We are well on our way to meet with our targets but we need your financial support

Sent On: 
Tue, 2019-11-26
Newsletter Number: 


Since we started with the Religious News Service from the Arab World in 1997 that changed its name in 2003 to Arab-West Report we have built an electronic library of close to 55.000 articles and reports, mostly about the role of religion in society that show Egypt as an extremely complex country with lots of different views and opinions. We started building our electronic database with the visit of former Dutch Prime Minister Andreas van Agt in 2006. Our aim has always been that all articles are thoroughly classified, names are transliterated and standardized, in order to rapidly discover patterns in society and backgrounds of events taking place. In other words, our database helps users to understand Egypt and the context of events better. This was not an easy process since with the return of my wife Sawsan Gabra Ayoub Khalil [Sawsan Jabrā Ayyūb Khalīl] to the Netherlands in 2010 we lost the person who was classifying each article in a very systematic way. After she left, we had a turn-over of many different people and maintaining standards in such situations is very difficult. In 2013 our database was destroyed and we had to build this up again. Misereor in 2015, DANS, the database organization of the Dutch Universities and research centers in 2016 and the Archdiocese of Koeln, Germany in 2017-2018, have all helped to rebuild and greatly improve the database.  In a database of this size a good search tool is key and this needs each article to be classified. Around 17.000 texts still need classification. We ultimately want university libraries to subscribe to this database so that students and scholars will have better access and this will contribute to the running costs of maintaining such an elaborate dataset.  In 2019 we had no such support, yet the work has continued under the leadership of our database manager Kent Blaeser who made many substantial improvements to the database. But our income did not match the costs we faced in 2019 and thus we have ended up with a deficit around 8.500 Euro.


Getting our database ready for subscriptions by university libraries is one ideal. The second ideal is to hand over work to Dr. Matthew Anderson (43) in September 2021, an Anglican who previously served with the Anglican Church in Egypt and who did his PhD on blasphemy in Islam and through this developed a great sympathy for Islam. After his PhD in 2018 he was appointed assistant professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, USA. Matthew is greatly interested in joining us which will make it possible for me to gradually face out since I am 64 now. It would tremendously help Matthew Anderson that all past articles in the database are fully classified and standardized so that he can entirely focus on new material instead of being faced with efforts to get our database full standardized and up to the highest standards of university libraries. We are well on our way. Mr. Michael Drummen, head librarian of MIKADO, Aachen, Germany, a specialized library and documentation center of the International Catholic Mission Society missio e.V.with a focus on Christians in Islamic countries wrote “The Arab-West Report database is a really very good database; really awesome is the possibility for a research with Bible/Quran citations!” (email August 2, 2019).


Thus, both the handover of work to Matthew Anderson and our wish to target university library subscriptions go hand in hand. This needed the work that was started and developed with Misereor, DANS and the Archdiocese of Koeln to continue in 2019. We did so with excellent results but also a substantial deficit.


Just terminating the work because of lack of sufficient funding was not an option because good database managers as Kent Blaeser are not easy to find. Kent is also committed to continue to work until the process is completely finished. Kent knows our database inside out. He has been working with database assistant Muhammad Radwan [Muḥammad Raḍwān] and numerous interns. If we are capable to find funding for two years for Kent and two database assistants the entire job can be carried out before September 2021. This needs around 40.000 Euro above our current running costs. For this we need your support! With insufficient funding the process for completion may drag over many more years. That would make us loose a very capable database manager since Kent wants to go back to studies and won’t be able to wait until we have sufficient funding. It took Kent roughly six months to understand all technical details of our database and thus losing him also means we would have to make extra costs for a new person to fully grasp the intricacies of this large database. Also, Matthew Anderson won’t be very happy with such a delay. Thus, it is in our interest to push forward to reach the finish line in around two years time.


At this moment all database building is carried out by the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation, ltd while all student internships are hosted by the Center for Arab-West Understanding, an Egyptian NGO.  The Center for Arab-West Understanding is very grateful Egypt adopted on July 14, 2019, a new NGO law that offers far better prospects that the previous NGO law. Human Rights Watch has criticized the new law[1] but Dr. Maged Mousa Yanni [Mājid Mūsa Yānnī], Director of Egyptian Anglican NGO Episcocare, which is a member of the Egyptian Union of NGOs and responsible for numerous social projects, disagrees with the Human Rights Watch report. “The previous NGO law was very restrictive but the current law has realized 80% of the demands of Egyptian NGOs,” he argued. “It is not perfect, but it is also not as negative as Human Rights Watch claims. We now have to wait for the executive regulations, which should be ready within six months after issuing the law, and make adjustments to our NGOs following these regulations.” Once that is done the Center for Arab-West Understanding could possibly obtain funding for a full-time intern coordinator which would help to increase the number of student volunteers who also can contribute to the completion of this database.


The Center for Arab-West Understanding has been able to organize in cooperation with other parties summer schools in 2018 and 2019. That not only contributed to the training of university students and make them fully aware of the importance of intercultural dialogue but also contributed to highly relevant contributions to our database.


We are only a very small office and we cannot realize all our goals without your support. Support to our work in Egypt is coordinated through the Dutch NGO the Arab-West Foundation. Donations can be made here.


November 26, 2019


Cornelis Hulsman,


Editor-in-chief of Arab-West Report


[1] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: New NGO Law Renews Draconian Restrictions. Disproportionately Huge Fines; Ban on Links with Foreign Groups, July 24, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/24/egypt-new-ngo-law-renews-draconian-restrictions)