I spoke to my Egyptian friend Adel just the other day and he said to me: “Why don’t you write something about Egypt? Maybe a travel article or an interview with the new Ambassador of Egypt in Zagreb? I will give you his contact.”
I really liked that idea. I have always been obsessed with pyramids. Even as I was a little boy, my nickname was Joe the Pharaoh. Or was it Joe Ramses? I can not recall at the moment. I think I was Rams-o for short back when I was selling fire crackers at the tram stop in my neighborhood. My wish is to be buried when the day comes in a majestic pyramid and to get Kim Kardashian burned in my honor at the funeral.
I have contacted the Embassy of Egypt in Zagreb and arranged for an interview with Mr Aly Sirry at “NA DOLCU” restaurant. He was accompanied by his colleague, Mohammed, who would make sure I did not ask silly questions.
You came to Zagreb 3 months ago as new Ambassador of Egypt. Was this your sentence or you asked to come to capital of Croatia? Where did you work before? Why Zagreb? Por que?
I actually chose to come to Zagreb. There were many reasons that motivated this choice, both professional and personal. After nearly 4 months spent in the city and meeting people, I’m convinced it was a good choice.
Before Zagreb I worked in Egypt’s Missions/Embassies in Vienna, Ankara, Tunis and Geneva.
Egypt is a tourist oriented country like Croatia and 20% of your GDB comes from tourism. Anytime some terrorist attack happens, your economy is in danger but your tourist season lasts 12 months and Croatia only a few. What’s your secret?
Egypt is located in a part of the world that has two important advantages: around 330 days of sunshine a year and proximity to our most important tourist markets. Of course the fact that we have a very long history with amazing archaeological sites as well as a long coastline with beautiful beaches also helps.
Croatia should have more hotels and golf courses like you if we want to attract higher income guests to visit us and extend our season. Maybe Egypt investors should come here and show us how to do it? Do you have something in plan? PS: Be careful of our corruption and bureaucracy. If our ”smart” government came to Egypt, you would start importing sand:)
Actually there are Egyptian investors who have come to Croatia looking for opportunities to invest in the tourism sector. Egypt has a fair amount of experience in the construction of luxury resorts that would typically include one or several 5-star hotels, private homes, a golf course, food and beverage outlets and recreational facilities. I understand there is a demand for such projects in Croatia so I’m hoping to see things moving in this direction in the coming period.
Do you know how many Croats visit Egypt every year and how many Egyptians visit Croatia?
Right now I don’t have specific numbers to give you, but what I can tell you with certainty is that whatever the numbers are, they are far too low relative to where they should be.
Croatia has strong arguments to attract Egyptian tourists, including proximity, a relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere, outstanding resorts, great food and prices that, compared to other European destinations, are more competitive.
Egypt also has strong arguments to draw Croatian tourists, including the proximity I spoke of earlier, the much longer season which allows you to take in a good amount of sunshine and warmth even in November or March, and unique historical sites.
How can we attract Egyptian’s to come here? Do they know of Croatia or they only know of TITO and Luka Modric? We are promoting our sun, but you have it enough at your home.
Many Egyptians of a certain age will, of course, have vivid memories of Mr. Tito and his numerous visits to Egypt, and of course many also know Luka Modric and other Croatian football stars.
There is no doubt that Croatia’s outstanding performance at the 2018 World Cup has raised the country’s profile significantly, and created a great deal of interest in visiting the country. I personally know several people who have visited Croatia in the last year or two, and I think the numbers will keep going up because they have all come back from their trip enchanted by their experience.
I remember TITO died to make room for me (there was only room for one Dear Leader in this city) and that I got named after him. My grandma would say that it was a lie and that I got named after a carpenter from the Bible, but I would rather be linked to a former dictator. Maybe, someday, I shall be greeted in Egypt like late TITO was.:)
Aly’s face expression suggested he was 90% sure I was on some kind of drugs.
What would be the best reason for someone from Croatia to visit Egypt and when would be the best time? Do you have some destinations that you could recommend? Is Egypt an expensive destination and most importantly, is it safe?
I already mentioned the reasons that could encourage Croatians to
visit Egypt, including proximity, historical sites and weather, but there are others too, depending on what it is you are looking for.
For those attracted by eco-friendly tourism, there is a growing number of eco-resorts and agro-tourism destinations in Egypt both along our Red Sea coasts and in our desert oases. Such resorts contrast sharply with the more ‘traditional’ all-inclusive experience and provide a simpler and more authentic experience.
For those seeking a more spiritual experience, Egypt has been working in recent years to promote religious tourism, in particular with regard to the many Christian sites along the route followed by the Holy Family during their journey through Egypt. Considering that Christian monasticism was born in Egypt, some of the oldest monasteries in the world can also be visited in different parts of the country.
For more active persons, we have many well known and top rated diving spots, and there is a growing number of other sporting events being organized on a regular basis including marathons, triathlons, kite surfing competitions… etc.
Egypt is by no means an expensive destination for tourists. Through travel agencies you can get very good deals, and any additional expenses you might have will be significantly lower than equivalent expenses in most other major touristic destinations.
As far as security is concerned, all tourist resorts and all major cities in Egypt are safe. There is one very small area adjacent to our eastern border with the Gaza strip where security is a concern, but it is a remote area that is not a touristic destination.
Of course there is no denying that many parts of the world have been the target of terrorist attacks carried out by groups or individuals holding extreme views or by lone shooters, and that increased vigilance has become the norm, especially in countries like Egypt and Croatia who rely heavily on tourism.
