Al-Ahram Weekly Online   7 - 13 July 2011
Issue No. 1055
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Gamal Nkrumah

Two-way street

The uneven playing field of international relations is reflected in the frustrations and aspirations expressed in the maiden issue of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, notes Gamal Nkrumah, who sounded out the AUC publication's Managing Editor Scott MacLeod

The old campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC) in Tahrir Square might do with a wash and a lick of paint. And the 25 January Revolution has done the Tahrir campus no end of good. The new campus out in New Cairo in sharp contrast is blithely patrician in a state-of- the-art contemporary fashion. It is an agreeable, genteel and starkly leisurely desert outpost. Managing Editor of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs Scott MacLeod spent 25 years in Time Magazine, and 35 years in American journalism. He is in many respects the primary draw to readers of a certain age of this AUC journal. It is the first publication of its kind of one of Egypt's most venerable educational institutions. He glides casually in flip flops over assorted memorabilia in his inviting Maadi apartment. For the next three hours I heard a great deal about this publication which was honed in large measure by this distinguished and veteran journalist.

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The Cairo Review of Global Affairs is published by the AUC's School of Global Affairs and Public Policy Review (GAPP). "This new quarterly journal... is intended to be an outlet for people in the Middle East who follow global affairs," expounds ambassador Nabil Fahmi, the founding dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo. He is a career diplomat who served as Egypt's ambassador to the United States from 1999 to 2008, and as envoy to Japan between 1997 and 1999. "We also want it to be a platform that gives perspectives from the region a greater voice in international policy conversations and debates. Creating a new publication -- and we are in print, as well as online at the -- naturally requires a great effort," Ambassador Fahmi extrapolates.

"The Review comes out of GAPP," MacLeod corroborates Fahmi's viewpoint.

MacLeod insisted that he does not take instructions from anyone. He accepted the job "with an understanding that I have a free hand," he categorically states with a telling smile. "GAPP was founded to form a policy school for Egyptians and Arabs," MacLeod extrapolates. "It is a two-way street." Despite his upbeat assessment he understands that there is no silver bullet that will create a more robust educational system overnight in Egypt or the region. Some may suspect that this sounds like old-fashioned paternalism. On the contrary, he believes that an increasing number of young people demonstrate greater commitment to international affairs, as well as to the prospects of democracy and human rights in Egypt. "Well, I think a lot of our bright young kids want to get to know how the real world works," his voice has returned to its more relaxed western Pennsylvanian lilt.

"It was Nabil Fahmi's idea to create an academic journal, a policy journal on global affairs emanating from Cairo," MacLeod elaborates. He appears to see everything in very clear terms.

"Passivism and apathy are not options or choices that we can afford or condone. We are determined to make a difference," Fahmi specifies. "We sought expertise from around the world in creating the Cairo Review, but didn't have to look far for some members of our editorial team," he remarks in his suave and sophisticated fashion.

It all amounts to a calculated gamble. Moreover, it has opened a new dimension to the historic role of the AUC.

"Nabil Fahmi offered me the job -- I was being recruited by the AUC to join the staff as a university professor. I was simply one of several well-qualified and available people. Nabil offered me the position to edit the Cairo Review," MacLeod explains.

MacLeod joined the AUC as a staff member in January 2010. "The hiring process has complicated procedures. I was still with Time Magazine at the time. The idea that I would edit the journal was part of the terms of employment, part of the discussion of accepting the terms on taking the position." His tasks involve not merely gathering information relevant to this part of the world, but processing it in such a way that it highlights the priorities of the region and extracting value from networking.

"I get one course release in exchange for editing the Cairo Review," MacLeod says nonchalantly. "I am not a staff journalist who was hired specifically to edit the journal. I am a professor at AUC, primarily a teacher. When I feel like I am not doing a good job I will fire myself." He is entitled to speak plainly, after all.

"I am a professor of practice and not an editor per se. Teaching journalism is my real job. It is the dean's prerogative to change the editor of the journal at any time he deems appropriate". He understands what commitment to learning and professionalism entails.

MacLeod read political science and majored in international relations at the University of Pittsburgh and soon became editor of a robust student newspaper at college. MacLeod was born and raised in western Pennsylvania and he is proud of his roots.

It was at university that he first became acquainted with the Middle East. This was the time when the Lebanese civil war erupted and Palestinian, Israeli and Lebanese affairs attracted a great deal of attention in academic circles and the media as he was coming of age at the University of Pittsburgh.

One of his mentors was the late Richard Cottam, foremost scholar on Iran who also was one of the key US State Department officials who was instrumental in masterminding and engineering the coup d'état against the leftist and nationalistic Iranian government headed by Mohamed Mossadegh.

