Ambassador Margaret Scobey: Speech at the Rotary Club Cosmopolitan Alexandria

Rotary Club Cosmopolitan Alexandria

Good evening. Thank you so much for inviting me here this evening. I feel deeply honored to address Governor Labeeb and feel honored by his presence tonight. I would also like to thank very much the President of Rotary and wish a happy birthday to our friend and to all the members of the Rotary here. Thank you so much for all that you do to provide services and to help others throughout Egypt and the world.

I would especially like to thank the Rotary Club Cosmopolitan of Alexandria, which sponsored this event and Mounir Shehfe, our Master of Ceremonies for this evening.

It is wonderful to be back in the beautiful city of Alexandria. My last visit was too long ago — in September — and I keep telling myself I need to get back much more frequently. Every time I come, I remind myself of how much more I want to see and do in this great city. Whoever wrote this said I was happy to be back among “the refreshing breezes off the Mediterranean and for the warmth and friendliness of the people here.” Well, the people are very warm and friendly, but I have to say it was a little chilly here today amid the raindrops, but I did have sunshine as well. I thank you very much for your hospitality this evening.
This evening is, in my view, part of an opportunity that I want to take advantage of to participate in a dialogue with the citizens of Egypt who want to talk to us. I thought I would start by sharing with you my thoughts on the Egyptian-U.S. partnership and then open up the floor for a discussion. I am eager to get to know you and listen to your ideas on how we can expand and strengthen the ties between our countries. As our new Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton, has said, “Actively listening to our partners isn’t just a way of demonstrating respect. It can be a source of ideas to fuel our common efforts.” I also think that this is what marks and characterizes a relationship between good friends.

And I can think of no better friends than Rotarians. Rotary is one of the oldest, 104 years to be exact, most effective, and well-known initiatives. You are committed to international understanding, goodwill, peace and community service, and you demonstrate this commitment every day.

Rotary started in Chicago in 1905 — and today, there are well over a million Rotarians around the world, with 32,000 clubs in 200 countries, all united in this ideal of community service.

Egypt joined this community very early, in 1929. You have grown from one club with about a hundred members in Cairo to a network of 72 clubs and thousands of members all over Egypt. The first Rotary Club in Alexandria was established in 1930, and you now have 17 clubs in the Alexandria area and the Delta region with more than 500 members.

As you and the Rotarians of Egypt celebrate your anniversary of service to your country, I congratulate you for your work and your contributions to your society. You have much to be proud of and the list of Rotary accomplishments continues to grow.

Thousands of children will benefit from the projects you have done in the past year alone: the Rotary Club of Alexandria Cosmopolitan built the first kindergarten for the deaf and the mute; the Rotary Club of Alexandria Metropolitan funded heart operations; the Rotary Club of Alexandria Pharous built the Childcare Center for children suffering from cancer and the Rotary Club of Alexandria Ramleh furnished it.

You don’t just fund programs for children. You also introduce the next generation to community service through your young “Rotoractors,” who have actively participated in programs at our American Center, including raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, communicating with American counterparts via video conferences, and assisting us with the “Cultures in Harmony” program here in Alexandria, which brought music into the lives of underprivileged children.

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of projects initiated and carried out by individual Rotarians and Rotary Clubs throughout Egypt. Your commitment and success are inspiring to me. You identify the problems, you develop effective partnerships, and you create the solutions that have an immediate impact. You are making a better life for your communities.

And that’s what I want to talk about today – how the Egyptian-American partnership can expand, become more vital and contribute to making life better for people in both our communities. With a new administration in Washington, this discussion is especially timely. President Obama said in his inaugural speech to Americans and to the world, “we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” Under President Obama, the United States is beginning a new era of diplomacy and cooperation in which we seek partners with a common commitment to work together, to build together and stand together. The United States cannot solve the problems of the world alone, and the world cannot solve complex problems without America. We are ready to engage governments and civil society to strengthen the foundations needed to support good governance, to promote private investment and development, a free press, wider educational opportunities, stronger healthcare systems, tolerance and human rights.

