Christmas Wishes, Highlights in 2018 and Continued Support Needed

Sent On: 
Mon, 2018-12-24
Newsletter Number: 

“Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays” or “Season's Greetings?” Many Westerners no longer know how to great their friends in this season because most have a mix of friends who are Christian, Muslim, agnostic or of another conviction. Because we are now aware of so many faith traditions, many Christians wish their friends “Happy Holidays.” Most Muslims, on the other hand, are not shy about wishing their non-Muslim friends a happy Muslim feast and why not? Include all your friends in the Christmas wishes and always be respectful to those with different beliefs.


Western Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25, but our Coptic Orthodox friends do so on January 7. This is because our calendars differ. However, I would like to see all Christians united in their feasts.


Reflections on 2018


Christmas is a good time to reflect on the past year, the beginning of which did not start out very well. Since 2005, the core of our work has been supported by three partners; German Catholic organizations Misereor, Missio and Dutch Protestant organization Kerk in Actie. In addition to these three, other organizations and individuals have given support for specific activities.


By “our” work I refer to the combined work of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation (CIDT), an Egyptian limited liability company that is primarily responsible for database-building and that provides support to the Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU), an Egyptian NGO, that provides student internships and carries out various social projects.


CAWU could do more if it was not facing restrictions due to the Egyptian NGO law. These restrictions are not directed against CAWU, but they concern Egyptian NGOs in general. Egyptian authorities have never had any problem with any of the activities of CAWU, though they have created obstacles in receiving foreign funding for its work. We, therefore, much appreciate Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Ihab Gamal al-Din [Ihāb Jamāl al-Dīn] who called Matthew Anderson and myself last summer in his office and offered to become CAWU’s “lawyer” in explaining different Egyptian authorities about the importance of our work in hopes to open channels for CAWU to receive foreign funding. Of course, we want all funding and activities to be fully transparent for Egyptian authorities and we hope CAWU will receive new opportunities in 2019 that it hitherto has not had.


Both CIDT and CAWU support intercultural dialogue, and through this, diverse communities are brought together toward creating a more harmonious world for Egyptians and non-Egyptians, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We realize how widely diverse humans are while firmly believing that our differences should not divide us but rather help us focus on what we can share with one another. One such a discussion was initiated by Dr. Janneke Stegeman in the Netherlands and was documented in Arab-West Report in a text called “Ecumenism between Christians, Muslims and Jews?” on October 29, 2018. You can read her text here.


Our partners’ change in policy


Kerk in Actie and Missio decided, in 2017, to work with CIDT for another three year period (1.1.2018 – 31.12.2020). Misereor, on the other hand, decided to cut this period in half which is ending on July 1, 2019. The three partners differed on priorities as well: for Kerk in Actie and Missio the development of our database on Muslim-Christian relations, in the wider context of Egyptian society, was most important. Kerk in Actie further requested that we make our work financially self-supporting. This resulted in ending free access to our data and limiting free access to summary texts only. For full access, one needs to subscribe. The current subscription system cannot cover the costs of maintaining our database. That will need large institutional subscribers such as university libraries. However, they in turn need a database that meets their criteria including classification of articles.


In 2016, the Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS) of the combined Dutch universities and research centers provided us with a small fund to store our own reports in their database. This was an explicit recognition for the quality of our work. This project, however, also made it abundantly clear that if we want to make our work attractive for university library subscribers, we would have to standardize our data. Keeping fixed standards in uploading and classifying data has been extremely difficult because of our ever changing staff and interns. The Archdiocese of Köln database project, March 1 2017 – December 31, 2018, helped us tremendously to standardize our data. 


Misereor, more interested in social outreach, addressing poverty and injustice, has found work on the database in recent years too academic and has ended the support for our current program per 1.7.2019. They also objected to our financial reporting on accrual basis and wanted to see this changed to cash-basis reporting. We have made substantial changes in 2018 and have achieved that costs made in 2018 are indeed paid in 2018 (which is the basis of cash-basis financial reporting). On April 26 German intern Andre Neumann wrote a report about the mutual interests of Misereor and CIDT and its sister organization CAWU. Please read this report here. At the same time, we contacted the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and they agreed to provide support for 2019 and 2020. This resulted in the board of the Arab-West Foundation publishing a report on June 13 that describes the diaconal services of CAWU. This you can read here. The similarities in the objectives of Misereor and the Christian Reformed Churches are obviously striking.


Thus CIDT and CAWU have developed a dual focus in 2018:


a) The development of the database for university subscribers in order to make these data accessible to a much wider audience and to make them aware that Egypt is far more diverse than one would think of reading foreign media reports only. Selling paid subscriptions might also help us raise money to cover at least part of the maintenance costs of our database which means continuously adding new relevant data that are uploaded according to specific criteria.

b) The development of our student internship program that teaches students respect and understanding for human diversity. Students are also enabled to participate in social development activities such as CAWU’s Learning Center.


Of course, CIDT is responsible for the first focus and CAWU for the second focus, but CAWU currently cannot exist without the support of CIDT, since it thus far has no opportunities to receive direct foreign funding.