"Practitioners can bring a perspective to a discipline of academics, prepare students for the real world," MacLeod notes. At the University of Pittsburgh, he soon became acquainted with how scholarly knowledge influences the way the "real world works". He believes that if teachers treat students like they make a difference they will make a difference. "The focus is on training future Arab policymakers, likely to go out in the real world. Students of journalism can benefit from professors and journalists who they can learn shoe leather journalism from."

MacLeod has two very capable and qualified assistant editors -- Lauren Bohn and Ross Dunohue. "Due to its geography and political standing, Egypt has interacted with the wider world throughout its long history. In taking its place on the international stage, it has produced honoured statesmen and Nobel laureates. It has provided numerous global public servants, including a secretary-general of the United Nations and a director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency," accurately notes Dunohue. "With such a legacy in mind, and with a wary eye on the complex challenges facing Egypt and the Middle East, the American University in Cairo last year established the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP) as the first institution of its kind in the region," Dunohue concisely concludes.

MacLeod is acutely aware of the charge that the AUC, like its Lebanese counterpart the American University of Beirut (AUB), is purveyors of American cultural values in a predominantly Muslim Arab world. "I am careful not to speak on behalf of the AUC," MacLeod makes it abundantly clear. "Yes universities like AUC and AUB are in the business of promoting values Americans hold dear, one of which is an instinctive abhorrence of the imposition of conformity."

Yet, he is obviously unimpressed by the rumoured rigmarole of rabid anti-Americanism in the region. "I believe Dean Nabil Fahmi is more appropriate to explain this particular question," MacLeod avows.

"Suzanne, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak were all AUC graduates. But you have a whole group of other people who graduated from the AUC who hold radically different views and political perspectives from the Mubaraks."

MacLeod pays tribute to the role the AUC played, albeit indirectly and perhaps inadvertently, in Egypt's 25 January Revolution in particular and in the Arab Spring at large. "A huge number of our students and faculty were in Tahrir Square for 18 days. They, too, were reflective of the mood of the vast majority of the people of Egypt. You'd be hard-pressed to find large numbers of Egyptian students at AUC who were not sympathetic to the cause of the 25 January Revolution. And, I would say most students at AUC instinctively adopt a critical posture towards the US policy and American attitudes towards the Middle East and the Arab world in general," MacLeod concedes.

The Levant was his entrée into the world of Arab and Middle Eastern politics. "I've written a lot about the Palestinians over the years as Time Magazine correspondent," he says. Yet again he stresses that AUB, like AUC, was not necessarily in the business of formulating American values.

"Don't forget that men like George Habash and Wadie Hadad were AUB graduates," MacLeod points out. "And, at any rate even among the most prestigious American universities -- Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard and Yale -- there is a wide diversity of ideas and ideologies. We at GAPP want to look at what is happening around the world and learn the relevant lessons," he muses.

Personally, the section entitled "The Cairo Review Interviews" particularly intrigues me: "Inside Egypt's Uprising". Nine key figures -- eight of whom are Egyptian nationals -- give an "inside look at the causes and effects of Egypt's Tahrir Square uprising and discuss the challenges facing the country and the region". Among the characters selected are popular preacher and presidential hopeful Amr Khaled; businessman and former boss of the now defunct ex-ruling National Democratic Party Hossam Badrawi; dentist and novelist Alaa El-Aswani; Muslim Brotherhood stalwart Essam El-Erian; intellectual and political commentator Amr Hamzawy; and human rights activist and psychiatrist Aida Seif El-Dawla.

Hossam Badrawi gives a certain old guard perspective. Amr Khaled has the interesting distinction of being pushed out forcibly into exile under the Mubarak regime and he has a huge following especially among the young. He has tapped a certain vein and got a response. He has got political ambitions and he is a future player on the political scene.

Esraa Abdel-Fattah, the "Facebook Girl", is a political activist and a coordinator of the Egyptian Democracy Academy, a non-governmental organisation promoting citizenship rights. She represents the younger generation of activists that spearheaded the 25 January Revolution. "None of these people were easy to pin down. This was not easy work," MacLeod quips. "Amr Khaled and Esraa were interviewed by my assistant editor and one of my students. I did the rest".

"Alaa El-Aswani is a different kettle of fish altogether. I have Alaa's cell phone number. Amr Hamzawy is an Egyptian analyst working in one of the most prestigious international think tanks, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut and political science professor at Cairo University."

Did MacLeod select the nine key figures, I wondered? "Journalism is the art of the possible," MacLeod jests in reply. He was searching for the nine most articulate and most informative figures. "I wanted a gallery of views. I very consciously wanted to find representatives of different political and social perspectives and distinct ideological orientations. We have video versions of the nine interviews online. We want to have an impact and that is why we are online."