For over three decades, the United States and Egyptian Governments have been proud partners in a common goal of strengthening peace and mutual understanding in the region. Together, we have worked to help the Palestinians and Israelis agree on a just and lasting solution to their conflict. Egypt’s role is vital and valued, and we very much support the mediation efforts of President Mubarak. The United States is grateful to Egypt for its leadership in seeking a durable ceasefire, and we support Egypt’s continuing efforts in that regard. The United States is committed to vigorously pursuing lasting, comprehensive peace and stability in the region. The decision by President Obama to dispatch Special Envoy George Mitchell to this region less than a week after his inauguration is clear and tangible evidence of this resounding commitment. And I believe that this commitment will be an opportunity to further strengthen the partnership that the United States and Egypt have worked so hard to develop in pursuit of a fair, comprehensive regional peace.

As we strive toward a permanent and sustainable cease-fire, we remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The United States will undertake, maintain, and continue to support humanitarian efforts, and the United States strongly supports Egypt’s call for an international donors’ conference in Egypt next week to facilitate Gaza’s recovery and strengthen the Palestinian economy. Both Secretary Clinton and Special Envoy Mitchell plan to attend this event, and we are urging members of the international community to show similar support for the Egyptian initiative.

We see this conference as an opportunity to address, along with other donors and international organizations, both immediate humanitarian suffering in Gaza and support the Palestinian Authority’s plan for the reconstruction of Gaza as an integral part of a future Palestinian state.
We also work together with Egypt to try to resolve conflict in Sudan that has displaced and destroyed the lives of so many. We are working closely together against the dangers of extremism throughout the region. As a model of moderation and stability, Egypt plays a vitally important role in leading the fight against extremist ideologies and actions throughout the Middle East.

We also partner together to create a more prosperous future through sustainable economic growth, based on free economies and free trade. Over the past three decades, the American people have invested $58 billion dollars in economic and military assistance in Egypt. We support with this assistance Egyptians’ own efforts to build and secure a brighter future. Together, we have built roads and hospitals. Together, we have provided electricity and clean water to the Egyptian people. Together, our partnerships in the area of education have supported the construction of over 2,000 schools, trained thousands of teachers, and delivered high quality libraries to Egypt’s nearly 39,000 schools. We also support microfinance projects for entrepreneurs and small businesses to give Egyptian youth opportunities for rewarding futures. Even as the population has doubled over the last 30 years, life expectancy has soared, infant mortality has plummeted, and literacy has spread throughout the country. Egypt is now a richer, healthier, and better-educated place than it has ever been before in its modern history.

At the same time, Egypt reformed its economy and worked to integrate itself into the global market. As a result, trade has become perhaps the most important aspect of Egyptian-American economic relations. The United States is proud to be Egypt’s largest single trading partner, buying 33% of everything Egypt exports to the world. Between 1985 and 2007, the U.S. and Egypt conducted bilateral trade amounting to more than 88 billion dollars. And the most impressive part of this story is not the size of the trade, but the speed at which it has been growing. In 2008, trade between Egypt and the United States was more than 8.4 billion dollars and over the past six years, this has represented a growth of about 124 percent.

We now face the challenges of ensuring that the blessings of trade and economic expansion spread more broadly so that all members of society have a stake in — and benefit from — these reforms that have taken place.

Despite strong economic performance, 17 percent – this is a World Bank estimate — of Egyptians, mainly in rural areas of Upper Egypt, live on very, very limited resources. I think we can all agree that economic growth that leaves out many people is not sustainable. This sustainable economic growth is related to, and dependent upon, sustainable political and social growth, which includes the growth of the institutions of a democratic and open society as well as all indices of human development, such as health, education and standards of living.

I think this becomes more urgent for all of us. In recent decades, revolutions in communications and information technology have broken down barriers that once kept countries and markets apart, creating now a single, global economy that is more integrated than ever before. In this economy, companies can plant their jobs wherever there’s an internet connection, and the capital goes to the best idea – wherever that may be. In our interconnected world, it is no longer a question of whether things are going to change. It’s only a question of how fast.

One area where I think the Egyptian-American partnership is playing a key role in our globalizing world is educational exchange. Today, we have over 25 programs that foster educational exchange between our two countries, from high school students to advanced doctoral research. In Alexandria, your leading academic institutions are on the forefront of this effort. I made a visit today to Alexandria University to visit one such educational partnership, the Flagship Program, which is designed to accelerate and incorporate the learning of advanced hard languages such as Arabic into the curriculum of US university students. There are also programs there that bring US educational opportunities to Egyptian students. Both the Arab Academy and Alexandria University have partnered with Virginia Tech to offer doctoral programs in engineering. Egyptian students are earning American legal degrees at Alexandria University through a partnership with Indiana University. And at the same time, Alexandria has become a real destination for U.S. students. Middlebury College and U.S. Government’s National Security Education Program have partnered in Alexandria to bring American students here each year to study Arabic, understand Egyptian culture, and enhance cooperation between our peoples as a down payment, I think, for the future.

