Bwog editor Pierce Stanley weighs in from the Egyptian Ambassador’s visit to the Law School.
While the Egyptian nation-state has been a sleeping giant in the game of international relations as of late, choosing to remain remarkably low-key in a region known for its instability, the Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations, Maged Abdelfattah Abdelaziz, has always exhibited a fiery charisma quite unlike that of the general malaise that has characterized Egyptian politics in recent days. An official who is known to speak his mind and act as he pleases, just months ago, Ambassador Abdelaziz was arrested by secret service agents outside of the UN for jumping a barricade without identifying himself and allegedly spitting on an agent as he resisted arrest. Indeed, the ambassador’s diplomatic career has been defined by such moments of candor, charisma, and awkwardness.
In the plush confines Jerome Greene Hall, the ambassador set forth three very simple topics that he suggested Egypt should focus on in the coming years in order to ensure stability and prosperity for both Egypt and the Middle East. “Egypt is always relevant. There is no war in the Middle East without Egypt and no peace without Egypt either,” he suggested as he described Egypt’s primary goal of furthering two separate frameworks for peace, one with Israel and another with Egypt’s closest Middle Eastern neighbors.
First, Abdelaziz suggested that peace and security must be Egypt’s primary focus. However, rather than discuss Middle East security, the ambassador suggested that since Egypt is an African country it must take a more substantial leadership role in ensuring African security first. The diplomat suggested increasing the role of Egyptian peacekeepers in African Union peacekeeping operations through better training and deployment practices. Secondly, Abdelaziz barked up the tree of development when he suggested that Egyptian leadership efforts in economic development policy could “shift the African continent from one of assistance to one of partnership.” The ambassador suggested that Egypt could provide assistance to impoverished African nations seeking to improve agricultural yields, open markets, and a more efficient use of natural resources.
The Ambassador argued that recent constitutional reforms in Egypt have ensured broad political reforms, strengthening what it means to be a citizen of Egypt with rights, rather than merely a subject with obligations. Moreover, he discussed the increasingly secular nature of Egyptian politics, noting that Egyptian parties can no longer be based on religious principles. Finally, the ambassador undertook the task of explaining ways to fight rising Egyptian unemployment as well as discussing increased national dependence on the private sector. He argued that direct investment from abroad is essential to maintaining Egypt’s 7.2% rate of economic growth.
Q&A was the best part of the night, as the ambassador was grilled by a half an hour-long sermon from a visiting NYU Middle East Studies professor, covering everything from 1970’s Egyptian soap operas to Egypt’s role in Iraq, which the ambassador undertook in answering in a cool and systematic fashion. He was a bit flustered when asked about recent deals between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in which Egypt would provide the majority of Gaza’s energy needs and a answering a question about Egyptian civilian perception of Israelis. However, it seemed that Abdelaziz was simply reluctant to release too much information on the energy package. Finally, he closed out the night by answering an inane question about why baseball isn’t played in Egypt. The ambassador simply replied, “We are Egypt. We don’t play baseball. We play soccer. If you’ve noticed, we are recently the champions of the African Nations Cup.”