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Can Retirement in Egypt be a Journey to a New Dawn?

July 21, 2022
Photo via Dreamstime
Photo via Dreamstime

As he wakes up, the first thing on his mind is his beloved collection of antiques resting upstairs. He prepares his morning coffee, and heads to the room where he keeps his collection.

“I treat them like they’re my children,” laughs Ahmed Abdelsattar, a 67-year-old Egyptian mechanical engineer.

From Ahmed Abdelsattar’s antique collection
Photo via Ahmed Abdelsattar

A passionate antiques collector, Abdelsattar retired at the age of 62, and was finally free to enjoy the hobbies he once had no time for. From gramophones to ancient radios, Abdelsattar collects antiques and keeps them on a separate floor in his house, dedicated to keeping them safe. Every morning, Abdelsattar arranges, cleans, and sometimes even fixes them if they are broken.

A gramophone from Ahmed Abdelsattar’s antique collection
Photo via Ahmed Abdelsattar

He enjoyed mechanical engineering, as a hobby, as his field of study at university, and later as his full-time career. From working at a local engineering company, he later moved to an international firm specialized in the energy industry, for 35 years, until he retired at the age of 62, after a two-year extension from his workplace.

As it stands, most Egyptians retire at the age of 60. According to Egyptian law, the retirement age will increase one year from July 2032 to be 61 years, and will gradually increase by one year, every two years, until it reaches the age of 65 by 2040.

“I hate the word ‘ma’ash’ (retirement), and I’m completely against having 60 as the retirement age. I believe 60 is an age of extreme maturity, so we shouldn’t be forcing people to leave their jobs at that age,” Abdelsattar tells Egyptian Streets.

Do Egyptians consider retirement as their golden years?

In many countries, the years following the age of 65 are called ‘golden years’.

The reality of retirement in Egypt is different to that of Europe, whereas Europeans dedicate these years to relax, travel, and make up for lost time during years of stress and hard work, many Egyptians are more apprehensive of that stage.

Although he was offered multiple jobs and partnership opportunities post-retirement, Abdelsattar refused and decided to start his own small business, giving himself the freedom to accept or reject business proposals and tasks according to his preferences.

“I’m not looking for money, I’m only after enjoying the job that I love without any pressure,” says Abdelsattar.

“Egypt’s old age pension is EGP 1,800 (USD 95), and that is illogical at a time when you really need the money. The cost of your medication will probably exceed that amount at that age,” he adds.

Aside from his interest in mechanical engineering and antiques, Abdelsattar loves fishing.

Born and brought up in the Dakahlia governorate, Abdelsattar grew to love water, fishing, and most importantly, boats. So when he faced the luxury of having time, post-retirement, he began manufacturing hand-built boats.

Hand-built boats
Photo via Ahmed Abdelsattar

Similarly to Abdelsattar, Affaf Tobbala, a renowned Egyptian author and filmmaker, believes that age is just a number.

Tobbala, who is 81 years old, was a documentary filmmaker, producer, and Head of Nile Drama television channel. After a long and successful career in media and television, an industry she had immense interest in, she took on the role of an educator. At 64, she was embarking on a new road: she began teaching at Cairo University, and later joined October University for Modern Sciences and Arts as a board member.

Around the same age, she started another career path, this time in storytelling.

Despite being a hiccup to many for being a dramatic life transition, retirement did not stop Abdelsattar or Tobbala from creating opportunities for themselves and finding different ways to enjoy life.

During her former years, Tobbala did not consider herself a writer; she did not enjoy the process, but rather found herself gravitating towards more methodical fields such as mathematics and algebra. It was her late husband, an officer and judge by trade, a writer by talent, that brought Tobbala into the world of literature. Seeking to share his interests at only 18, she learnt to enjoy the finer parts of writing over the years.

“I always felt like I had something to say, but I didn’t know how to express myself in writing,” she recalls.

An act of love for her grandchildren introduced a new career path that was once unimaginable.

“My grandchildren, Amina and Shehab, used to travel a lot. When they came home, I always wanted to do something special for them, so I began to tell them stories that I made up on my own,” she recalls.

Tobbala continued to tell her grandchildren bedtime stories that they looked forward to, until a family member encouraged her to write these stories and publish them. Following which, readers across the globe began to enjoy Tobbala’s children’s stories.

Dr. Affaf Tobbala next to her published books
Photo via Facebook

“I could never imagine being just a number among a population. I was determined to leave a mark by creating something special,” enthuses Tobbala.

Post-Retirement Plans

In many cases, compulsory retirement from the government without provision of skills and training for employees to face their post-retirement years can lead to negative experiences.

The indigestible side of retirement in Egypt has been shown in various hit Egyptian series in the last few years. In a popular Egyptian series called Abu El Arousa (‘Father of the Bride’, 2017-2022), Aida, portrayed by Egyptian actress Sawsan Badr, faces the daunting prospect of retiring from her job, after years serving as a governmental employee. Her colleagues are seen wishing her a happy birthday and blowing her birthday candles, while she prepares herself to leave her life-long career.

On the other hand, in Khali Balak Men Zizi (‘Be Careful of Zizi’), another Ramadan series which was met with success and which aired in 2021, Nariman, played by Egyptian actress Safaa El Toukhy, reaches the age of 60 and is forced to retire from a reputable position at the bank. However, her husband teases her about reaching old age.

On the same note, Amal Mikhail, a 60-years-old Egyptian based in Dubai, describes the moment of retirement in Egyptian governmental institutions as distressing.

“They celebrate the employee’s birthday, then ask him to pack and say goodbye to his workplace and colleagues on the same day. How heartbreaking is that? They make such a special day associated with a very tough memory,” she exclaims.

Award-winning author, Tobbala, advises family members to support those suffering from retirement blues by not making them feel like they have nothing to give anymore.

“True happiness is being able to give,” shares Tobbala.

Unfortunately, millions of Egyptians suffer low satisfaction levels with their lives and loss of interest after retiring.

Without hobbies, activities, or a daily routine, they begin to lose and isolate themselves from their family and friends.

The transition between employment and retirement can be harsh to digest, especially to those whose lives were preoccupied by their jobs. Having enough money and a good pension might not always be enough for a happy retirement. Instead, creating a post-retirement plan that includes pursuing hobbies, traveling, or starting one’s own business, can reduce the feeling of dissatisfaction that accompanies many retirees in Egypt.

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