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Thursday, 28 October 2021

My Morning Routine: Seán O Regan, Irish Ambassador in Cairo

Seán O Regan, Irish Ambassador in Cairo. Each week, My Morning Routine looks at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Seán O Regan (LinkedIn), the Irish Ambassador in Cairo. Edited excerpts from our conversation:

I’m Seán O Regan and I’m the Irish Ambassador in Cairo. I’ve been here for just over four years and it’s my second ambassadorial posting. I’ve also had postings in Finland, Turkey, China and Slovenia since working at the Department of Foreign Affairs. My background is in science, and I started my career in that field before returning to university to do an MBA and taking the civil service exam.

In many ways, my job is my hobby. I’d always been interested in politics, but not electoral politics. And while this job has a little bit of everything, what interests me most is the political analysis — which is very much about understanding people and what motivates them. Someone once told me my job is to make friends for my country, which is so true — whether it’s at the Foreign Ministry, in Chambers of Commerce, or in the arts.

Egypt and Ireland have a long history of converging policy objectives. Even before either country was independent, we sought to cooperate with the Egyptian delegation at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. And there was quite a lot of contact between the Irish and Egyptian independence movements. Nowadays, we work closely together on foreign policy issues like the Middle East peace process, and peacekeeping generally. We established our embassy here in the 1970s.

Our trade relationship with Egypt is good, but could be better. Most of the food that Ireland used to export here, like meat, has become too expensive — in part as it’s produced through sustainable agriculture — for many Egyptian consumers. We do export quite a lot of dairy products, though you might not see them on shelves as they’re sold as commodities.

Now, much of our trade with Egypt consists of services. Virtually all “made on the internet” companies like Google and Facebook have their Europe or MENA headquarters in Ireland. Many Egyptians living in Ireland work for those companies. Likewise for pharma companies, and we’ve got a very strong fintech sector — several Egyptian banks use Irish fintech products.

We’re hoping that EgyptAir will launch a direct flight to Ireland in the not too distant future — which would also make a big difference to the trade relationship.

My working day typically starts around 8:30am, reading the papers — with Enterprise second on my list, after the Irish Times. Then it’s the New York Times, the Economist, and various press summaries provided by the EU and other organizations. It generally takes me an hour to get through everything. I often hold meetings in the morning, and do my report reading and any writing in the afternoon.

Obviously, working lunches and dinners are a big part of this life, and tend to take place two or three times a week. It all sounds very social and glamorous — and a lot of it is — but of course it’s work too.

We did work from home during the height of covid, but now we’re pretty much full-time back in the office. Both have their challenges — especially when it comes to keeping people motivated during a really difficult period. I think that’s something that all organizations, large and small, have faced. The next challenge will be making sure people continue to practice safe behavior back in the office.

Outside of work, I enjoy reading, walking, and watching good films. During the pandemic, I also started playing golf regularly. Reading is important to me, and I like fiction, though I probably read more biographies and political history. My other big love is rugby.

I love the serenity of the desert. There isn’t necessarily one particular part I like more than any other. I just love it all. I also feel the same way about Siwa, which I’ve visited several times.

I’m currently reading several interesting books: My current fiction book is “A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom” by John Boyne. My current non-fiction is “The Islamic Enlightenment” by Chris de Bellaigue. My most recent Egyptian book was “Otared” by Mohammed Rabie.

A fascinating 1920 book called “An Egyptian in Ireland” gives some insights into the Ireland-Egypt relationship. It tells the story of a young man, Ibrahim Rashad, who went to Ireland to study economics. He wrote a wonderful book about the history of the Irish cooperative society movement, arguing it was something Egypt should adopt in its own development.

People may be interested to know that Halloween is Irish, and holds an important place in Irish culture. The modern-day celebration of Halloween is derived from the ancient holiday of Samhain, which marked the transition from autumn to winter. Some call it the Celtic new year. Traditionally, it was a time when the veils separating past, present and future became thin, which people believed allowed them to commune with their ancestors and predict the future. The feast became associated with fortune telling and visiting. People carved skulls out of turnips to frighten away roaming spirits, and keep their houses safe.

The history of Halloween is in some ways the history of the Irish diaspora. Irish emigrants took the holiday to the US, but some of the stuff Americans think of as Halloween doesn’t resonate with us at all — particularly when it comes to the horror and gore.

In Ireland, our celebrations don’t have the excesses of Hollywood but do retain all the mystery and fun. Starting last Sunday and running until Halloween itself, there’s a Halloween festival in Dublin, with events like ghostly tours of the city. Bram Stoker was Irish, so the Dracula story gets told a lot. We celebrate with traditional children’s games, like bobbing for apples. We might also eat special food, like barmbrack — Irish fruit bread that traditionally has various objects baked in as part of a fortune-telling game. Dressing up is important — especially for children, who would traditionally perform a song or dance in exchange for sweets or an apple.

Will I be celebrating Halloween in Cairo? Of course. We have a Halloween celebration at the embassy every year. This year, we’re undergoing some repairs — so for once I’ll be going to someone else’s party.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2022 Enterprise Ventures LLC.

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