Amal Kandeel: Turning (Economic) Theory into (Artistic) Action

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Amal Kandeel: Turning (Economic) Theory Into (Artistic) Action

Janet McMahon is the managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

If Egyptian economist Amal Kandeel were the standard, the stereotype of the ivory-towered academic would be smashed to smithereens. Not only do the former Cairo University instructor's books--one on the effect of the Middle East conflict since 1948 on Jordan and an upcoming one on the economy and people of Iraq throughout the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars and subsequent U.N. sancions--attest to her interest in the real world, and the real people living in it, but her involvement with these issues extends beyond the written word. Kandeel organized disaster relief for Egyptian flood victims, volunteered in a hospital treating cancer patients and amputees, and recently organized a small exhibition at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC to showcase scenic handweavings from Egyptian villages. As she summed it up, "There's more to life than just economic theory."

Kandeel moved to the U.S. in July 1999, after earning her master's degree at the American University in Cairo the previous year. Having traveled throughout the Mediterranean region--to Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta--and as far away as Thailand, she was struck each time she returned to Egypt, she said, by the fact that her own country produced crafts of the same quality and authenticity as she had seen abroad. Perhaps because the world associates Egypt with the pyramids and pharaonic tombs, however, these modern-day Egyptian handicrafts were little known.

Kandeel's purpose in organizing the exhibit was twofold: to build an awareness of handweaving in Egypt and, by so doing, to help the weavers build self-reliance--which she finds preferable to "dispensing relief. …