News / Middle East

Egyptian-American Citizen Diplomacy Promotes Understanding

Egyptian and American Gabr Fellows starting a five-city tour in the U.S., , Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).                 Egyptian and American Gabr Fellows starting a five-city tour in the U.S., , Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
x
Egyptian and American Gabr Fellows starting a five-city tour in the U.S., , Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
Egyptian and American Gabr Fellows starting a five-city tour in the U.S., , Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
TEXT SIZE - +
Mohamed Elshinnawi
In an era of increasing globalization and reliance on impersonal electronic communication, more and more people develop their most lasting impressions through face-to-face encounters. In this context, citizens’ diplomacy becomes a powerful force in bridging cross-cultural differences. With that in mind, Egyptian businessman Shafik Gabr recently launched a new citizens’ diplomacy effort to build bridges between the Arab world and the West.

Gabr’s initiative, East-West: The Art of Dialogue”, sponsored exchanges between 20 young and emerging leaders in the arts, sciences, law, media and business from Egypt and the United States.

The Egyptian and American young professionals began the citizens’ diplomacy program in Egypt last June. They met with public figures and engaged in intensive discussions, debates and site visits.  The program then moved to the United States, including a visit to Washington last week where the fellows met with Obama administration officials, members of Congress, policy experts and business leaders.

Leslie Lang and Amr Ismail explaining their micro clinic project to deal with the growing population of diabetic Egyptians, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).Leslie Lang and Amr Ismail explaining their micro clinic project to deal with the growing population of diabetic Egyptians, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
x
Leslie Lang and Amr Ismail explaining their micro clinic project to deal with the growing population of diabetic Egyptians, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
Leslie Lang and Amr Ismail explaining their micro clinic project to deal with the growing population of diabetic Egyptians, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
The Gabr Fellows examine the mutual challenges and opportunities that the two very different countries share, including economic issues, entrepreneurship, and the role of religion in public life.

“I am struck by the extent to which our two countries’ respective problems are similar, albeit to differing degrees,” said Christina Fallon, an American Gabr Fellow. “In the same manner, there seems to be a common set of core values that the fellows bring to the dialogue.”

Moataz Hussein, an Egyptian Gabr Fellow drew his own conclusion about his counterparts.

“After spending those amazing days with the American fellows, I can say that the East is definitely meeting the West, not only physically, but through surprisingly common challenges as well,” he said.

For Leslie Lang, a senior vice president for strategic development at an American global non-profit medical organization experiencing life in Egypt led to a desire to learn more.

“I became so involved in understanding the waves of popular uprisings in Egypt and developed an interest in following the daily developments after I came back,” she said. Lang also joined a class to learn Arabic.

 Moving beyond preconceptions

By giving participants the chance to experience each other’s cultures and societies firsthand, Gabr says he aims to help reverse the erosion of public understanding and trust, and rediscover commonalities between Egypt and the U.S.

According to a Zogby Research Services poll conducted in July, nearly half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Egypt and only one percent of Egyptians have confidence in the U.S.

“Through this initiative, we are engaging with the next generation of leaders from both sides, creating experiences that allow these young professionals to override preconceptions with knowledge and understanding and develop cooperative interaction,” said James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, which helped to organize the exchange.

American Fellow Daniel Lansberg-Rodrigues said Egypt is now part of his life.
“Egypt is no longer an abstract concept to me and that makes a powerful difference in how I find myself viewing Egypt after being there,” he said.

“I realized that disagreeing with particular U.S. foreign policies should not be equivalent to disagreeing with an entire nation of very diverse opinions even about these policies,” said Amr Ismael, an Egyptian Fellow who feels he has to explain that to fellow Egyptians.

Joint action projects

Large TV screens to be installed in Cairo and New York for real-time cross-cultural interactions, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).Large TV screens to be installed in Cairo and New York for real-time cross-cultural interactions, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
x
Large TV screens to be installed in Cairo and New York for real-time cross-cultural interactions, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
Large TV screens to be installed in Cairo and New York for real-time cross-cultural interactions, Washington, Oct. 30, 2013 (M. ElShinnawi/VOA).
To expand the impact of this initiative, the Gabr Fellows developed joint projects which address challenges facing both countries while promoting further East-West dialogue.  The projects were presented at an event in Washington recently.
One of those projects, called Shared Distance, provides a forum for real-time cross-cultural interactions between citizens from Egypt and the U.S. through large, interactive TV screens in Cairo and New York.

"I hope that by giving emerging leaders in the Arab world and the West the opportunity to know each other and to talk to each other, rather than at each other, as well as collaborating in joint projects, will create better understanding,” Gabr said.
The fellows also collaborated in joint teams on other project ideas ranging from using comic books to examine common issues to interactive applications that help users develop better understanding between Egyptians and Americans.

Leslie Lang paired with three Egyptian and American Fellows to introduce micro clinics to Egypt, highlighting a shift in U.S. healthcare for treating chronic diseases.
“Egypt ranks among the top 10 countries of the highest rates of diabetes, so does the U.S.,” said Lang.  “We worked on a micro clinic model that brings together communities to share access to health care knowledge and education.”

With the apparent success of the inaugural class of Gabr Fellows, the program is getting ready to accept applications from Egyptian and American young professionals to start the second class in April 2014.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid