Later tonight, one of the UAE's very own beauty queens will be representing her home country Egypt at the Miss Universe 2011 pageant. Dubai-based Sara Al Khouly, who was crowned Miss Egypt last year, will take to the stage with 88 other contestants for the chance to win the coveted title in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The 23-year-old Egyptian-Croatian model made headlines last year after she became the first beauty queen based in the UAE to be chosen to represent the region in a number of competitions.
Despite not becoming one of the finalists at last year's Miss World competition in Sanya, China, Al Khouly, a student at the American University of Sharjah, went on to beat 14 other contestants to win Miss Mediterranean 2011 in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Due to the current political situation in Egypt, the part-time model was chosen to represent her country at this year's Miss Universe, making her the first Egyptian female to take part in a global beauty competition since the overthrowing of the previous Egyptian government.
Currently in Sao Paulo, Al Khouly took time out of her busy schedule while in Dubai recently to meet with tabloid! and talk about her career, politics and what she thinks of those who criticise her choice of lifestyle.
Excerpts from the interview.
Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you get into modelling? Was this something you had always wanted to do?
I was born to an Egyptian father and a Croatian mother in Libya and now I live in Dubai. I have one younger brother who I consider one of my best friends. I study at the American University and my major is in Public Relations. Over the past year, I have been extremely busy with my Miss Egypt World duties and this year is a 100 times busier for me, because now I have duties for Miss Egypt Universe, as well as Miss Mediterranean. Sometimes it gets very tiring, but I love it. You are given the opportunity to do big and amazing things in your life. My hobbies are hanging out with my friends, shopping, watching movies, travelling, fashion, swimming, photography and many more.
Did you ever live in Egypt?
Most of my time was spent in Dubai for my studies, but I also spent time in between in Egypt when I was younger.
What does representing Egypt mean to you?
It's a total honour, especially being the first woman to represent post-revolution Egypt.
In the past few years, Egypt has not been very successful in reaching the final stages of Miss Universe. What do you bring to the table that makes you different?
I think the Miss Egypt representatives of the past few years have been all great, but I think I can bring experience to the table from my last year at Miss World 2010. Also, having grown up in Dubai, I have a great appreciation for every nationality due to the culture over here. Apart from this, I feel I have a great support network around me - friends and family along with the huge support of my country, and people in Dubai as well have really been so supportive and encouraging, so that is a huge boost in my confidence.
With what is going on in Egypt at the moment, what message will you be taking with you to Brazil?
What is currently happening in Egypt is disturbing to me. However, I believe a revolution never comes without a reasonable set of losses. Egypt has been deprived from democracy for decades and people need to learn and be educated in how to express their opinions freely without forgetting to respect the laws and applicable rules.
As for the recent unrest on the Egypt-Israel border, I believe the Egyptian people will no longer tolerate violations of their dignity under the name of politics. A mistake was made on the Israeli part and we expect a response which would live up to the situation. The Egyptian people said that nothing less than a formal apology is accepted and thus Israel should do so.
What is your opinion on the upcoming presidential elections? For example, if the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of the country, a lot of restrictions will be imposed. What would you do if they impose a ban on female models in Egypt?
It is very early to judge on how will Egypt look in the future; many people are relating the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Qaida out of ignorance, but the Brotherhood has many intellectual members who believe in the civil state, so we shouldn't make an early judgment. Apart from that, the Brotherhood has already announced that they are not running for presidency in the upcoming elections as a form of goodwill.
The problem is that many people do misunderstand Islam; a Muslim state does not have to impose the Islamic ruling, just like Turkey, which we, Egyptians, aspire to achieve a similar model like. Why do we always think of the extreme scenario? With its history, culture and minds, Egypt can come up with a much more developed model, even better than Turkey.
What do you say to those who criticise you for your modelling career? Beauty pageants involve wearing a lot of revealing clothes, which usually goes against Middle Eastern culture. Does this type of criticism bother you?
In the world you have feminist groups who are against beauty pageants, because they believe they are degrading to women. In the Middle East, you have people who are against beauty pageants because of their beliefs and culture. I was born to parents of mixed backgrounds and was given the privilege to see both sides of the world, both of which I love very much. To me it is very easy to find a balance and set limits. As shy as I might be on stage about wearing a swimsuit, I really don't think it's wrong as long as it's for professional reasons and for the beauty pageant. After all, a beauty queen has to have the whole package — beauty, body, intelligence and personality. We need to be judged on everything and I support that. I always try my best to be my best in every aspect, so that my people wouldn't have anything to hold against me. They might frown upon me being in a swimsuit, but then they love me for being the girl I am.
What is your opinion on plastic surgery? Would you ever go under the knife?
I have nothing against plastic surgery, but I have personally seen many of my friends play so much with their features that they no longer look natural or like themselves, which is not very attractive. You should always know your limits in whatever you do — never do too much and never do too little. Plastic-looking women might catch a man's attention for a while but then soon it's gone. I also think women who age gracefully will always be beautiful as long as they take care of themselves.
You had your dresses designed by Dubai-based designer, Rami Al Ali. How did the collaboration come about?
The Miss Egypt organisation had a contract for sponsorship with Rami. He has been so wonderful with everything, and I feel that the dresses he has created for me are eye-catching and elegant.
Finally, what do you want to do after the Miss Egypt campaign?
I will finish my studies at American University of Sharjah and will definitely be heading towards a career in the media field.
Being a beauty queen takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Here, Sara Al Khouly shares some of her top tips for staying in shape.