I'm just returning from a very interesting conference in Cairo sponsored by Sister Cities International. The purpose of the conference was to bring organizations together from around the world who focus on public diplomacy strategies to address challenges in the areas of poverty alleviation, energy, education and cultural exchanges etc. Folks were there from Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. My purpose in being there was to talk about the work we are doing in Mombasa, Kenya related to transparency issues in the water sector. I enjoyed giving my talk but the real value for me was learning about the various exchanges. I was really taken back by all the religious exchanges that go on, especially among youth. Dr. Mohamad Bashar Arafat from the Civilizations Exchange and Coopration Foundation
gave an excellent presentation on how youth from various religions around the world benefit from coming together and learning about each other's beliefs. And I learned a lot from Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America
who gave a fantastic speech at a beautiful 15th Century building in Islamic Cairo. He focused on how Muslims immigrating to the United States in the 1970s built partnerships with Christians and Jews. I had no idea that in many cities in the US, churches opened up their doors for Friday prayers for their Muslim neighbors because at the time there were few mosques in the US. Great examples to follow. I think these kind of exchanges are essential to increase understanding and fight ignorance and religious intolerance. How else will people come to undestand each other?
In terms of how things have changed since the revolution in Cairo my sense was that things are still extremely tense. While I was there there was a huge protest and the Israeli and Saudi Embassies were targeted. I thought it was strange that coverage in the press didn't mention any of the Saudi Embassy protests because the crowds were much bigger there. One other thing, I encourage people to go to Egypt, the tourism industry is really suffering so if you want to help buy a ticket. A word of caution though, because of the transition security is still sketchy. Make sure you get a guide to go to the pyramids etc.