Egypt calling: Pittsburgh is the focus of a visiting ambassador

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Pittsburgh benefited at the end of last week from a visit by Ambassador Mohamed M. Tawfik, the first Egypt sent to the United States after its Arab Spring revolution in 2011.

He is based in Washington. His first outside-the-capital stop was New York, with Pittsburgh second, reflecting what he said was its importance, particularly in terms of the opportunities for cooperation it presents Egypt in education, health and the environment. Mr. Tawfik, a career diplomat, was previously Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon and to Australia and surrounding countries. He was a guest in Pittsburgh of the American Middle East Institute.

During his visit he participated in a lively dialogue on the new Egypt with members of the Pittsburgh business, academic, media and foreign affairs communities. One local company, Aquatech, which is concerned with water purification, has been active in Egypt for 25 years, through thick and thin, the period of previous President Hosni Mubarak. Today Mohamed Morsi, who was elected in June, leads the government.

Mr. Tawfik was candid in his comments on the situation in Egypt. He said that some of the ferment is due to the fact that Egyptians of all sorts feel empowered in the new democracy and are certainly not prepared to remain silent in the face of what they consider to be undemocratic or unconstitutional treatment by the new elected government. There would be as a result vigorous defense of the civil rights of women, of ethnic and religious minorities, and freedom of the media.

He pointed out that a better life was what Egyptians expected as a result of democratization. The Arab Spring had aroused hopes and the population would expect them to be fulfilled in a higher standard of living, not just changes in government or rhetoric.

With respect to relations with the United States he said that, in spite of some bumps in the road that had been encountered, with the expulsion of some U.S. non-governmental organizations last year as example, Egyptians still welcomed U.S. involvement in their country, especially in the fields he had come to Pittsburgh to explore.

He had found in Washington considerable sympathetic understanding of Egypt's current situation. He expressed hope that President Barack Obama and new Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who included Egypt in his nine-country introductory tour, would devote attention to developing a Middle East peace process to resolve the difficulties in securing a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians, of great concern to Egypt.

Mr. Tawfik promised to pursue the broadening of Egypt-Pittsburgh relations during his assignment to the United States -- something that is good news for this region.

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