Egyptian diplomat speaks on democracy

Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/ rebecca.rebholz@mu.edu

Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/ rebecca.rebholz@mu.edu

An Egyptian diplomat reasserted the strong ties between the U.S. and Egypt in a speech on campus Tuesday night.

Maged Refaat Aboulmagd, the Egyptian consul general in Chicago, focused on three topics in his speech: the major factors driving the Egyptian revolution’s success, the historical relationship between the U.S. and Egypt and the future between the two countries.

“The Egyptian-American relationship has been a solid partnership and still is,” he said.

Aboulmagd said the U.S. historically wanted a good relationship with Egypt for several reasons. He cited Egypt’s physical size, its population (the largest in the Middle East) and access to the Suez Canal, which carries about four million barrels of oil every day and about 8 percent of global shipping traffic every year. In addition, he said, Egypt has a strong influence on Arab culture and media. 

“Egypt has always been a trendsetter in (the Middle East),” he said.

Aboulmagd also put modern Egyptian political society in context after the Arab Spring.

He said Egypt now has three major centers of gravity: the military establishment, which has played a major role in Egyptian politics for a long time and spends roughly 20 percent of the country’s GDP; political Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which are now on the rise after historical persecution by the former, non-democratic government; and young people, especially women, who are speaking out and want to be involved in politics.

“(Many people) are new to politics,” he said. “They have never been involved in the process before.”

Aboulmagd discussed how democracy is a process of trial and error, with all three groups trying to find the limits of their influence.

“A transformation into (a) more democratic system really needs time,” he said.

Aboulmagd said multiple times that the upcoming October parliamentary elections in Egypt will be significant for the future of the democracy. He said having all the parties negotiating as equals, rather than one party having a large majority in the government, was an ideal outcome.

Sareene Proodian, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences who has family in Egypt and attended the speech, said she was optimistic about Egypt’s future.

“He put a positive spin on the situation,” she said.

“It was good to get (his) perspective,” said Nora Leinen, another graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Leinen said Aboulmagd’s speech was a good reminder that democracy depends on a country’s existing cultural and political standards, not on the image Americans have of it.

Aboulmagd said the future relationship between Egypt and the U.S. will be complex and delicate but that there is a strong chance the goodwill between the two countries will continue.

“Egypt with a democracy would be a stronger partner for America,” he said.

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