Academic institutions are just a few of the organizations in Alexandria seeking to promote enhanced international education and exchange. The Bibliotheca Alexandria has partnerships with Stanford University, the University of Maryland, the University of California, Virginia Polytechnic and the University of Minnesota, and they currently have two of their staff on Fulbright grants in the United States.

Let me close by saying that today, and every day, this region is changing, the world is changing, but the need for a strong and vital American-Egyptian partnership remains. And I want to let you know that I am not the only one who thinks this way. I want to share with you something that President Obama recently said. It came from a message that I had the honor of delivering two weeks ago to the American University in Cairo as they celebrated the opening of their new campus. Even though it was written for that occasion, I think it is highly relevant to all aspects of our partnership and friendship. I would like to share it with you.

He wrote, “As Americans and Egyptians representing many different backgrounds, philosophies and faiths, we can and should enjoy a productive and close relationship. We can and should work toward common goals and interests. Together, we can and should work for peace, better educational opportunities for our children, and more opportunities for all.”

So I will end and offer you my firm commitment to working with you and our friends in Egypt to continue to strengthen our cultural, educational, philanthropic, political, and economic partnerships. I hope you will join with me. I think we have, together, over the last 30 years, created numerous channels for this partnership that we can continue to use to strengthen and to invest further resources that will sustain our bilateral relationship in the future and make it stronger. All of us, Americans and Egyptians in both our great countries, like those of you here in Rotary, in the private sector, in academia and in civil society, have an important role to play. And let us commit ourselves to providing the kind of partnership that will lead not just to better understanding, but to really positive actions that will improve the lives of people in Egypt, the region and all across the world.

Thank you again for inviting me here this evening, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts, observations, and answering the easiest questions that you have for me.

Ambassador Margaret Scobey
Rotary Club Cosmopolitan Alexandria
February 22, 2009, 7:30 p.m.

Question: Thank you Madam Ambassador for this interesting speech. It does inspire hope. And we’ve got some interesting questions. [Arabic]

Question: The questioner would like to know your vision, or your ideas, your thoughts about what effect the international monetary crisis will have on the United States and the other economies that have a surplus, such as China, Russia and Iran, over the next ten years.

Ambassador Scobey: Someone said before I began my remarks that they look forward to hearing my thoughts about the future – I have to warn you right away that I have no predictive powers about the economic challenges before us. I think one of the elements that I referred to in my remarks and I think that certainly I have experienced in my life and career is how over the last, over the last 20-30 years, certainly our planet has shrunk. Our, as we talked about, our communications technologies have only gotten greater, we literally live and work in the same economic marketplace, we live and work in the same intellectual marketplace, and my prediction is, that is not going to change.

We have some great financial challenges in the United States and we have learned that what happens in one major economy certainly has effects in other places around the world. The United States is committed to addressing our own domestic economic issues and to working with others around the world to assure that we can do the best to assure that our individual national actions are cooperative and that don’t work at cross purposes and that we look to the future to develop perhaps better systems and better ways to avoid problems in the future. But it will be a very interesting time I’m sure for those economists here as they look at the situation. It is one that certainly is difficult currently and I think we can all only gain by the hopes that our governments and our economic thinkers work together to figure out, as I said, how best to maximize our individual efforts for a common improvement. But I don’t have any great predictions on the next ten years on the world economy.

Question: Thank you. Mrs. Ana Gadowi is asking when you expect the US will get out of its present economic crisis and will the present crisis affect US investments in Egypt?

Ambassador Scobey: Well, I think that you have seen a remarkable series of efforts by the United States to respond to this crisis. Last fall, during the last few months of the last Administration, the US Congress took some emergency measures to attempt to stabilize the banking system and the financial sector in general in the United States. And President Obama and, well, the US Congress just passed, I think it was a little over a week ago, the largest economic stimulus bill, certainly, in our history, with projected spending over the next two years of close to 800 billion dollars. The President has also announced his intention to announce details within the next several days of a plan to help our very troubled housing industry. The United States will do everything that it must do to address our economic problems. As I think we all realize that, as I said, what affects one major economy affects other major economies as well, and I know that Egypt, while you have been mercifully insulated somewhat from the financial problems because of a very solid, and perhaps conservative, banking system, certainly the downturn in global trade in general affects Egypt, like every other country around the world. So we will continue, the United States will continue, to do what we can to address our own individual problems and, as I said, to work with other countries around the world, and I know Egypt is doing the same.

