I hope you’ll forgive my lack of posts, dear reader; it’s a fantastically busy time to be someone studying Middle Eastern politics and policy, so classes and outside commitments have been intense in these past several weeks and only now on our (early) spring break am I having time for rest, relaxation, and a little bit of general catch up.
The story I want to share today begins back in June of 2010, when myself and nine other Rice students travelled to Cairo, Egypt with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. The program, called Public Diplomacy and Global Policymaking in the 21st Century (kind of a mouthful, I know) was one of the best experiences of my life. We spent seven days in Egypt with ten students from the American University at Cairo which included six two hour conferences on topics ranging from economic development to women’s rights and interfaith dialogue to media bias. Much of our time, however, consisted of touring around Cairo, getting to know the Egyptian cohort on a personal level. I made some fantastic friends in that week and had an incredible experience—I had wanted to go to Egypt since I was a kid, and it was everything I had anticipated for the years since. We published a report upon our return detailing the discussions we had and talking about some general reflections on the trip, which can be found here.
Fast forward to January of 2011 for the most recent installment of my efforts in US-Egyptian relations, when six of the AUC students that we met in Cairo came to Houston for a visit! We spent four days with them doing a wide range of things, including visiting classes, holding private meetings with Ambassador Djerejian and Dr. Lindsay, heading downtown to hear a presentation by Exxon Mobil, and even attending (per request of our guests, of course) a typical Friday night party at Rice! The highlight of our friends’ visit was a two night film festival at the Baker Institute. On Thursday, we saw Days of Sadat, a famous Egyptian docudrama about former president Anwar al-Sadat. Friday’s film was called Garbage Dreams, a documentary about the Zaballeen ethnic minority in Egypt and their evolving sociohistorical role as the garbage processors for Cairo.
All in all, both visits were a success; as a student of international relations, and in this case specifically public diplomacy, I am continually more convinced that every opportunity that an average citizen has to peer into the lives of another culture, the more educated we collectively become as a society. My Egyptian friends are all safe and sound in Cairo despite the fervor of recent activity there, and most are optimistic about their beloved country’s future. All in all, the Egyptians are truly a noble people, and I for one look forward to a continued partnership between my country and theirs as they lead the struggle for self-determination and true democracy in the Middle East.