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The Link Between Hokkaido and Egypt

Hussein Zanaty (SNA)

SNA (Tokyo) — The city of Kitami is a flat and frozen region of northern Hokkaido, facing up towards the Sea of Okhotsk. That, together with its small population of about 120,000, makes it a poor candidate to have anything to do with hot and dusty central Egypt; but it is here, of all places, that resides the executive director of the Egyptian Japanese Friendship Association (EJFA).

Many long-term foreign residents of Japan found their way to this country through circuitous routes, and that was certainly the case for Hussein Zanaty. Born in the central Egyptian city of Minya—also the birthplace of the renowned modernist intellectual Taha Hussein and the pioneering founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union Huda Sharawi—Zanaty was a Red Cross worker during the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. It was there he met a Japanese woman who would later become his wife and bring him to Hokkaido by 1998.

Zanaty found work as an English teacher, and in the years since proved himself an energetic advocate for Egypt-Japan relations, especially in the fields of education and intercultural exchange.

The EJFA has been in existence since 1970, founded by Mohamad Abdulqader Hatem, a senior Egyptian politician who served with great longevity as a top adviser to three of his country’s presidents. Funded by the Egyptian government and its own membership of about three hundred people, under Zanaty’s guidance it is making a great effort facilitate direct communication between Japanese elementary school students in Hokkaido with their Egyptian peers in Minya, with simple English and hand-drawn pictures as the primary means. Zanaty is also introducing elements of Japanese education to poor students in Minya with hopes of increasing discipline and moral improvement.

Zanaty’s activities have also included such exchanges as the production of a children’s song called Ashaab / Tomodachi (Friends), using both Arabic and Japanese language.

In his recent interview with the SNA while on a visit to Tokyo, Zanaty explained more clearly what he would like Egyptian students to learn from Japan: “Good things like community service, group work, how to be disciplined, punctuality, and also things like respecting work, respecting people’s time. Also, I want them to know how to work for their country not by carrying flags and shouting, but through work. If we work together there is no difference between your religion and my religion or anything we want to do. We are one people living under one sky.”

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