Good afternoon. I am truly overwhelmed at the warm welcome that I have received on my first trip to the Modern Sciences and Arts University of Egypt. I cannot express fully my thanks to Dr. Nawal El Degwi, or Mama Nawal as I understand that she is referred to throughout Egypt. The founder of this institution and a great leader and visionary in education in Egypt, I thank her for the introduction and for the invitation to see this beautiful campus and meet the students and professors, if even for a short period of time.
I have had the chance to take a brief tour of this very large, impressive campus, meet with some of the senior faculty administrators, and look at some of your graduation projects and the performance of your fellow students. I visited the dental clinic and was so impressed to see not only the state-of-the-art lab, but also the state-of-the-art leadership of the faculty and students who give back to their community and their country by providing free dental services to people who need it.
My reaction to this university is… the first reaction is of course, is “wow, what a beautiful campus!” These building are beautiful: they are marble, they are beautifully decorated. But I think that is probably the least important element of any great university. They key elements of a great university are leadership and vision, and the coming together of students and faculty and leaders who are all excited at learning and at teaching. I think you find that here in this university and it is what explains the amazing success you have had in a very short period of time to turn an idea, a paper plan, into reality, and that clearly does not happen without an enormous commitment and desire not only from students, but from the founders of the university, to the board of trustees that direct it, and the senior faculty and staff that everyday interact with the student population. So, I congratulate you all, at all levels, for your amazing achievement.
It’s an honor to have the chance to talk to you today and I thank you for taking a little bit of time from your studies and work here to meet with me. I’ll just make a few remarks and then I look forward to hearing from you and answering any questions you might have.
My message today is really quite simple, and it’s a message that I’m happy to deliver throughout Egypt, which is that the the United States enjoys having been a partner to Egypt over the last 30 years and looks forward to continued partnership and developing our relationship. We want to be your partner in education and economic growth; in science and technology, as well as in sports, culture, and civil society. We want to be your partner in peace and join together with you, as people and as governments, to secure the region and our world for the peace, the prosperity, the human rights and the dignity that is the birthright of every woman, man and child.
When President Obama came to Cairo and gave his historic speech at Cairo University last June, he said he came to Cairo “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive. They need not be in competition and need not fear each other. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — such as justice and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all mankind.”
These principles do not belong to any one nation. They are universal and represent the dreams and hopes of people around the world. They are also at the heart of the Egyptian-American partnership. They guide our official relations, and they shape our cultural exchanges, our trade relations and our personal friendships. They are also our compass for expanding and sustaining our efforts to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek together, and to respect the dignity of each other, and as I said, of all human beings.
We invite you, the students and faculty at MSA, to join in this partnership and in this new beginning.
One obvious area where we can partner is education. Since I have been in Egypt for almost 2 years now, the one constant element that Egyptians all speak about to me and to each other, is a common belief that the future greatness of Egypt depends upon its ability to educate its citizens for the future. In the United States, we look at Educational exchange as perhaps one of the most effective means that we have of broadening dialogue between our countries and creating the mutual understanding and respect that promotes cooperation and nurtures open-minded, thoughtful leaders, in the U.S., in Egypt, and around the world.
More and more Egyptian students are studying in the U.S., either through organized exchange programs or independently. Last year, more than 1900 Egyptians were enrolled at U.S. universities. That is an 8.4% increase over the previous year, and marks the third year in a row that the number has increased significantly. They joined over 671,000 other international students in the U.S., which is the biggest number of foreign students ever to study in our colleges and our universities.
We welcome and are glad to see more Egyptians studying in the U.S. and we want to do everything that we can to create even more opportunities for Egyptians to have a U.S. educational experience. To that end, the United States government supports more than 25 different educational and cultural exchange programs with Egypt each year targeting high school students, university students, professors, graduate students, and other professionals. There are opportunities designed especially for undergraduate students like you. One program is called the Near East South Asia Undergraduate, or NESA, program. It provides an opportunity of one year of study at a U.S. university. There are also five to six week summer programs, such as the Study of the US Institutes for Student Leaders and the Middle East Partnership Summer Program for Student Leaders.
