Conor Sheils heads to Topman to meet the UK's own top man, British ambassador John Casson and talks style, investment and bamia with the 007 lookalike...
He may not have a licence to kill but Britain's 007-lookalike ambassador loves nothing more than a steaming plate of bamia. John Casson took over the hot seat as the Egypt's top man from Her Majesty's not-so-secret service in August this year. Casson's appointment as the British ambassador, a move which saw him become one of the youngest diplomats to ever set foot on Egyptian soil, consummated a long standing love affair with Om al Donya.
"It's a dream job for me," he says as we meet the man of the hour as he cuts the ribbon on Egypt's latest British import, Topshop, which opened in Cairo Festival City last weekend. "When I came here in 2011, I was amazed by Egyptian ambitions for the future of this country. I love the Egyptians' passion for their country; people here have such strong aspirations and they are willing to work hard to realise these ambitions for democracy, stability and economic prosperity. And I believe that is why Britons are willing to invest so much in the country," he explained, pointing to the glossy new store behind him.
The new Topshop (complete with Topman) - the second largest in the Middle East - marks the latest major British investment in Egypt's recent history. The monetary injection has seen companies such as Vodafone, BP and British Gas invest millions in the Egyptian economy. "I'm very proud that British investment is half of all foreign investment in Egypt I think that shows that Britons know that a strong prosperous Egypt is really good for Egypt and really good for Britons. It's a brilliant place to come on holiday, it's a brilliant place to do business - it's number one in the Middle East," explains the Bond-lookalike.
Casson has previously served as Assistant Ambassador in Jordan before becoming becoming David Cameron's Personal Foreign Affairs Secretary prior to his Egyptian move. However Casson's latest post hasn't come without obstacles as the suave ambassador admit he has been left shaken not stirred by the obstacles he faces in helping to fix Egypt. "One of the things I love about Egypt is the diversity of people. You have so many people all wanting a better future for the country. But that's also the biggest challenge - there are 90 million people here, that's a lot of people I need to speak with who want to ensure progress for this country. It is a big job."
Despite his high ranking in Egyptian diplomatic circles, Casson has no problems when it comes to swapping posh dinners for Egyptian favourites: "Bamia is my favourite!" he says excitedly. But it's not just our food that has whet the ambassador's appetite; Casson has also backed the commonly held belief that Egyptians are among the world's most stylish. "I'm always impressed by Egyptian style, people from many different cultures and backgrounds always find a way to be creative. Whether they are rich or not rich - Egyptians wil always find a way to be stylish."
In many ways Casson's fashion tastes also reflect his down-to-earth, outspoken views on foreign treatment of Egyptian society. "I want Britain to be on the side of Egypt's future. There are 45 million people here under 25 and we want to be a part of that as investors. A lot of the things that people try to do from outside for Egypt is the the equivilant of a car having a flat battery and someone giving it a push. Foreign aid and tourism is only giving it a push but not starting the engine. When you have investment, it doesnt just take the money and send it back to Britain. Investment leaves factories, jobs infrastructure behind. Investment is what fires up the Egyptian economy, new investment is exactly what Egypt needs right now."
However Casson is under no illusions about the current state of the Egyptian economy. "The latest figures show that there has definitely been progress but we still have a long way to go here... It's a long road ahead." However, I'm passionate about Egypt's future and I'm extremely proud that Britain is leading the way here."
Diamonds are forever - but it seems that Britain's Golden Eye is set to stay on Egypt for quite some time to come.
Photography by Ahmed Magdy.