The National Organization
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Cooperation and Challenges
Mr. Abderahman Salaheldin, Consul
General of Egypt in San Francisco since 2004, addressed ARCE members, CMES
members and guests with a very enjoyable, informative and thought provoking
message. Throughout his lecture he stressed the strong relationship between the
United States and Egypt which has functioned for decades as one of the major
stabilizing forces in the Middle East.
Consul Salaheldin opened his remarks with a recounting of his morning in Los
Angeles, participating in the opening of a new exhibition at the Getty Museum,
featuring information and objects from St. Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai.
He stated firmly that exhibitions such as this one are what matters now in
American, Egyptian relations. They provide an entrée into Egyptian history and
an outstanding example of cooperation in a world of diverse views and cultural
differences. St. Catherine’s is located in the lower Sinai, and is run by Greek
Orthodox monks and priest. The monastery holds icons that date from the earliest
days of Christianity, as well as from the Middle Ages – a period when icons were
being burned in Europe, thus few remain elsewhere. St. Catherine’s also has in
it’s library, manuscripts of letters written by the prophet Mohammed to priests
and monks at the monastery stressing that peaceful relationship ought to exist
between Islam and the other Abrahamic religions. The monastery has a small
mosque built by the Fatimids, but which was never used for its intended purpose
as it is not oriented so that worshipers may face toward Mecca. The monastery
elected to keep the mosque, nonetheless, and it can be visited today. Muslim
pilgrims still come to St. Catherine’s to walk where Moses is believed to have
walked, and to see the spot where it is believed God appeared to him in a
burning bush, as do Jews, Copts, and other Christian pilgrims. All the three
religions meet there under the administration of the Greek Orthodox fathers.
Consul Salaheldin expressed a fervent wish that it could be thus everywhere, for
he strongly believes that only through culture exchange and mutual understanding
can peace be guaranteed. He stated that the very best way to overcome cultural
divisions is through organizations such as ARCE, who are letting people know
about other cultures.
Consul Salaheldin noted that one of the things he is proudest of is having been
instrumental in the establishment of a center for American Research at Cairo
University, whose mission is to help Egyptian students understand American
culture, government, and the multi-ethnic society which is a basic part of
American life. A similar center has been established at the American University
in Cairo as well. Centers such as these in Egypt and those such as the Center
for Middle Eastern Studies and American Research Center in Egypt help to make it
possible for people to understand both cultures and appreciate them. He
expressed hope to see an Egyptian studies center at UC Berkeley before the end
of his present tour in San Francisco. He noted, that it is probably not possible
to remove premeditated conflicts, but it is possible to produce a better
educated public, which is in the best interest of everyone.
American-Egyptian relations is a good example of how a dialogue exemplifies
cooperation and provides a model for others to follow. This relationship has
survived many conflicts. During difficult periods, for example, American efforts
through UNESCO, to save Egypt’s archaeological treasures in Nubia, kept a
positive American image alive in Egypt – at a time when America didn’t have many
other credits in Egypt! Even at times of conflict, culture is the best way to
stay in touch.
The peace process with Israel was a turning point for Egypt. It became the
cornerstone in Egypt-American-Israeli relations. American help is what made the
peace with Israel possible. To sustain that peace, the United State must
continue to be engaged and impartial. The Egypt-Israeli peace process was
intended to be a model for other neighbors. It included 4 tenants;
- A commitment to peace that was irreversible;
- A return to Egypt’s and Israel’s original borders; those of pre 1967 war.
- Security arrangements.
- Normal relations
The peace has survived major challenges such as Israel’s illegal annexation of
Jerusalem in 1980, its invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the Palestinian INTIFADA
in1987. It was Egyptian-American relations that helped keep the Egyptian -
Israeli peace intact and made other peace agreements possible. The Egyptian
American cooperation in the 1991 war against Iraq gave a clear message that the
two countries would act against an aggressor who tried to invade his neighbor,
and would work to confirm the rights of the country being invaded. Thus, Egypt,
in accordance with the UN Charter and resolutions, was an active participant in
the 1st Iraqi war during which Iraq attempted to invade Kuwait,. The 2nd Iraqi
war is a horse of a different stripe, however. Egypt disagrees with the United
States invasion and has declined to participate. However, it has continued close
military-to-military cooperation and political consultation with the US.
