a woman’s state of mind.
Nevertheless, the beauty of the nature in Azerbaijan and its diversity, will be a good inspiration for painting landscape in the near future. You may be surprised to know that although my sons are 26 and 23 years old, they are still able to keep me quite busy. In modern times the more our sons grow, the more parents’ responsibilities expand.
Q.: Being married to a diplomat is challenging for numerous reasons, including living far away from loved ones and moving frequently; how do you and your husband support each other and your family?
A.: Actually, becoming a diplomat for my husband was a passion that I shared with him, since we were already engaged when he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At that time I was working in tourism, and he was journalist. When he shifted to diplomacy, I changed my career to become a journalist. This shows how we supported each other since the very beginning. We share the same passion for diplomacy and journalism.
Q.: What do you most admire about your husband? What does he most admire about you?
A.: What I most admire about my husband is his ambition and persistence. I also appreciate his love for his family, his country and especially his occupation. For him, being a diplomat is above all, a passion, not just work. In the meantime, being so dedicated to his job was never at the detriment of the family. He is much too caring, and his family remains equally a top priority. Most importantly, my husband likes to have a strong woman as a wife beside him. He always encouraged me to build my career as a journalist, and supported me as an amateur painter. Concerning what he most admires about me, I couldn’t tell you, I would advise you to ask him directly. However, he always expresses his appreciation and never hides his positive feelings.
Q.: What is the general image of an Egyptian woman? What are her main traits? Does she have any similarities with how you perceive Azerbaijani women?
A.: In my opinion, the main characteristic of an Egyptian woman is her strength, contrary to the widespread prejudgment in western countries. Women are very powerful and influential within Egyptian society. It starts in the family; where women share the same responsibilities as men, also influencing in all major decisions. Almost half of the labor powers in Egypt are females. Forty percent of diplomats are women, and the same ratio applies to doctors, teachers and even engineers. Women in Egypt are highly respected, and I have noticed that women in Azerbaijan are enjoying the same privileges. In your country, women are spontaneously respected. I have the impression that it is embedded in the culture of society and I really appreciate that. I have also noticed that, women in Azerbaijan maintain a delicate balance preserving a kind of conservatism in a very modern way.
Q.: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
A.: The hardest aspect is always being far away from your country, feeling somewhat disconnected at times. However, in order to represent Egypt in a proper manner you have the obligation of always being aware of the developments back home. That was a very delicate problem at the beginning of our journey in Tanzania in 1995, but nowadays, the information technology revolution has made our life much easier. Another difficult aspect in the diplomatic life is when you face the difficult choice to be abroad, due to your diplomatic responsibilities or to go back home to assume some of your family responsibilities, especially when your parents suffer from health problems.
Q.: If you could choose any other life for yourself and your family, what would you have chosen instead as a profession?
A.: I believe that the alternative for diplomacy and journalism would perhaps be more artistic. What I am quite sure about is that we are not business oriented. I would rather see myself in interior design, painting or as a TV anchor. For my husband I think he would be a novel writer.
Q.: And finally, our signature question: It is said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does this manifest itself in your family?
A.: Well, in our family, we do not adhere to this concept. We would rather believe that with every successful man, there is a woman standing beside him, not behind. This works both ways. In modern times, women are equally ambitious and active in the public field, so it is not consistent to put a woman behind a man. My husband and I mutually support each other to achieve our ambitions, and to make our dreams come true.