The superstorm that pummeled the East Coast Monday into this morning has not dampened spirits at Pittsburgh's American Middle East Institute, which is holding its annual conference today and tonight as scheduled, said Maria Hastings, the institute's director of operations.
But it did ground scheduled speaker Tom Brokaw in New York City, which was among the places hit hardest by Sandy, a hurricane turned post-tropical cyclone that caused little damage here.
The evening lecture at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland -- starting at 8 p.m. and featuring Prince Turki Al Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia via Skype and Mahmoud Jibril, former interim prime minister of Libya on stage -- will proceed as scheduled, just without Mr. Brokaw, Ms. Hastings said.
"We still have a great program planned," she said,
It's the fifth annual conference for the American Middle East Institute, a non-profit organization headquartered in Pittsburgh and founded in 2008, with a focus on building ties between the United States and the Middle East.
"We feel that if we have commonality between the U.S. and other countries, that we can build friendships through business, culture and education," Ms. Hastings said of the group's mission.
The institute's previous conferences have focused on subjects including how to do business in the Middle East and how Pittsburgh can forge partnerships with the Middle East in the areas of green technology and sustainability and have drawn speakers such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
The subject of this year's conference, which took place today at the Fairmont Hotel Downtown, was health innovation, and speakers included Ismail Sallam, Egypt's former health minister, and Chuck Bogosta, president of UPMC International and Commercial Services.
The subject of the lecture tonight, which is open to the public, is broader: building bridges to the Middle East.
Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, will moderate the conversations with Prince Turki Al Faisal and Mr. Jibril.
According to a biography listed on the website of the American Middle East Institute, Prince Turki Al Faisal has served as Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States and is, among other positions and titles he currently holds, a commissioner at the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.
The other speaker, Mr. Jibril, is no stranger to Pittsburgh. He received a master's degree in political science and a doctorate in strategic planning and foreign policy from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was later a professor for two years.
The former interim prime minister is currently president of the National Forces Alliance, a political coalition he cofounded in Libya.
The evening will also include a tribute to U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, one of four Americans killed last month during an attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Tickets for $25, $50 or $75 are still available for tonight's lecture, online at http://www.americanmei.org/ and at the door.