The educational opportunities include our internship program that has almost tripled in number. We had 18 interns in 2017 and over 50 in 2018 (total numbers are not yet calculated). The interns participated in translation, research, outreach and social work. These numbers are phenomenal. We never had such large numbers before, and our current staff found handling this many interns a truly herculean task.


The social development activities include the development of the CAWU Learning Center that aims at providing education for those children and youth that for various reasons never had an opportunity to receive regular education. This needed the support of Eileen Werner, a professional and experienced teacher, who has done fantastic work to start the Center despite the lack of resources. In particular for this Learning Center fundraising is needed. CAWU’s social outreach is very broad and includes prison visits and plans for establishing an employment center in 2019. 


The various activities naturally need staff. Yet, since Misereor has not committed itself to the period after 1.7.2019, we had to reduce our Office and Financial Manager Adel Rizkallah [ʿĀdil Rizq Allāh] from full-time to half time. Of course, this won’t make it easier to address all activities in 2019 but we will manage this as best as we can with the given resources.


Database editor Sama Osama [Samā Usāma] left CIDT in order to continue her studies and was replaced by Sarah Abdel-Hamid [Sarah ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd]. Matthew Sparks, heading our database project since 2006, also left because he wants to pursue his PhD thesis. He was replaced by Kent Blaeser. All of them have done fantastic work despite our limited resources.


Attracting Dr. Matthew Anderson to succeed Cornelis Hulsman and cooperation with Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development


Since I am reaching the age of 65 in 2020, it is important that we find a capable successor to take over my work. For many years, we have been in contact with Matthew Anderson, an American Anglican scholar who studied Arabic and Muslim-Christian relations and who shares the ideals of both CIDT and CAWU. I attended his PhD defense at Georgetown University in the USA in May this year and Matthew came to Egypt to participate in the summer school CAWU organized in cooperation with the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development (HU). The summer school addressed diversity in convictions and taught students the importance of respecting all, despite differences. Our students were extremely diverse and so where the teachers. The HU turned out to be a fantastic partner. The results were amazing and can be found here. We certainly hope to be able to organize another summer school in cooperation with the HU.


We earlier organized a highly successful book launch of our “2014 Egyptian Constitution; Perspectives from Egypt,” at the HU with H.E. Amr Moussa [ʿAmrū Mūsa], former head of the Egyptian Constitutional Assembly, former Presidential candidate, head of the Arab League and Foreign Minister. Over 300 students attended.


We hope to be able to move our internship and social outreach program to HU in 2019. That would give them far better facilities. HU is now looking into the (space) facilities needed to make this possible. We also hope Matthew Anderson will decide to work full time with CIDT and CAWU whereby it will be needed for Matthew Anderson to do fundraising for the costs associated to him moving to Egypt.


Increasing the international outreach of CIDT and CAWU


CIDT and CAWU already have a substantial international outreach, resulting in the tremendous diversity in the students we receive from all over the world. In February this year, however, Tunisian humanitarian activist Rekaya al-Hafi [Rūqaīya al-Ḥāfī] invited me to visit Tunisia and lecture at Manouba University about the ideals of our work in Egypt. For the text of this lecture please click here. Rekaya al-Hafi visited us in Egypt this summer and lectured on September 18 in The Hague, The Netherlands, about her ambitions to run for presidency in Tunisia as a humanitarian activist. Please read more about this presentation here.


On November 8 I spoke at the international conference of UN Global Compact about the opportunities for companies to participate in Muslim-Christian dialogue activities. The text of this lecture can be found here. Of course I have highlighted the importance of the CAWU Learning Center and hope Egyptian businesses will become more involved in various social outreach activities.


In 2018 we engaged prominent speakers, including former Archbishop Lord George Carey.


Many excellent reports were published, and hundreds of summery translations of Arabic media have been made. The translation department is led by Jeanne Rizkallah [Jeanne Rizq Allāh], who has a team of ever changing part-time translators and translation interns. She has been sick twice this year but is working very hard now to complete the target for 2018.


Egyptian tourism authorities have for years stressed the importance of the Egyptian Holy Family tradition and would like to see the number of Western pilgrims to Egypt increase. CAWU is working on a program for a small Dutch church delegation in February 2019 to expose them to this important tradition.


2018 has thus been an extremely fruitful year but we cannot continue our work without your support. As in previous years, support has been made possible through our Dutch partner organization, the Arab-West Foundation (AWF). AWF is a recognized ANBI foundation for Dutch tax authorities and thus for Dutch tax payers’ gifts are tax deductible for Dutch taxes. We hope that with the support of Matthew Anderson, we may establish a similar not-for-profit organization in the USA in the future. For now, we do welcome all gifts of all nationalities here.


American Arab-West Report reader and supporter Susan Bingham wrote on December 21,

“Thanks for doing the kind of work that helps keep us sane and gives us hope.”


The Christmastime is a time of giving, and we would appreciate your remembering our work in your giving.


God bless you all,


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report


December 24, 2018