This past Wednesday, the College hosted Adel and Maher El-Adawy, two Egyptian ambassadors, as part of a special event planned for the Great Decisions lecture series. The two ambassadors, the grandfather and father of two College of Wooster students, addressed a packed Gault Auditorium Wednesday evening on the future of the Middle East process given recent political changes in Egypt.
The high turnout made plain the significance of the event and forced some attendees to sit on the steps in between the seats. The speakers touched on a variety of issues and concerns over the likely effects of Egypt’s recent political turmoil on the Middle East peace process and offered surprisingly candid insights into the likely future of the region.
After a heartfelt introduction by Adel ë11 and Samira El-Adawy ë13, the two Egyptian ambassadors spoke. Adel, the first to speak, focused much of his time on the international dimensions of terrorism. Affirming the Obama administration’s stance that recognition of an independent Palestinian state is a necessary part of the peace process, Adel emphasized that “we’re living in a small world; no country can achieve peace independently.” This affirmation was met with unexpected applause from many in the audience.
Adel continued with a discussion of how terrorist groups and extremists had taken advantage and likely would continue to take advantage of the tension emerging from that ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arguing that terrorist organizations had hijacked and distorted religion for their own purposes, Adel stressed the need to cooperate in order to tackle the global threat of terrorism.
The lecture took on a more personal note when Adel spoke of a number of experiences that had taught him that, wherever people show the will and the determination, no problem is insurmountable, including the recent resignation of Hosni Mubarak. Before yielding the podium to Maher, Adel cautioned against being too optimistic, expressing his concern that radicals will not be interested in cooperating.
Maher El-Adawy, speaking after his father, spoke of former Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat’s foreign policy and Egypt’s central role in the Middle East peace process. “You cannot discuss the Middle East peace process without talking about Sadat,” he said.
Maher offered his own personal insights into the history of the peace process, revealing some information publically for the very first time. Among these revelations was Adel’s removal from a leadership position in Cairo Peace, an Egyptian peace movement by Hosni Mubarak as part of an attempt to monopolize the process. Maher went on to lament the lack of any viable, moderate alternatives at that time.
Even as he admitted his frustration with Mubarak for contributing to Egypt’s current political strife, Maher reaffirmed one of the successes of Mubarak’s administration: preserving life by enforcing the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
Maher expressed personal reservations at placing the transition process in the hands of the military, whose dedication to true regime transformation he questioned. Even with his reservations about the transition process, Maher remained firm in his belief that Egypt could still act as a force for peace in the region, proclaiming vigorously, and to much applause, at one point that “there will be peace between Israel and Egypt!”
A lively question and answer session followed the presentation and allowed for attendees to pose serious questions about past actions and current responsibilities. The question and answer session ended due to time constraints and left many with their questions unanswered. Those unanswered questions are perhaps as interesting as the content of the lecture.
Among the questions audience members were unable to ask, attendees voiced their concerns that the international media would no longer report on the transition. Some audience members were quick to pull out their smartphones in the informal session after the lecture and open their news applications. What those apps revealed lent a considerable amount of credibility to their concerns.
The New York Times app for android phones, which had for the past two weeks featured almost exclusively articles on Egypt, was now displaying stories on Bahrain and other Middle Eastern countries. Other news sources revealed the same issue. Seemingly overnight, Egypt had been replaced as a news story.
When asked if he believed there was a risk that media attention would shift away from Egypt, Adel ’11 responded “absolutely. There is a big risk, but there’s media attention nevertheless on Middle East policy. A lot of people are thinking that Mubarak is gone, so the story is over. Egypt has change, but the same regime is still there.”