DC Middle East expert gets creative on podcast

Amr Kotb is an example of why this region is such a fascinating community for us to cover. He’s an international expert in Middle Eastern politics and economics, and with all that, he’s found a really interesting creative outlet. Amr, thanks for joining us, it’s great to have you.

KOTB: Thanks for having me, Jonathan, I’m happy to be here.

ABERMAN: Well, your background in international business, I think, is a great place to start. What do you do during the week?

KOTB: So during the week, I work at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. It is a research and advocacy organization based here in Washington, D.C., and what I do there, in short, is really to connect with folks in the USG, on Capitol Hill, talk to them about things that are happening in the Middle East, and try to make a case for some of our advocacy issues that we are passionate about.

ABERMAN: Which, at the moment, is a highly important thing. I mean, I don’t know how many people here in town really focus on how tightly intertwined our economy is– the American economy, even our local economy–with places like Egypt, for example.

KOTB: Yeah, absolutely. The economy, and security is a big deal as well. I mean, what we find ourselves doing a lot of is… you know, the United States is very much interested in a stable Middle East, and it sees Egypt as a country that’s on the front lines as far as civility is concerned. So when we talk about civility, we try to bring attention to the importance of, you know, a strong and vibrant civil society, a free media, the ability for NGOs to function freely. All of that, we feel, is also part of talking about security, and economy, and all these things. So while we do do a lot of work on security and economy in their own right, we also want to make the point that those things are very much intertwined with democracy and human rights.

ABERMAN: And all those are big, weighty issues, and important, and indicative of the of kind things that people do here, bigly, every day. So you’re involved in what I would describe as heavy and impactful work during the week, but you have this creative side, right? So, how do you satisfy the other parts of your personality? You’re up to something now that got my attention. Tell me about you came to launch the Sunday Blues podcast.

KOTB: Yeah, absolutely. I think the best way to put it is that I’m someone who always searched for meaning in life. I want to try to live a meaningful life that has significance. And that’s kind of connected to a certain feeling that I have almost every Sunday since I was young, and it’s probably just because the week is wrapping up, and a new week is ahead, and you start thinking about, okay, back to my normal life. With that comes, for me, has always come with a lot of deep introspection. Sort of, you know, sometimes existential crisis. What does life mean, and what are we meant to do? Sometimes it’s more, okay, I have a very limited time on this Earth, what can I do with it? So. as someone who’s searching for meaning, I had those thoughts every Sunday, I definitely struggled with that day of the week, and I wanted to, you know, start a creative pursuit as a way of really, you know, alleviating that sense that I had every Sunday. So, I tried a couple different things. I tried some blogging, I tried some videos with friends, and eventually thought, you know, if this is all coming from Sundays, why don’t I, as a coping mechanism for me and anybody else who may be having these feelings, start a podcast where we can really get into these feelings a little bit more, and be a place for folks to embrace that sense that they have on Sundays, but also to do something productive with it.

Subscribe to the What’s Working in Washington podcast on iTunes.

ABERMAN: What’s interesting to me as you describe it, you can form very much, in my mind, the template of what I see from a lot of entrepreneurs here in town–people are drawn here because they want to be impactful. You were in New York before, as was I. Is that one of reasons you came to D.C.?

KOTB: I think so, definitely. I mean, we were talking about my full time job just a little bit ago, and I’m the type of person who’s always wanted to work in something that means something to me, that I’m passionate about. I’m Egyptian-American, both my parents are from Egypt. What I shared with you about the politics there, and the implications for US foreign policy, I hold very near and dear to my heart. And as somebody who really felt a calling toward that field–I actually used to work in finance, and I left that to change this profession–I felt like this was the only place that I could do it. So that’s what brought me to D.C..

ABERMAN: That’s why I came here. I remember, when I was eighteen, I thought one day I was going to be a Senator. Things didn’t work quite that way, but I think people come to D.C., many of us come because this is a place where we perceive we can make a difference. Sunday Blues–you know, I have friends, Sunday, they’re just depressed as heck, because they hate their jobs. This doesn’t sound to me like you hate your job. It sounds like your job enriches you. So, what do you, and your friends, and your guests–what is Sunday blues about, for you?

KOTB: Really, what it’s all about, Jonathan, is just trying to take abstract, deep, reflective thoughts and do something good with them. I think that, a lot of times on Sundays, there’s so many different ways you can feel on a Sunday, right? You could just have anxiety. My God, the week is starting tomorrow. You could have, sort of, you know, I need to spend more time with my friends. You could just sort of start to think, oh, I’m in the wrong job, I’m in the wrong city. All these things. I think a lot of these things cross our minds on Sundays, but we don’t always know what to do with those thoughts, because they’re so abstract. So, I really just wanted it to be a place where people can just come and talk. Let’s talk about these different thoughts that we’re having, let’s think, you know, am I feeling this way about my job because I need a new job, or am I feeling this way about my job just because I’m in a little bit of a lull in my life right now? So, really trying to tackle the different angles of the Sunday Blues, and I hope it can be a place for people to embrace those thoughts, and turn them into something inspiring, something motivating, or make productive changes.

ABERMAN: Give me an example from your recent podcast, one that stands out to you of being a conversation that’s really indicative of your vision for what you want to do for people on a Sunday, or during the week, as they’re thinking about themselves.

KOTB: I think, a few weeks ago, actually, the gentleman who connected us–Adam Segal, who is the CEO and co-founder of Cove, a neighborhood work workspace here in Washington D.C.–I chatted with him soft of about what it was all about, for his idea to create this neighborhood workspace, and what that meant for productivity and work and livelihood, and we really sort of clicked. I felt like he understood, really, the purpose of the Sunday Blues, and how it’s… The title’s misleading, right, Sunday Blues. It’s not really about the blues, it’s about what you can do with those blues. And, similarly, in a parallel, Adam had created Cove because of a certain lack of excitement that came with going to an office every day, from nine to five, and wanting that job to be fun, and to be part of a productive, lively experience, where you’re doing so many different things. You go to work and you’re having fun for a little bit, but then you can go to the gym, and that makes you feel good about yourself, and maybe you check out a new restaurant, and then you come back to work. Having all these things as part of one productive, happy lifestyle really was a message that resonated with me, and resonated with the point of the show.

ABERMAN: That sounds great. So, where can we find Sunday Blues if we want to add it to our podcast stream?

KOTB: Thank you so much for asking me that. So, we’re always looking for listeners. You can check us out on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

ABERMAN: Alright, well, thanks a lot for taking the time to join us today. I’ll look forward to checking out Sunday Blues real soon.

KOTB: Thanks so much for having me.