These programs usually begin accepting applications in November. This year we have received a record number of applications for our undergraduate programs – including a large number from MSA students, we are proud to say.
We would be happy to keep you updated on all our programs through our Embassy website and encourage you all individually to be our guests to join our Facebook page. Don’t ask me for details, I don’t know how it works that well, but I suspect all of you do. If you join us there, we will make sure you know when and how to apply for NESA and other programs.
Another program that I hope you think about for the future, if you are an undergraduate , is the Fulbright Program. It has sent over 5,000 Egyptians on scholarship programs to the United States since 1949, and has also brought American scholars to Egypt on a wide range of research projects in the sciences, arts, history, political science, and language studies. I am proud to point out that among these 5,000 Fulbrighters, 6 are members of the MSA faculty, and I am a Fulbright Alumnus myself.
This program has celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last year and is the oldest Fulbright program in the Middle East. It is a terrific program and as I said, I had my first overseas experience on a Fulbright when I studied in Spain in the 1970’s.
I mention this program in particular because next week the Fulbright Commission will announce a call for applications for their Egyptian Student and Scholar Programs. So I hope that you look at that. The Student Program will accept recent graduates of Egyptian universities to study in the United States for up to two years in a master’s program and will select bachelor’s and master’s degree students for Fulbright Science and Technology Ph.D. programs. Details of these programs can be found on our website and on our Facebook page, if you join us there.
Besides these exchange programs, I also want to let you know about the EducationUSA advising program. Together with our partner, AMIDEAST, we support EducationUSA advisors in Cairo and Alexandria who arrange seminars for Egyptian students on topics such as “Choosing a U.S. University,” and “How to Finance Your Education.”
These advisors also offer sessions for specific majors, like pharmacy and engineering studies. For example, today at 5 p.m. there is a session for students interested in studying business in the U.S.
These sessions are all free and are offered several times a week. You can get the schedule and sign up for these sessions through our EducationUSA Facebook page. If you are thinking about exploring opportunities to study in the U.S. this is a good place to start: at an EducationUSA advising session.
In addition to educational exchange in the U.S., we can be your partner right here in Cairo. Just as you have so kindly opened the doors of your university, I want you to know that the doors of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo are open to all Egyptian students, too.
In our consular section, we take great pride that student visa applications always receive next-day appointments. In our Information Resource Center, students and scholars enjoy free access to more than 7,000 books, databases, magazines, journals and digital collections on our Internet stations. Our cultural programs, both at the Embassy and at venues across Cairo, promote debate and dialogue through video conferences, musical performances, lectures and workshops. For example, next Wednesday, February 10th, at 4 p.m., we will host a video conference with Sonia Sanchez at the Embassy. Sonia Sanchez, a leading American poet, will read from and discuss a selection of her work addressing the evolution of African-American society since the middle of the 20th century. We would be happy if you could join us for this session next week.
I also wanted to mention that we are doing more and more to bring American students and faculty where we can to Egypt, these exchanges in order to live up to their concept, is to bring people both from directions. We have, for the first time this year, brought about a dozen or 20 or so, American high school students to live with Egyptian families, pursue a year in an Egyptian high school and we sponsor a number of other language programs, Fulbright and other programs to bring American students here, to help work on their Arabic primarily, but also for scholarships, as well.
In addition to what the U.S. government does, there is an enormous interest in Middle East Studies in the U.S. and many private and public universities offer special programs for their students to study in the Middle East. Cairo is often at the top of the list, and I gather you have a number of American students here, as well as faculty, some of whom I’ve met.
Again, I invite you to join and look at our Embassy Facebook page, where you will get the latest information about what we are doing. This is how we keep our doors open 24 hours a day. We try to keep it constantly updated with information on events as well as videos, podcasts and stories about American culture and society. Please join us so that we may keep in touch with you and make sure you know about the ways we can expand and strengthen our partnership as countries and as people.
I thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk with you. And to bring to your attention the opportunities for educational exchange and study in the United States. I hope I will be running into you, either during the rest of my time in Egypt or (who knows?!), in the U.S., as you pursue your education. Thank you very much.
I’m happy to take questions from you or listen to comments.