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 Shafik Gabr,East-West: The Art of Dialogue,Tony Blair
The Art of Dialogue Middle East Crisis Discussed Through Art - ArtLyst Article image

The Art of Dialogue Middle East Crisis Discussed Through Art

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East-West: The Art of Dialogue is an exchange initiative set up by
leading Egyptian investor and philanthropist, Shafik Gabr, to try and
endorse greater cultural understanding between the Middle East and the
West. It is a programme designed to send emerging young leaders in the
art, science, law, media and social and business entrepreneurship
world to meet and collaborate with one another initially situated in
the United States, and then again in Egypt. It is through this, Gabr
believes, that respect for cultural differences will emerge and
lifelong friendships and business relationships made. These ‘Gabr
Fellows’, the twenty successful applicants, will attend seminars and
visit sites of important social, economic and cultural significance in
both countries, and will be in the fortunate position of being able to
collaborate with influential speakers from the wider political
spectrum of these nations. In conclusion to their visits, the Fellows
will be obliged to develop projects that will give back valuable
aspects of their experiences to their wider community, sharing
experiences, knowledge, and promoting this incredible opportunity to
their peers.

In many ways, this is precisely what Shafik Gabr himself is doing by
establishing this exchange programme. As a child born and raised in
Egypt, Gabr was given his last allowance from his father aged 16 and
henceforth used his entrepreneurial spirit set up a messaging business
around Cairo in order to raise funds to travel. $148 later, Gabr took
the opportunity to travel to Europe, and it was through this that he
considers becoming more culturally aware and understanding of global
values. As he grew more successful he developed a passion for
Orientalist art, leading him to buy his first painting in 1993 – the
beginnings of what is now his extensive collection. It is this that
brings the ideology behind this initiative full circle. Gabr was
fascinated by Western painters and captivated by why exactly they went
to great lengths to travel to his part of the globe to create these
masterful paintings. To him, they are a symbol of a time when cultural
exchange was possible without fear of prejudice, and of a time with
fewer barriers to ethnic integration. He comments that in a day and
age where communication has never been easier and more prevalent,
particularly with the emergence of social media, the East and the West
have never been so deprived at understanding each other. But instead
of simply observing this, Gabr wants to make a change. And it is
through this exchange programme that he wants to provide tomorrow’s
leaders and policy-makers with the opportunity to build a more
peaceful world through greater social understandings of each other.

A conference celebrating the launch of this programme was held last
week in London, and perhaps a little controversially, was headlined by
a conversation with ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Under deeper
consideration, however, one realises that it is exactly this sort of
dialogue that Gabr is trying to promote within the international
community. We have to try and understand one another, irrespective of
our differences. "I've invited him even though I didn't agree with him
over Iraq. But we have to engage, even with those we disagree with,"
Mr Gabr says. He is right, and despite any previous opinions on Blair
as a public figure, anyone sitting in on his speech would agree that
it was a captivating one. From his own experiences he highlighted the
need for greater levels of one to one interaction between Eastern and
Western individuals, but at the same time communicated the
difficulties involved with getting the two sides with such opposing
views to talk to each other. Choosing the Israel-Palestine conflict as
an example, Blair accentuated the need to make the prospect of peace a
feasible one. According to him, and especially at this current time
when tensions between the two states are fierce, Israel believes that
Palestine is not serious about a peaceful resolution and Palestine
remains feeling like the underdog, their situation hopeless and
futile.  Without belief on either side in the realistic prospect of
peace, how can constructive negotiation be organised?

But Blair points out that the underlying conclusion for a path forward
should not be one as ambiguous as it is made out to be.
Open-mindedness is crucial and the absence of it is leading to turmoil
and demolition, exemplified perfectly by the civil conflict in Syria.
But it is only through education and initiatives such as this that
open-mindedness can be achieved. And so it is on this note that I urge
anyone with an interest in the field to go forward and research this
opportunity. If you are aged between 24 and 30 and have a desire to
change the world, I cannot think of a more exciting opportunity.
Further details on East-West: The Art of Dialogue can be found on
www.eastwestdialogue.org, Spread the word.

Words: Paniz Gederi Photo:© ArtLyst 2012

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