I didn’t see any Egyptian restaurant in Zagreb – Sfinga burger…. or something like that. What kind of gastronomy do you have? Is there some famous beer or wine from Egypt?
While we do have a number of exclusively Egyptian foods, much of Egyptian gastronomy is reflective of our long history and our location at the crossroads between so many different cultures and traditions. Over the centuries and millennia, many foreign “guests” came to Egypt. While some stayed for much longer than others, all of them had an influence on the country. So in a sense you could say that Egypt had its very own fusion cuisine well before that term became fashionable some years ago.
Egypt does produce several types of beer and wine for local consumption. But more importantly, it is in Ancient Egypt that beer and wine were invented. So every time you and your friends enjoy a nice cold beer or a good glass of wine you should spare a thought for my great grandparents who made that possible. Just like I think about Croatia every morning when I have to strangle myself by tying a long piece of cloth around my neck before going to work!
Speaking of food and restaurants, Aly was smashing through his hamburger and Mohammed enjoyed a steak. They were absolutely thrilled.:)
How many Egyptians are living in Zagreb/Croatia?
There are only a few dozen Egyptians living in Zagreb/Croatia.
Except tourism, what is your most important export product? What do you export to Croatia and what do you import from Croatia? Do you see some business opportunities with Croatia?
In general terms, Egypt’s major exports are oil and mineral products, chemical products, gold, agricultural products, textiles… But the Egyptian government is now engaged in a plan to limit or even end the export of raw materials and instead encourage the export of manufactured and finished products with a much higher added value.
When it comes specifically to the trade volume between Egypt and Croatia, what I can tell you is that it is inconsistent and below where it should be. Considering the geographic proximity between both countries and the resulting ease of transporting goods by air or by sea, as well as the fact that each of our countries produces goods that are needed by the other, we really should have better trade figures.
Your population is growing every second, and Croatian is decreasing every second. What is your secret? Are Egyptians better lovers, is it because of all that sand? Maybe Croatia could copy your recipe.
I’m not aware of any scientific studies linking high rates of population increase with the abundance of sand in any given country. I’m also not in a position to judge whether or not Egyptians are better lovers than Croatians. Perhaps it’s the weather?
How did you like Zagreb and Croatia until now (people, food, drinks…). Was it a big culture shock for you?
I’ve really enjoyed being in Zagreb so far. I find the people to be very open, friendly and relaxed. I’m amazed at the number of people who speak English. That does not really help when you’re trying to learn Croatian, but it does ensure that we manage to communicate quite well anywhere we go.
Concerning the food, I see that there is a wide variety of options to choose from, but I still have not had the opportunity to explore your culinary landscape as I should. So I’ll need a few more months to discover the gastronomy of the different regions of Croatia and decide which of them exerts the strongest attraction on my stomach.
As far as coming to Zagreb is concerned, there was no culture shock for me. I’ve lived in several European cities, including Vienna, so I knew more or less what to expect.
You should know that before coming to Zagreb, I spent six years in Cairo which is a very large, very crowded and sometimes chaotic city of over 20 million inhabitants who never seem to sleep. So you can imagine how much I appreciate the convenience of living in a city like Zagreb where things are calm, where a few minutes in your car will get you to anywhere in the city, and where one can enjoy such easy and close access to so many large green spaces.
Do you have information on how many Croatians visit Egypt and vice versa? My Intel from the main bus station in Zagreb said that Croatians were only traveling to Ireland and Germany.
I do not have exact numbers but I can tell you for sure that those numbers would be far too low compared to what they should be. Croatia has strong arguments to attract Egyptian tourists: a relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere, amazing resorts, even more amazing food and affordable pricing compared to some, more mainstream European destinations. On the other hand, Egypt has many perks that would appeal to Croatians such as much longer season with plenty of sunny days, even during winter, and I don’t even have to mention all the natural and archaeological sites specific to Egypt.
I said to the Ambassador that I was just provided with information on Palma Travel agency that organizes flights to Egypt each Saturday so that around 150 people from Croatia and the region travel to the land of pyramids each week. Aly had trouble believing me and he had to see it for himself. He put on a Mona Lisa smile once he saw pictures of his homeland.
Is this interview for flash.hr the peek of your diplomatic career? If it is not, feel free to lie that it is.
My diplomatic career is still ongoing, so it would be premature for me to answer this question. You’ll have to set yourself a reminder to ask me again in December 2025 during which I will reach my retirement age from the diplomatic service. That would be a good occasion for you to publish a sequel to this interview. Maybe title it “The Ambassador Strikes Again”.
Most important question in Croatia for the end – Where were you in 1991?
Ps: If I haven’t asked you something that you would like to share, share it now or forever hold your peace.
Let’s keep something for “The Ambassador Strikes Again” interview in 2025.
Aly noticed that both Mohammed and I were wearing Strugar shoes so he insisted we showed him to the shop. I shall quote him: “No way I am going to wear Armani like some poor schmuck!”
I recalled him mentioning Croatian Nutella earlier during our interview so I had to ignore my cheap nature and buy Aly and Mohammed a jar of Lino Lada Gold. I have explained to them that this was a better nut spread than any other they have tried and they should consider it as a new import product for their country. Also, I had to mention how I could not help but notice how both of them together make a Mohammed Aly 🙂
Author: Josip Novosel aka Joe the Pharaoh, Gastro Snob and self proclaimed Dear Leader Joe, a corresponding member of the “50 shades Pyramids” magazine, a friend to the wealthy, a tycoon and a snob but above all a human.