Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Blog

By Marc Sabbagh
Fall Intern, 2013

With a foot in two countries and knowledge of the inner workings of politics in two regions, Arab Americans uniquely understand that dialogue, discussion and engagement are necessary tools in improving the poor state of U.S.-Arab affairs and bridging the divide between two seemingly different regions and cultures.

On Saturday, AAI President James Zogby conveyed a message his mother taught him to 22 young professionals from the United States and Egypt. He said: “If you want someone to listen to you, listen to them first.” The young leaders Dr. Zogby addressed make up the inaugural class of The Shafik Gabr Fellowship, a prestigious, multi-faceted program incepted by Shafik Gabr, prominent Egyptian businessman, through the Gabr Foundation’s East-West Dialogue Initiative.

In addition to developing actionable projects and forging cross-cultural connections with each other, the fellows will spend two weeks in major U.S. cities meeting with policy experts, media representatives and business leaders to engage in frank discussions about problems impacting both regions.

In June, the 12 American and 10 Egyptian fellows participated in a two-week program in Egypt, where they engaged with renowned figures in politics, business, governance, art, law, and media and discussed challenges facing their societies and the obstacles to international cooperation.

The fellowship is sponsored by the Shafik Gabr Foundation and the American program, which began on Saturday, is carried out in partnership with the Arab American Institute. It includes stops in New York, NY, New Haven, CT, Madison, NJ, Atlanta, GA and Washington DC.

Fellows will visit American universities, museums and memorials, media outlets like CNN and The Washington Post, and will speak to leaders and influencers like Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik; Acting Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Bureau at United States Agency for International Development, Alina Romanowski; U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison; and President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes. These meetings help enhance understanding of the United States’ diverse cultures, eras, and events – both good and bad – and highlight all that has shaped the country’s culture, politics and outlook.

The fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and professions. Some have launched NGOs and created award-winning scientific platforms, and others have designed innovative buildings and facilities around the world. They have dedicated their careers to civic service, global health causes, and advancing community and economic development through the arts.

The Gabr Foundation and the Arab American Institute are uniquely positioned to bring together influential and diverse professionals from America and the Arab world in ways governments sometimes cannot, whether due to competing priorities, a lack of resources, or mistrust.

As public diplomacy and direct engagement become necessary in an increasingly interconnected world, the Gabr Fellowship fills an important void by offering a unique opportunity for fellows to devise concrete solutions to global problems. Fellows will develop and implement six ambitious projects through cooperative engagement and sustainable networking. One project, “Shared Distance,” brings everyday Americans and Egyptians together using two large, live screens – one in Cairo and one in New York. Equipped with cameras, the installations will act as communication portals that allow spontaneous and dynamic engagement between Americans and Egyptians in real-time.

Another project seeks to establish microclinics in Egypt based on an existing and successful network started in Kentucky. These innovative projects put these young leaders at the forefront of important issues facing the next generation in both regions – whether energy, healthcare, or technology.

The inaugural class of Gabr fellows has already started tackling global concerns through direct and personal engagement and has acquired a greater understanding of the challenges facing both Egypt and the United States through mutual cooperation and cultural immersion – as well as listening.

To learn more about the Gabr Fellowship, click here.

Follow the Gabr Fellowship on Facebook and Twitter.

For press inquiries, please contact Deborah Akel at dakel@aaiusa.org.

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