CAIRO: As world leaders descended on Sharm El-Sheikh to discuss Iraq, leaders in the making were running their own conference at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
“Bringing the World Home: An American-Egyptian Youth Dialogue on US Policy, a conference which was held May 3-5 brought together students, NGO representatives and experts from America and Egypt to discuss and exchange views on American policy in Egypt and the wider Middle East.
Organized jointly by Americans for Informed Democracy (Aid), Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and the Model Egyptian Parliament (MEP) at AUC, the conference ran a series of lectures, debates, and discussion groups.
All too often decisions taken in Washington do not reflect the opinions of people in the [Middle East], who these policies affect, Rashad Mahmoud, one of the conference s chief organizers, told The Daily Star Egypt on opening night.
It was but one of several points upon which both American and Egyptian participants would later agree.
The conference began with brief introductions from the organizers, and an address given by Palestinian delegate to the Arab League Mohammed Sobeih, who discussed mainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He also emphasized the need for Americans to look beyond their country s mass media, and praised the conference s goals to that end.
Over the following two days participants attended panel discussions hosted by selected experts, before separating into smaller groups for breakout sessions, where they debated the topics discussed with the aim of reaching resolutions.
The ultimate goal is to eventually present these resolutions to government representatives.
One panel discussion that guaranteed lively debate was that given by Alistair Baskey from the US State Department, and Ashraf Sweilam of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on “US and Regional Conflicts.
What ensued was a discourse in realpolitik in the Middle East.
Baskey presented a clear, concise summary of American policy everywhere in the region from Israel and Lebanon to Egypt and Iraq, followed by Sweilam who presented Egypt s position regarding America s policy, as well as an overview of the good relations between his country and America.
Middle Eastern politics are less black and white than varying shades of gray, Sweilam intimated to the gathering.
The same words could also be used to describe the general theme that emerged from the talk, as well as the subsequent question and answer session.
Events like this are a great way to communicate ideas, Baskey told The Daily Star Egypt afterwards.
And that can only be constructive.
The conference concluded with amendments to and ratifications of the resolutions that had been prescribed over the course of the conference.
Raising awareness of alternative perspectives, not imposing democracy from without, and doing more to integrate Arabs and Muslims in America were among the 35 resolutions ratified.
It took three years for the international community to finalize and approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so two days seemed optimistic at the outset of this conference.
Yet Egypt and America s political hopefuls managed it, before agreeing on one final resolution.