Question: Okay, let’s change the topic. Madam, can we hope for a reopening of the US Consulate in Alexandria? Dr. Samir Helmy Assad, President of the Rotary West.

Ambassador Scobey: Well, it’s something that I’ve thought of a lot. I think that I would love to see the US Consulate open in Alexandria. I can’t guarantee I can produce it, but I can promise that I will certainly look at it and try to decide what it takes to get this done. A city this large, this important, in my view it would be fully appropriate. So, I will look for a way to see if we can do this. [applause]

Question: Can we move on to some politics, then?

Ambassador Scobey: Sure.

Question: Okay. Do you think that in the near future, we will see the US act more fairly in the Arab-Israeli conflict without blindly supporting one party over the other? Past President Assem Abdel Azin.

Ambassador Scobey: I think that US policy over the last several decades has been based on several principles that really are fair, and most recently, the United States’ vision and declared goal is a two-state solution, where Israel and the Palestinians each have their independent state, living side by side, each in security, each in prosperity. And that remains very much the US goal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The United States also realizes that it is part of a larger historic conflict and that we would hope to be able to look toward comprehensive solutions. The United States has not announced any new initiatives yet, but I think it is important that President Obama announced, within a week of his inauguration, the naming of a very distinguished statesman with a long history of very balanced, fair, hardworking, dedicated efforts towards peace in Northern Ireland to take on the job of his Special Envoy to the Middle East. So he has turned to a very experienced and distinguished American. He already has the support and assistance of Secretary Clinton. He has a team that I think is going to look very, very actively and energetically at what the United States can do to advance a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and to advance a comprehensive peace. So I think very much that we can look forward to a very active US policy that seeks these goals.

Question: Thank you. We have a comment, Madam Ambassador. The comment says, procrastination, with regard to solving a problem is equal to more suffering, more loss of life, more destruction, and a waste of resources. This is a major factor in national depression and anxiety. What do you think?

Ambassador Scobey: Well, I think that the United States, along with every other country in the world, looks forward to the day for a comprehensive peace in this region. No one, no one can look at what has happened over the last several years and not regret every single loss of life, every single injury, every single day when people in this region have been fearful for their lives, instead of being more concerned about building their businesses, educating their children. So, the United States shares deeply the sense of urgency and the sense of forward motion desired to resolve these issues. So, yes, we think it’s time to get a peace resolved, and hopefully there will be partners throughout the region to do this.

Question: That’s good. The American people and nation are the most generous nation in the world, while at the same time, anti-American feelings are growing worldwide, mostly in the areas where US money is flowing. What’s wrong in this equation?

Ambassador Scobey: Well, it is disturbing, I think. No American citizen likes to hear about polls, or opinion polls around in any country of the world, which reflect negatively on the United States. But I think the United States consistently dedicates a lot of effort to trying to explain our point of view, not necessarily always realizing that we’re going to come to an agreement on certain aspects of our policy, but I think the United States devotes enormous resources and attention to trying to communicate clearly what we’re about and to trying to listen respectfully to the opinions of others. I can’t explain to you everything that has happened over the last 10 or 15 years. I think there have been many, many changes both in the region and around the world, many of which have been very, very positive in terms of developing communications abilities and new technologies, and many that have been very unhappy and unfortunate in terms of what has seemed in some cases like a growth of misunderstanding between cultures and people. I think we always have an opportunity, however, to re-look at these things, to look around us at our fellow inhabitants of this planet and to figure out ways where we can talk to each other with, as President Obama said, mutual respect and mutual interest. And that is a pledge the United States will make. I hope that it improves opinion polls, but at the end of the day, I don’t think any country really governs itself based on opinion polls. We do it based on our interests and our own view of what we need to do to secure ourselves economically and physically and in all ways.

Question: Thank you. I think this answers part two of the question, which was what is needed to be done to correct this, and which areas need to be addressed to make it better. Thank you for answering this. We’ve got a series of questions about the Ayman Nour issue. Would you like to go into that?

Question: Do you see a link between the closing of Guantanamo and the release of Ayman Nour in Egypt?

Ambassador Scobey: No. That had not occurred to me, no.

