Ambassador: We are here for me to learn more about Egypt and to look for possible ways hopefully that we can cooperate with the University in the future. This is my first trip to Tanta. I had a chance to meet His Excellency the Governor first, and I look forward to spending the day here. I can’t think of a better place to be than this University that gathers so many young Egyptians and the educated faculty that are trying to guide them to a good future. So I am happy to answer any questions that I can.
Q: What is the U.S. doing to support the Egyptian-American relations? There are signed protocols and joint protocols, so do you have anything to say about it?
Ambassador: This is really our initial opportunity to meet. As I said, I have not been here before. When President Obama came to Cairo in June, he talked about a new era of cooperation between United States and the Islamic World and we are determined to try to do our best to fulfill this idea that he had. We are working particularly in the areas of wanting to promote greater cooperation in science and technology, encouraging entrepreneurship and the development of new ideas, and in education overall.
So I am hopeful that in the coming weeks and months, as we begin to develop more of these program ideas, working with the government of Egypt, that perhaps Tanta University may be interested in participating in some future projects.
Q: Egypt and the United States have a long-lasting relationship. We have protocols with Tanta University. Since what President Obama’s said in Egypt until now there are no mechanism of what he said, the dialogue between east and west, or peace. Especially after he won the Nobel Prize, so what are the mechanisms, in your opinion, to implement this on the ground?
Ambassador: Fortunately, between Egypt and the United States there are many mechanisms that already exist and that I think bring Egyptians and Americans together. When President Obama came, he wanted to look at doing things more broadly to the Islamic World, and we will do more in Egypt as well in terms of programs, specifically focused, we believe, on science cooperation.
But do not forget that the United States and Egypt have a very longstanding and very deep relationship of cooperation and education and help on all aspects of development. And those things continue, and will continue, it is our hope, into the future. As I said, we are working with the government of Egypt to begin to focus increasingly on investments in people, investments in human capacity, which means education. And in institutions like Tanta University, and you clearly have a great tradition of appreciation for science and scholarship, and we think we can do a lot more in the future. We are still developing some of these concepts.
Q: What are the exact procedures taken? Meaning in a previous meeting between the Editor-in-Chief of my newspaper and Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs, he promised certain things for the local development in Egypt, i.e. transferring the U.S. technology to the local councils in Egypt. It’s not only about protocols. It has to be implemented on the ground.
Ambassador: What technology?
Q: An example of this is the garbage. The University is making a pioneer project on the state level, whether it is the university or the government, to transfer garbage into fertilizers. This is the first project on the state level.
Ambassador: It is an interesting idea. No, there is currently no such technology transfer. These things normally happen when you have two partners working together. The United States assistance program in Egypt works through a bilateral agreement with the government of Egypt that has been in place for thirty years. That’s our protocol, and that is still the governing protocol for almost everything that we do here.
Our assistance programs are worked out with the government of Egypt and focus on a number of areas. They focus on health, they focus on education. They have in the past focused on major infrastructure projects, but that has phased out. We do a lot of work in microfinance. We have worked to encourage small and medium enterprises.
In addition to our assistance program, we also have a very strong efforts to encourage trade relationships between Egyptians and American private companies. And we have actually seen that grow.
I think the level of bilateral trade in 2008 was about 7 or 8 billion dollars in that year. So there is enormous potential in companies, private companies working together, and if there is technology in the United States, they can help Egypt process, for example, its agricultural products, in ways that turn it into something else. I am sure we would be delighted to connect interested Egyptian businesses with interested American businesses to make this happen.
Q: What the Congress action on the Arab satellites which promote satellites like Hizbollah. In the meantime the American media does not actually cover what is going on in Israel against the Palestinians. What’s your comment on that?
Ambassador: I am not going to comment on a pending legislation in the U.S. Congress. I have not read the draft and I do not know what is the Administration’s view on this is. I am not in a position to comment on that.
