Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Blog

By Marc Sabbagh
Fall Intern, 2013

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Four participants of the inaugural class of Shafik Gabr Fellows sat down with HuffPost Live yesterday to talk about the prestigious program and their misconceptions and newfound realizations about the United States and Egypt. The fellowship incorporates discussion sessions, action projects and trips to Egypt and the United States. Back in June, the 10 American fellows visited Egypt, all for the first time.

“I never knew the depth of Egyptian history and how much contribution they made to the world. In the discussions with my friends, [we saw the desire] to return to that greatness,” said Daniel Sullivan, an American fellow and Regional Representative for the United Nations Association Steering Committee, in the conversation with HuffPost Live’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. “The same longing that those of us in America have…are the same issues and same struggles, hopes and dreams Egyptians have.”

The fellows, all young professionals and pioneers in their respective fields, have now reconvened for a two-week trip in the United States. In addition to visiting the Huffington Post’s New York offices (and meeting Arianna Huffington herself) and other landmarks like Times Square, the fellows have met with academic, business and political leaders at Drew University, Yale University, and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. They also visited the National September 11 Memorial on Tuesday. The fellows are currently in Atlanta and will continue on to Washington, DC. Just as the Americans made discoveries during their time in Egypt, the Egyptian fellows are having new experiences of their own.

 “An idea in [the minds of Egyptians] was that people in New York spend their day at the coffeehouse and don’t work,” said Amr Ismaeil, the Youth Empowerment Program Coordinator for the Academy for International Development. “But when we came here, and when we saw the unemployment rate and when we were walking in the middle of New York and hearing all kinds of languages and seeing all kinds of colors, I felt that we had crossed the ocean just to see our own reflections.”

Reem Ismail Soliman, an Egyptian Art and Design teacher, said, “Americans are like us. They sometimes disapprove things that the government does, sometimes the government doesn’t listen in Egypt and in the United States, and this is not clear enough to the Egyptian society.”

Ahmed Elhabibi, an Egyptian 3D artist, said of his visit to the 9/11 Memorial, “I believe this is a place where you literally realize there are so many misconceptions you had in the past.”

What distinguishes the Gabr Fellowship is the opportunity for fellows to take what they learn from the experience and develop actionable projects that will impact the community and go beyond just the discussions and the enlightening trips to Egypt and the United States. The fellows will use their diverse backgrounds and professions to create unique projects that incorporate art, architecture, global health and politics.

“We are committed, as Gabr Fellows, to citizen diplomacy. We are pursuing these action projects to impact our respective societies,” said Daniel. Ahmed highlighted his group’s project, saying, “We are using the comic book medium to visualize the similarities between the United States and Egypt, especially in the process of the constitution making.” Other projects focus on bringing microclinics to Egypt and energy sustainability.

Ultimately, the Gabr Fellowship’s goal of dispelling misconceptions and building bridges between the Arab world and the “West,” was one that convinced many of the fellows to apply. Amr found the program incredibly important, saying it is increasingly necessary to discover “how others are thinking about us and how we can all embrace this idea of global citizenship, since we are all connected.”

To learn more about the Gabr Fellowship Program, click here.

Follow the Gabr Fellowship on Facebook and Twitter.

Read the 2013 Fellows’ bios here.

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