The Middle East @ Work

Stay in America or return to Egypt?

Marketplace Staff Mar 11, 2008
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The Middle East @ Work

Stay in America or return to Egypt?

Marketplace Staff Mar 11, 2008
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: We’ve been hearing this week from people who’ve come from all over the world to work here. Some have come to Dubai, others to different parts of the Middle East. Plane tickets work both ways, though. And human capital is a big export for some countries in this region.

Commentator Mona Eltahawy says the decision to leave comes with mixed emotions.


MONA ELTAHAWY: I’m an Egyptian born journalist who moved to the U.S. in 2000. My brother and his wife, both physicians, arrived a year earlier.

Whenever I travel from New York City, where I live, to their home in Ohio, there’s one question guaranteed to start a never-ending conversation.

Should we stay in the U.S. where each of us has a job we love? Or should we return to Egypt and pass on our skills and all that we’ve learned here in the U.S.?

We circle the question constantly. We’re unable to decide, yet unable to drop a subject which surely troubles many others who have also left their countries of birth for opportunities elsewhere.

The question is especially poignant for my brother and his wife. They were the benefactors of a free medical school education in Egypt. State-run universities are free for Egyptians.

But the reason they left Egypt is one of the reasons they hesitate to return: a rigid hierarchy and lack of opportunities sideline young people with ambition. They must wait years for positions my brother and his wife have found here in the U.S.

Every now and then, we hear of a brave soul or two who took the plunge and returned to Egypt. But we just as often hear of how frustrated they became at the bureaucracy and that stubborn hierarchy. They complain of hours wasted in government offices to finish paperwork. And of the territorial nature of new co-workers worried by the skills of the newly returned Egyptians. Many quickly give up and leave the country once again.

We like to think there are other ways we can benefit Egypt and our fellow Egyptians.

Occasionally, a young Egyptian doctor or journalist recently arrived in the U.S. contacts me or my brother. We do all we can to introduce them to our network and give them the kind of help which made our transition here easier.

If they choose to return to Egypt, then hats off to them.

If they stay, I’m sure they too will start their own never-ending conversation.

KAI RYSSDAL: Mona Eltahawy writes a syndicated column.

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