The United States and Egypt do have disagreements, but know how to manage them
without hurting other aspects of the relationship. The most positive aspect of
the relationship between Egypt and the United States is peace. When Egypt
declared it would pursue peace with Israel, its membership in the Arab League
was frozen, but with Egyptian persistence, the whole Arab world turned around
and joined the peace camp.
Peace is turning Egypt to an open, privatized, free enterprise economy.
Heretofore, Egypt’s economy was 75% centrally planned and only 25% private. Now
the situation has been reversed. 85% of Egypt’s GNP comes from private
corporations and institutes that are now privatized. These changes have happened
gradually so they are being done successfully. Some in the US might like these
changes to happen faster, but Egypt feels strongly that it is its own affair and
will decide what works best in Egypt.
In 1979, the US was providing $815 million in assistances each year. Today that
number has been phased down to about $400 million, and most is being used to
improve education, infrastructure – roads, clean water systems, sewers,
telecommunications, transportation, etc. In great part, these improvements have
been possible because of American assistance. Today the by-product of US
assistance has been to create a demand for US goods in Egypt thus creating jobs
in the US to produce those goodts. Egypt is heavily dependent on the US for
information technology, and is actively encouraging American companies to do
business in Egypt. Egyptians know American designed software very well,
providing a market for companies like HP, Microsoft, Intel, etc. who have all
established regional centers in Egypt. American corporations are anxious to do
business in Egypt. Consul Salaheldin noted that Egypt cannot yet compete with
India and Pakistan but they are starting to take the lead in the region and are
growing. Economic interaction has established yet another pillar of strength for
Egypt. Egypt is beginning to talk now about a Free Trade Agreement with the US
and throughout the region.
Egypt’s military cooperation with the US was identified as another model of
collaboration, by Consul Salaheldin. The US gives Egypt $1.2B in military
credits for training, hardware, etc. each year. This money is used to replace
obsolete Soviet inventory and training. The goal is to have a small but highly
effective armed service that is involved only in self-defense and peace keeping
under authority of the United Nations. Egypt has worked as part of the peace
keeping force in Somalia, Bosnia, Cambodia and elsewhere, and is now considering
becoming a participant in the peace keeping force in Darfur.
Egypt converses with the US through many channels, such as strategic dialogue
and several Joint Economic & Military Commissions. One of the subjects of
ongoing discussion addresses the pace of development and the progress toward
full democracy. The US wants Egypt to move faster; Egypt feels it must proceed
carefully, as it will be the first to be impacted if things go array but it will
not be the last. Developments in the Middle East can also impact the US, who
should be trying to take away from the radicals good reasons for involvement.
Egypt pays special attention to neutralizing radicals on both sides and not
allowing them to lead our societies to confrontation. Consul Salaheldin averred
strongly that we also cannot allow radicals to establish a theocracy in Egypt.
To this end, moderates need to speak out more – about the good things going on
between Egypt and the United States. Those involved in study of the culture and
its history are in an ideal position to explain to others how to relate the past
to the present. Such things as the similarity of religious beliefs needs to be
emphasized. Radicals are speaking and publishing hate and lies that are not
being refuted by scholars. If no one takes them to task for their hate filled
writings and speeches, the uneducated believe what they say to be true.
Egyptians have a deep interest in the US, just as American’s have great interest
in Egypt. Consul Salaheldin related that his twin sons as boys used to take
their basketball shorts imprinted with the US flag with them to Egypt each year,
but never returned with them. Each year they gave them away to a friend who
begged to have them. Egyptians don’t hate Americans. They may not agree with
everything Americans do, but they don’t hate Americans.
Consul Salaheldin concluded his remarks by stating again that stability in the
region is very important. The best way to ensure stability is to neutralize
radicals; i.e. not give them an incentive. Occupation of a country is a very
good incentive. If we cannot show that there is a good possibility of concluding
peace between Israel and the Palestinians, we are all in the same boat where
terrorism is involved. Neither Egyptians nor Americans can afford to be shy
about speaking out, but at the same time, differences should be dealt with
— Nancy Corbin