February 07, 2012 — Coral Gables — Calling 2011 a “tumultuous year full of promise and apprehension,” Egyptian Ambassador Sameh Shoukry spoke to a University of Miami audience last Wednesday, discussing a variety of topics that ranged from how the revolution that brought an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s rule has affected Egypt to what lies ahead for the most populous country in the Arab world.
“Egypt’s revolution was sparked primarily by people like yourselves—the young, people in tune with social matters,” said Shoukry, referring to the many UM students who attended his lecture, held at Cosford Cinema on the Coral Gables campus. “It was sparked by youth and supported by the vast majority of Egyptians.
UM was the first stop on Shoukry’s nationwide tour to engage the American public in dialogue about what he termed “the new Egypt.” His presentation, part of UM’s Global Affairs Lecture Series, came almost a year to the day that Mubarak resigned after 18 days of angry protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The ambassador’s remarks also were delivered in the shadow of a tragedy, as more than 70 people were killed and hundreds injured earlier that day at a soccer riot in Port Said.
During his remarks on Wednesday, the ambassador said that as a result of the revolution, Egyptians are now able to express their opinions more readily than before. “It has opened the political spectrum for the establishment of a variety of political organizations and previously banned political entities,” he explained. “It has provided a vibrant debate over what direction Egypt should take for the future and what policies should be implemented.”
He noted that while the primary goals of the uprising were justice, equality, and economic prosperity for Egyptians, “just how those goals should be achieved is an ongoing debate.”
With the standing-room-only audience at the Cosford listening attentively, Shoukry described the revolution’s adverse effect, saying that Egypt has lost significant amounts of tourism revenue and foreign investment because of concerns over the instability of government policies.
As such, Egypt has relied heavily on its foreign-currency reserves. But those funds, said the ambassador, have been dwindling, from $36 billion to $18 billion over the past year. The country is seeking support from international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. “Only last week, we had very successful discussions with both organizations where we believe we will be able to [achieve] some fiscal relief by their assistance.”
He pointed to other positive signs that Egypt will regain stability, noting the recent elections for the upper house of parliament.
Bradford R. McGuinn, a senior lecturer in UM’s Department of Political Science, interviewed Shoukry after the ambassador’s lecture, questioning him on a variety of topics, including fears that Iran is using its uranium enrichment program to develop a nuclear weapon. Shoukry called on Iran to allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and to demonstrate a commitment to “the peaceful use of atomic energy.”
The ambassador also addressed the ongoing NGO crisis in Egypt. NGOs have worked openly in Egypt for years. But the government has refused to grant them operating licenses. And just yesterday, Egyptian officials announced that 19 Americans will face criminal charges as part of a probe into the funding of pro-democracy groups, a move that could deprive the country of about $1.5 billion in aid from the U.S.
Amy Guindi, a freshman finance major from Egypt, praised Shoukry’s lecture as “strategically delivered.”
“He covered all the points I wanted to hear about,” said the 19-year-old, who last year at this time was attending many of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square while living in Egypt. “Egypt is still in a bit of chaos, and there’s some confusion. But we’re looking forward to a return to stability.”
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