In November of 2008, a delegation of U.S. lawyers and guests traveled to Egypt. Our goal was to learn, experience, and exchange ideas with our Egyptian counter-parts. We were fortunate to have met with some of the leading lawyers and political leaders in Egypt. Our delegation exchanged views, ideas, and perspectives with such Egyptian leaders as: Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, Head of the People Assembly and other members of Parliament; Dr. Ahmed Awad Belal, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Cairo University; and Dr. Mohsen Youssef, Director of the Arab Reform Summit at the Library of Alexandria.
Our delegation was also privileged to spend time in the Egyptian Museum viewing ancient Egyptian artifacts, as well as visiting the 4,500 year-old Pyramids and the Great Pyramid, which is the only survivor of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” We also saw the legendary Sphinx and much more. It seemed routine, while we were there, for new archeological discoveries to be unearthed.
In the end, we will, of course, remember these great Egyptian treasures, but above all, we will remember the people that we met and their struggles. We will also remember the deep respect they have for Americans and the American legal and constitutional system. We were there during our 2008 Presidential Election and we fortunate, from a historical perspective, to have witnessed the euphoria, which swept Egypt upon them learning the results. We learned that our legal community shares a common bond with the Egyptian legal community. In a small way, we helped to build bridges and understanding between our countries and legal systems.
By: Richard Pena
Election Day in Egypt (excerpt from the Paris News)
Mary Walker Clark
I watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at 7 a.m., Nov. 5th, in a hotel room in Cairo, Egypt. There were no shouts of joy in the street at the time. It was too early for the newspapers headlines to reflect the victory. But later, the excitement of his election became apparent.
Under the People to People Ambassadorial program, a delegation of 25 lawyers, with their leader, Richard Pena, former president of the State Bar of Texas, traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian lawyers and law professors. On that Election Day, Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, president of the People’s Assembly – a position equivalent to our speaker of the house, received us. His Masters of Education was from the University of Michigan where he was most impressed with our emphasis on human rights. Dr. Fathi’s recent book, “Facing Terrorism by Law” is a treatise on the balance of rights and national security needed to deal with those who wish us harm.
When asked about Obama’s election, Dr. Fathi responded with “chapeaux (hats off) to the Americans” on this election of Obama and of human rights. He hoped it would finish a period of conflict between blacks and whites. He considers the U.S. to be courageous in its respect for human rights.
An afternoon meeting began with the Dean of Cairo University’s Law School which serves 30,000 students. Egypt based its law on the French Civil Code but many of their professirs are American trained. The Dean also extended his congratulations to Americans for their election of a black president. Their university closely follows our treatment of terrorists as Egypt has also had incidents of persons using violence for political gain.
Later in the week, a visit to the impressive Alexandria Library privdided an encounter with its director, chief librarian and staff. They first congratulated us with “great joy” on the election. One felt it was “breaking the paradigm” and hoped we could now finish the agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Senator Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library, went further. Because of his Harvard training, he knew civil liberties had been abridged four times in U.S. history – the Alien Sedition Act under John Adams, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the Japanese internment during World War II, and Guantanamo and the declaration of enemy combatants. He considered only Lincoln’s act as legitimate. Guantanamo’s preventative detention cannot “square” with the presumption of innocence and the right to silence cannot “square” with torture.
Egypt has lived under “emergency” law since Mubarak became president in 1981. All of the speakers recognized their country lacks our emphasis on vicil rights. It is, they said, why they need the United States to continue to be the world leader in enforcement of individual rights. Terrorism requires a “wise balance” of rights and national security as Senator Serageldin acknowledged. All wanted our experience to help guide them as they press for more civil rights. And that is why the legal community in Egypt was so encouraged by the election of Barack Obama. Yes, he was a black man with African roots but he was also a constitutional law professor. And all of them understood the significance of that knowledge.
Mary Walker Clark is a resident of Paris.