This is Part One of a MintPress exclusive interview with Shafik Gabr. To read Part Two, click here. (NEW YORK) MintPress — The Egyptian billionaire chairman of ARTOC Group Investment and Development, Shafik Gabr, has a long list of accomplishments, and he is about to add another. In addition to taking the helm of his father’s company […]
This is Part One of a MintPress exclusive interview with Shafik Gabr. To read Part Two, click here.
(NEW YORK) MintPress — The Egyptian billionaire chairman of ARTOC Group Investment and Development, Shafik Gabr, has a long list of accomplishments, and he is about to add another.
In addition to taking the helm of his father’s company and growing it into the conglomerate it is today, Gabr, now 59, was the founder and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, the chairman of the Arab Business Council, chairman of the Council of Advisers, MENA Region, at the World Bank, and a member of the Initiative for Peace and Cooperation in the Middle East.
He had a grandfather in the Senate before the 1952 revolution and his late father was a diplomat who retired from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before moving into the private sector. Gabr himself considers political leaders and royalty from around the world as personal friends and is extremely well connected in Washington.
He is also Egypt’s premier collector of Orientalist art and Chairman of the Mohamed Shafik Gabr Foundation, which supports local initiatives that promote social welfare and development in the country.
And now, he is bringing his philanthropic mission to the United States in an effort to build bridges between East and West — something he doesn’t think governments and politicians have succeeded in doing.
He points to the overthrow of former strongman Hosni Mubarak and recent vote for his replacement in his country. “I think the U.S., under the press of time, had to make certain decisions which if they had thought them out, I think they would have considered them differently,” Gabr says in an exclusive interview with MintPress News in New York City.
“Today Egypt is being run by a Muslim Brotherhood president, but the opposition does not exist, because the opposition leader is not in Egypt, he’s exiled right now,” he asserts. “One of the things I would hope is also to talk about the importance of the legitimacy of an opposition party that can exist and operate freely.”
“I have always found that we can benefit from working with each other. One of the most important things I have paid attention to as an individual and as a businessman is the need to create links between Egypt and the U.S. I always believed the U.S. would benefit from closer relations with Egypt and vice versa,” Gabr said.
“I had a number of initiatives I have done over the years in that domain. But now with so many things happening in my part of the world, my sense is I should take that further, so I’m establishing a foundation in the United States, and the focus of that foundation is going to be to create an East-West dialogue, “ he explains.
“We are inviting young Americans to Egypt and my part of the world and vice versa. We will have specific programs designed for their areas of interest, to work with their counterparts and to have deliverables in the sense of building communication and understanding, which I think is very important.”
Gabr is wasting no time in turning his vision into reality. “We’re launching in November. And we’re hoping our first exchanges will take place in 2013,” he says. “My sense is we’re going to have three of them. And my hope is to also engage with institutions in the U.S. and western Europe that will be able to make this into a larger initiative. I want to initiate it and hope that others will also see value in contributing to it.”
The lessons of Orientalism
Not surprisingly, given Gabr’s belief that Orientalism embodies a true respect between the two cultures, one of the programs will involve young artists.
“One of the key misrepresentations that exists is how the West depicts the East and vice versa. So by bringing painters from both sides, some that can come visit the United States, they’ll have an understanding about the U.S.,” says Gabr.
Which he hopes will be reflected in their art as the Orientalist painters’ was in theirs.
“One of the great things about Orientalist art is the fact that it comes from pioneers, Americans and Europeans who traveled to my part of the world in the late 18th century and early 19th century,” he maintains. “Conditions were very difficult, but they were truly communicators. And I saw that the perception of our part of the world in the West and vice versa was much more positive because of the work these people did.
Gabr continues, “They were by no means armchair painters.They were painters who traveled, who got to understand the culture, who got to understand the people. Some of them spoke the language, and many of them made several trips, which created what I term early globalists.”
But he is not limiting this endeavor to the world of art. “I would like to take young legislators here to see how the U.S. Congress works, and send young interns to Egypt,” he reveals. “It is so important because what I see is more common interest than conflict, but for many different reasons, unfortunately, the perception is not where the reality is.”
Gabr draws inspiration from an experience he had when bringing a group of Egyptians to the U.S. in the mid 1980s, taking them to Des Moines, Iowa and Monticello, Ark.
“They were very worried about coming to the U.S., and when they landed in New York, they were very concerned,” he recalls. “It was an environment they felt not relaxed in. Two weeks later they left very unhappy that they were leaving.”
“They created relations, they understood there’s common values, they had friends they communicated with,” Gabr continues. “I remember meeting them six or seven years later and they were still in touch with their counterparts. It’s that human interaction I think is of great value and that I would like to replicate through the exchanges.”
Please tune in next week for more of our interview with Shafik Gabr, and his views on the Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria and what reforms need to be implemented in the Middle East.