By Bianca Mena
On April 23, Ambassador Maged Refaat Aboulmagd, consul general of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Chicago, spoke in the Social Hall about Egyptian-American economic relations.
To kick off the event, Clair Noonan, vice president for Mission and Ministry, spoke briefly about the ongoing tragedies in the Middle East. “By the shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea, refugees flying from Africa died or faced death, the execution of dozens of Ethiopian Christians on the shores of Libya, and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by the Islamic State, we know deeply the crying need for a new way of living,” Noonan said.
Noonan said she hopes that Aboulmagd would “help us think through potential solutions to the rising tides of violence through the partnership between our two nations.”
Student Ahmad Khudahri also emphasized the connection between nations, saying, “It is important to establish a strong foundation for building relationships that should be peace.” Khudahri believes peace can only come from true dialogue, “Dialogue that has no boundaries, dialogue that does not look at truth through one face.”
After a quick prayer by Father Pavlos Fahmy, Aboulmagd took the podium where he discussed the importance in attending different American universities in the Midwest to deliver speeches on the relations between the Egyptian and American nations.
Aboulmagd said: “My main reason is the misperceptions of how the Americans perceive what is happening in the Middle East especially during the last few years. Also, there are a lot of misperceptions from the other side. How Arabs, including Egyptians, perceive the United States. I think it is profoundly important for each side to get to know more and to interact more.”
Aboulmagd said Egypt houses around 25 percent of the entire Arab population. He said: “Egypt has taken a leading role in the Arab nation especially in politics and culture. Egypt is an opinion maker and an opinion leader.” Currently, Egypt is the third largest economy in the Middle East, following Saudi Arabia. It is also the second largest investor.
According to Aboulmagd, America has specific trade relations with Egypt. For example, Egypt receives around $1.3 billion of heavy machinery from the United States and in return gives the United States “privileged access” to the country.
After the Egyptian revolution in 2011, there were two popularized uprisings amongst the people. Aboulmagd said: “They wanted more freedom; they wanted to be considered as citizens of the State and not as subjects of the State. They also wanted economic involvement.” In the years following the revolution, over 55 million people voted, whereas previously there were just 7 million registered voters.
Aboulmagd said nearly 20 percent of the population lives on $1 per day. Over time, Aboulmagd hopes for better education, better health care and better job creations.
After reading an article on the “validity” of dividing the land into separate ethnic groups, Aboulmagd said it was the most “bizarre idea,” believing that is far from the answer to the relation of both nations. “I really cannot see the wisdom,” Aboulmagd said. “If we are going to divide according to ethnic and religious rights, then let’s re-divide the whole world. This is not the 21st century that we vote for. We vote for a National State with a civic organization that accepts all people of all religions and all backgrounds. That is the country in the 21st century.”
Aboulmagd said establishing civic communities will bring the two nations together and will be one step closer to repairing the damaged relationship. Overall, he recognizes the importance of being knowledgeable of Arabian culture. Aboulmagd said: “I’m sure that at one point in your life you will be dealing with Arab countries. That is why in Chicago, Arabic is the second largest language in the public schools, after Mandarin. Three thousand five hundred students learning Arabic, none of them of that descent—that is how the business community in Chicago perceives the region as a potential region where business is.”
At the end of Khudahri’s speech, he offered, “One has to accept that every culture, every perspective has its own form of reality, has its own form of truth.”