Cairo University Conference audio clip
**The audio from the part of the discussion about which this post is written is attached.
On Monday, July 4, the group participated in a conference between Duke and Cairo University. Part of this involved a round-table discussion, which was supposed to be a way for the American youth to be heard. We were told we would be discussing the Egyptian revolution and American perceptions of it, both politically and socially.
The moderator, an academic from Cairo University, prefaced the discussion with some general beliefs about American perceptions and political action in response to the revolution. One of these involved what he referred to as “the Palestine problem.” He said Egyptians had seen no change in American foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine but that this issue needs to be solved first. This begged the question, “What changes were you expecting, given that America has been a relatively steady ally of Israel since its creation in 1948 and that there still exists a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that has been in place since 1979?” When I posed this question, the professor launched into an involved explanation, part of which included his idea for a two-state solution. While his ideas did not seem very developed, he did claim that there should be two secular states. He was very insistent on them being secular because a government should not be able to use religion to justify its acts. In keeping with this reasoning, America should not support the Muslim Brotherhood, since it would be a government based on religious ideals. When I pointed this out, he seemed taken aback, but then answered by skirting around the original question. Instead, he simply pointed to the fact that many people are against Hamas as a religious organization.
I have many questions that spawned from this discussion. The professor continuously referred to the “Arab World,” which includes the Middle Eastern countries, except Iran and Israel. So if there is an entire Arab World, which is primarily Muslim, why can’t Jews have this tiny bit of land? The professor claimed that the two groups cannot both claim Jerusalem as a holy city, but did not elaborate on that claim, with which I would disagree since both religions have the same foundation, as Islam was a result of Judaism.
After the discussion, I approached the professor to ask him a few more questions. This time, I asked him precisely what would cause Egyptians to think there would be a change at all in American foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine. His response pointed to Obama’s campaign for “change” and claimed that “as a Muslim man,” he should be sensitive to this issue. When I told him that Obama is actually Christian, he simply shrugged, as if that were a debated subject. When I continued to talk about Palestine being a nation, he stopped me and said, “I’m sorry, I’m very tired,” and walked off.
This post is not meant to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, and while it may come off as one or the other, I do not think this does a good job of representing my political views. But I found it interesting that this particular attitude came out in this conference. It goes along with the other anti-Israel sentiments that I have come across here. But I also discovered recently that in Egyptian colloquial language, the word for “Jew” is the same word as the word for “Israeli,” so when people ask about my Star of David, I have to make sure to tell them that I am Jewish the religion, but not Israeli politically. The relationship between Egypt and Israel seems peaceful, but I think that the peace treaty of 1979 created more hostility and tension than it did peace since the relationship is so strained. Furthermore, based on this discussion, America’s foreign policy is not well known in Egypt, or at least not the actual policy.
I don’t really know of a way to rectify this issue, and I will not pretend to propose one, but I do wonder if something is in order here so that some Egyptians do not continue to have a skewed version of these policies and therefore of America in general. Differentiating between Jewish as a religion and Israeli as a nationality is also important. I also think Egyptians expect a little too much help from the U.S. They may be overestimating the country’s so-called “superpower” abilities.
I recognize that this professor is one person in the entire population, but it has also seemed to be more of a popular opinion than I had originally realized. So take this post at face value since it is not based on data or statistics, but instead on the opinions of a small amount of people.