Africa and the Middle East

From Aspen to Cairo

February 16, 2011

Note from Todd Breyfogle, director, Seminars, The Aspen Institute:

Aspen Seminar participant Amr Attia reflects on how his time in Aspen shaped his involvement in Egypt’s march to democracy. An architect and university professor in Cairo, Attia visited Aspen in August 2010 to attend the Aspen Seminar on leadership, values and the good society. With a group of diverse North American and international leaders, he explored the contemporary relevance of the tensions among democratic values—including liberty, equality, justice, and the rule of law—through Aspen’s unique approach of moderated, text-based dialogue. Last Friday, he shared with his Aspen compatriots some reflections on his Aspen experience and how the Aspen Seminar shaped his almost daily visits to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dear Classmates and Friends:

You have been on my mind for the past 18 days. My concern, involvement and judgment of Egypt’s march to democracy have been directed by your thoughts and discussions during our fascinating Aspen Seminar. It seems that your wisdom was transferred to all young Egyptians. A miracle indeed. Together we have read and discussed democracy but it seemed to me like a historic and Platonic—far fetched—blessing. I never thought that living it and witnessing its birth would taste so good. During the Aspen Seminar, I envied many of you for having it, but I am now blessed for having the opportunity in helping in its making.

The following quotes have formulated my general wisdom about the situation and they were what kept me going to Tahrir Square almost every day to help Egyptian youth fight for democracy:

“A right delayed is a right denied” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” — John F. Kennedy

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” — Benjamin Franklin

“Those who make half a revolution are digging their own graves” — Anonymous

I thank you for your virtual intervention in Egypt’s revolution and I want you all to enjoy Obama’s very wise words describing what happened in Egypt. He is a great man and our American friends are very lucky to have him as their President… He said:

“There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same.”

[Amr’s note went on to quote the following remarks from President Obama’s speech on February 11, 2011.]

What about if we all start a discussion about this historic event? There is still so much to be done. It is going to be us classmates who could advise our policy makers on next steps.

Best always


Dr. Amr Attia is an associate professor of urban planning at Ain Shams University, Egypt’s largest university. He is also vice president of one of the leading consulting companies in the field of urban planning in the Middle East, has been a leader on dozens of urban and rural sustainable architecture projects, and founded the region’s first online architecture market place. Among other awards, he was named a 2007 Eisenhower Fellow. Attia’s attendance was made possible in part by an Aspen Institute McLaughlin Scholarship. His seminar was led by senior moderators John Danner and David Langstaff.