So was there a particular criterion in the selection process? "Perhaps there was a prejudice for people who could speak and communicate in English, the global language. People who weren't chosen are not necessarily less important or less relevant," MacLeod stressed. "What mattered is that the nine worked out well."

"Rami Khouri, the only non-Egyptian of the nine interviewees, is a widely published pundit in both the Arab and the Western press. His articulate and deep analysis is much appreciated especially in the regional context. "Moreover, Rami is on the editorial board," MacLeod points out.

And, what about the contributors? "What is important to keep in mind is that The Cairo Review of Global Affairs is not the 'Bible' of the Egyptian Revolution," MacLeod observes.

Princeton Lyman is the US Special Envoy on Sudan, and a leading US Africa diplomat, an old Africa hand. "It was a scoop for us to get a prominent insider on Sudan to write for us," MacLeod says beamingly.

"The viewpoint of William Quandt, Edward Stettinius Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, is not one you would ordinarily find in mainstream American publications," MacLeod points out. "In my philosophical views accuracy in reporting is important, but it is not the only criterion to be taken into consideration," he adds.

MacLeod says that one of the goals of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs is to give our readers truer and more balanced narratives. He remembers how after 9/11 the Western media was tainted with ignorance and biased perspectives on the Arab and Muslim worlds. "Some of the stories may have been accurate, but they created negative images of the Arab world. This drove home the point of publishing with a different perspective. And hence the critical importance of a journal like The Cairo Review."

Lisa Anderson, AUC provost at the time, was very supportive. "We are not just about East and West," Anderson says about the AUC, founded in 1919 by American Christian missionaries. "Difficult as these days have been -- and there may be more trials to come -- all of us should be proud," Anderson, a Middle East specialist, says.

Today, AUC President Anderson advocates a radical new look at global affairs. "East and West is a 20th century way of looking at the world. Now we need to be thinking about what's going to happen in the next 25 years on a global level, and about what role Egypt and the region will play."

"The piece by Shadi Hamid, of the Brookings Institute, needed updating, for instance. It was originally written well before the 25 January Revolution. Similarly, the article by Nobel laureate Ahmed Zuweil needed revision. The two- week period in the beginning of February 2011 was hectic. My dad died, and everything was going haywire. We had to make last minute changes to the direction of the journal. For example, US President Barack Obama was going to be on the cover of the maiden issue. "Before the revolution the idea was to produce a journal critical of the Obama administration's handling of the Middle East conflict and its failure to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," MacLeod muses.

In much the same vein, the failure of Washington in particular and the West in general to support democracy in the Arab world was to be the thematic focus of the journal's maiden issue.

After trying hard to solicit an interview with President Obama on the lack of progress since his historic outreach speech to the Arab and Muslim world at Cairo University in June 2009, MacLeod was informed that Obama declined to grant the interview. However, he was told that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was prepared to speak to the new AUC journal instead. At any rate, Obama did not appear on the cover of the maiden issue of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs and Clinton pulled out when the 25 January Revolution erupted.

Several articles that were supposed to appear were postponed because of the revolution such as the ones on Central Asia, HIV/AIDs, Brazil and global warming.

The next issue of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs is to focus on South Africa, a choice I at first find both confounding and uplifting. The above-mentioned articles on climate change, Brazil and HIV/AIDs are also to appear in the forthcoming issue that is due for publication next week.

Africa, being my own specialty, I was delighted by the choice of a triumphant country that has overcome many challenges and is coping with Legion and represents the very best of what our beloved continent has to offer.

Indeed, South Africa -- like Egypt -- is another very important country in our continent. South Africa is a new global player and a real success story. "The special South Africa issue was my idea. This was my idea, entirely my idea," MacLeod concedes.

"My own connections with South Africa facilitated the choice of our July theme". The second issue is devoted primarily, but not entirely, to South African affairs. "We want to be a platform for perspectives and ideas in this part of the world".

MacLeod is confident that The Cairo Review of Global Affairs will eventually rival such revered publications as Foreign Policy out of Washington DC, Foreign Affairs out of New York, and International Affairs out of London. "We had the notion that it was an ambitious programme. We still do."

With the toppling of the Arab leaders who symbolised their respective regime's repression, the ballgame as far as The Cairo Review was concerned changed overnight.

MacLeod has made his career in this part of the world. "Lebanon was my first introduction to the Middle East. Then Egypt was next." Ever since he has become tremendously attached to both countries and others in the region. "I was dispatched to Lebanon soon after the Israeli invasion of the country, the emergence of Hizbullah as a powerful political force in the Lebanese political scene, and the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. Soon after, the Druze and the Christians started fighting viciously in the Chouf Mountains. That was my welcome to Lebanon."

Two years living in Beirut -- 1983-84 -- was a spine tingling and eye popping introduction to the region for MacLeod.

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