Opinion| Look ahead, but do not forget to look back

Jan Thesleff
5 Min Read

Anniversaries, such as the one that Daily News Egypt is celebrating, are important as they make us stop, look back, and more importantly, look ahead.

This seems the more important as the worldwide novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic keeps its grip on our societies and irrevocably changes our fears, expectations, and behaviour.

The pandemic has brought suffering and hardship, but it has also made us realize and appreciate what we once had, including the small pleasures of life, like socializing, meeting family and friends, celebrating or grieving together, attending a football game in person and, for a few, the art of travel.

A year ago, before the pandemic struck with full force, I naively thought that things would go back to business as usual. But today I see it more likely to be business as unusual.

Digitalisation, e-commerce, e-payments, and e-government are making quantum leaps globally, and the generation gap between the tech savvy youth and a more traditional older generation is narrowing.

What seemed too complicated, too technical a year ago, is today part of our daily vocabulary, as we Skype, we Zoom and so on. As a Swede, the fact that ‘to skype’ has become a verb makes me proud, as my fellow citizen Niklas Zennström is one of the Skype-founders. 

But there is another divide that remains and becomes more apparent, and that is the divide between those who have access to the tech tools and those who have not. As we go for e-government and e-payment, we must make sure that no one lags behind, left on the outside.

When it comes to these issues, exclusion is more serious, than the generational one, as it hits already marginalised, less empowered groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the talk of our time, but let’s not forget all the other important challenges, many of which are exacerbated by the pandemic.

As a gender champion and as Vice-Chair of the OECD Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum, Egypt’s Minister of Planning and Economic Development Dr Hala El-Said, [NI1] 

I daily note and try to highlight the risk that the situation for girls and women is even more challenged in the wake of the pandemic. Anniversaries like the one we celebrate today, could thus also serve to highlight key issues that risk being overshadowed when we join forces to face the threat of the day, that of COVID-19. 

I have spent almost seven years of my diplomatic career in Egypt, fantastic years with fantastic people, history and beauty. This year I was appointed Commissioner General of the upcoming world exhibition in Dubai, Expo 2020, heading Sweden’s massive participation.

World exhibitions have been held in different shapes all since the first one in London in 1851, but this is a first in the Middle East. What makes it even more unique is its timing.

We now really have a great opportunity, to build back better and to showcase what the ’new normal’ could and should look like, creating a more sustainable world in all senses of the word, environmentally, economically and socially.

Sweden’s pavilion – “The Forest” – symbolises that broad approach to sustainability. Made entirely of wood, 18 metre tree trunks rise towards the sky, combined with oriental mashrabiye, they create the perfect platform for co-creation for innovation as we seek more solid, resilient systems and societies. 

I will of course continue working closely with Egypt, with Egyptian colleagues and friends at the Expo, which starts on 1 October this year, after a one-year coronavirus-related delay. Of course, we will together look forward, but while remembering the past. Happy Anniversary, Daily News Egypt!

Jan Thesleff

The writer is the “Commissioner General for Sweden’s participation at Expo 2020 in Dubai and former Ambassador of Sweden to Egypt”

 [NI1]I’m not sure this sentence makes sense when left with the rest of it …..

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