All that I can tell you is that our media is open to any and all reporting. Arab media channels as you know play routinely throughout U.S. cities now, due to the ability of cable satellite networks. There is not a single channel in the world that the U.S. cannot tune into. Therefore we have access to the media from around the world.
Q: Usually the Ambassador meets with students, and teachers and staff, so why there was no meeting with the staff and students?
President of Tanta University: Because of the exams, we could not arrange for a meeting. It would be in the next visit.
Q: I want to know your personal opinion in case Mr. Baradei nominates himself as a President of Egypt or against Gamal Mubarak, and what is the opinion of the U.S. administration about this matter?
Ambassador: The issue of the Egyptian selection of its president is 100% absolutely an issue for Egyptians. The United States has no position and won’t be backing a candidate. It’s an Egyptian issue.
Q: What is the U.S. position on democracy issue in Egypt? Especially with regards to the international reports that criticize democracy situations in Egypt, practiced by the Egyptian regime?
Ambassador: I think the United States continues to make clear, as President Obama did when he came to Cairo University, that the values of the United States, we think in many ways are values that are shared broadly around the world. We believe that people should have a voice in their governance. We see societies being very successful when this happens. We believe this is what most people want. We have a great deep respect for human rights. And the United States will continue to stand for this and to speak out for this.
In my time in Egypt I have noticed that many Egyptians are very free to speak out. The press debates so many things. And the Egyptian National Commission on Human Rights also does its own examination every year of the challenges in Egypt.
This is not an American agenda. Nothing in the United States could impose or push on anyone else. But yes the United States supports democratic values, we support respect for human rights and will work with anyone to those ends.
Q: Islamophobia? Do you think after you lived in Egypt for a while, do you think there is any discrimination against minorities in Egypt? What is your opinion on the Christians living abroad, the immigrants who are claiming that Christians living in Egypt are mistreated?
Ambassador: We publish every year the International Religious Freedom Report, where we do our best to try to describe what is happened in every country around the world with respect to Religious Freedom. This is a task that was given to us by our Congress and we try to do our best every year.
The issue, I think, is that one of the purposes of President Obama’s visit to Egypt was to open his hand to the Islamic World, and to make clear that from the United States’ point of view we look to and admire very much the contributions Islam has made to human civilization. Our hands are opened. We hope to deal with this part of the world with mutual respect and mutual interest. And as many of you may know, Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States, primarily due to immigration from Islamic countries. So, the United States, in our own tradition, is very much one of religious tolerance and openness to the ability of other faiths to exercise their faith freely.
That said, in the United States and elsewhere, there are cases where there can sometimes be violence or discrimination.
What we have observed in Egypt are two things: One, that you have a long tradition of coexistence between a small religious minority and a large majority. But yes, there have been issues around Egypt, and there are cases of discrimination that is not necessarily legal persecution. But I think that most Egyptians that I have talked to would agree that there are sometimes issues between the two communities. It is encouraging when Egyptians talk about these problems openly. Not with the view to calling each other names, but with the view to finding solutions to common problems.
The cases of coexistence here are too numerous to name, but sadly, there are cases where the two communities come into conflict. It is up to the thoughtful, caring elements of society to try to work against that.
I think most Egyptians have great pride national identity and to me, and that’s because it’s our tradition in the United States, that’s the only identity that truly matters when it comes to matters of governance and fairness. And so I hope that Egypt would continue to draw on its tradition of tolerance when confronted with issues that do appear to be discrimination in some cases, and when there are tensions between the two religious communities.
Q: What does the Ambassador’s agenda hold for the Gharbia governorate, with regard to education and health issues?
Ambassador: As I said, this is my first visit to Gharbia and to Tanta. And it really is an opportunity that I am taking, because you are all so generous with your time, to learn a bit more about this part of Egypt. It is clearly one of the most productive areas of Egypt, both in agriculture and industry. Gwen Cardno heads our office in Alexandria and she has also been looking around because we would like to find more opportunities to put businesses together, maybe work more with the university, and look for opportunities for the future. But it is my first visit here, so it is mostly to learn and to listen.