Question: We have questions from the press in Arabic, I will read this in Arabic if you will allow me. [Arabic] From Al Masry Al Youm. Did the American Administration have an influence on the release of Ayman Nour and what is the understanding of the liberties in Egypt? How do the Americans see the situation for liberty in Egypt and has Egypt reached a balanced level in this respect?

Ambassador Scobey: The United States welcomed the release of Mr. Ayman Nour, and we understood it was done by the Government of Egypt out of concern for his medical situation. And we think this was a very positive step. With regard to what is the state of the situation in Egypt, I think that that is a question, in many, many ways, most ways, best answered by the citizens of Egypt. The United States has a long-term interest in the promotion of human rights and democratization, but we also know that each country has its own way forward, has its own culture and traditions, and our goal is to be supportive of political and social development, as we have tried to be supportive of economic development and reform in Egypt and other countries around the world. We publish every year reports on human rights, religious freedom, among other things, and I think it says very clearly what we believe the factual situation has been. It’s a report we take seriously, we invite people to read and to comment upon, and to correct it if we’re wrong. But we also see that it is up to the citizens of Egypt to develop their own agenda for reform according to their own interpretation of their interests. We support, as I said, the United States supports democratization, we support the respect for human rights and we always have, and I think we always will continue to do so.

Question: Thank you. We’ve got a whole series of questions about Ayman Nour, which are all similar, so I suppose this covers the subject. How does the US intend to improve the situation in Gaza and Palestine in general, in a fair and impartial way?

Ambassador Scobey: Well, I think we talked about this earlier. The United States is committed to a two-state solution that will have Israelis and Palestinians, each in their separate states, living in security and prosperity. The United States has expressed very, very deep concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and has endorsed very much, I think the United States has already this year released over 120 million dollars to go toward Gaza relief, primarily through international organizations like UNRWA and the Red Cross, and the Secretary of State and Senator Mitchell will come to Egypt next week with other donors to consider additional pledges of support. This is what we can do for Gaza right now. There is much that Egypt is doing to try to support a recovery of Gaza politically as well as physically, and I think these are important steps that Egypt is trying to take. There are many things that the Palestinians must do for themselves, of course, as well. We believe in trying to support, as I said, a durable cease fire, and to support Egyptian efforts in that regard, as well as their efforts to promote reconciliation and the reconstruction of Gaza.

Question: Okay. Who or what defines US policy and is not affected by the change of Presidents?

Ambassador Scobey: Well, our system is, like most large countries, we have many voices, many sets of interests, and, fortunately, we have the institutions that help us balance those voices and institutions. The Constitution of the United States allows the President to set out policy, to set out a direction. He gets to decide what is going to be our foreign policy, what is going to be our economic policy, what laws would he like to see passed. But our Constitution also gave us a balancing factor, which is the US Congress, and the President does not have the authority to fund anything. So any idea that the President has must be presented to Congress and they, and only the Congress, can agree to fund US policies and initiatives. So it is easy to say who makes policy, but it is, in fact, a very complex process that has to take a lot into account. As I said, our Congress is the one that acts on recommendations for laws, that has to come up with the money to fund policies and initiatives, and if you follow our political system you would realize that the Congress itself, before making important decisions, makes a great deal of effort to reach out to citizens, to have hearings, at which they invite not only witnesses from the government, but also witnesses from civil society and non-governmental organizations, to give their opinions on what this law, or what this spending package, or what this policy means for them. So it is, our system is one that has very clear constitutional separation of powers, but one that also really tries to draw in a great variety of voices and a great variety of interests and to figure out the way forward for our country.

Question: Thank you, I think that answers your question, Tarek. In the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, what would the situation be for Jerusalem?

Ambassador Scobey: Well, we have always maintained this is one of those issues that the parties to the conflict have got to resolve on their own.

Question: And the last question – I think the Ambassador has been more than generous with her answers – [Arabic] what is the situation with the free trade agreement between Egypt and the USA?

Ambassador Scobey: There really has not been a lot of discussion of that aspect of the President’s policies in the future. The Cabinet is mostly named, but there are still some economic positions still to be filled. There have been no new announcements or initiatives on that front right now, so we’ll have to stay tuned and see what the policy on this is going to be.

Question: Thank you. I believe we have answered most of the questions that have come forward. There has been a lot of repeats. If you haven’t heard your question it’s because it was covered elsewhere or covered in the interesting words of her Excellency the Ambassador.

Ambassador Scobey: Thank you all.

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