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Monica Dispatch

Meeting of the Minds: The Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization (AAPSO)

Vocabulary Box

solidarity - a union of interests and responsibilities; fellowship; community
sedate - calm; tranquil; serene
secretariat - the administrative headquarters of an international organization, where records are maintained and other basic duties are carried out
symposium - a meeting or conference for the public discussion of a particular topic
homogenous - the same
guru - a master or mentor; often in reference to a spiritual master

What do Thabo Mbeki, current president of South Africa, Jawaharlal Nehru, former Indian prime minister over fifty years ago, and Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi, an Egyptian physician, author, and women's rights activist (whom the Odyssey will present soon), have in common? On a quiet Cairo street overlooking the Nile River sits a center of solidarity, a place where Africa and Asia unite. Here, in the sedate neighborhood of Manial, nestled between wide-branched trees, hides the permanent secretariat of a group that unifies two great continents: the Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization (AAPSO). This is how the diverse ideas of leaders like Mbeki, Nehru, and El-Saadawi come together.

Founded forty years ago out of the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, AAPSO made its home in Cairo because of Egypt's central location in monitoring the Bandung principles, ten principles that countries can use to peacefully coexist, regardless of differences in society. Country leaders, like India's Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, saw the value of ties between Africa and Asia. "We, at present, cannot separate the destiny of one people from the destiny of other people because they interact together... there cannot be a world which is half free and half under the yoke of slavery, nor part of the world torn by war and another part enjoying peace," said Nehru, about the Bandung principles and AAPSO's origins.

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AAPSO: getting out the word
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AAPSO today works through publications, community gatherings, and research. It publishes the "Development and Socio-Economic Progress" bulletin, to which Dr. El-Saadawi, President Mbeki, and Egyptian President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak have all contributed papers on their societies. AAPSO also holds conferences, symposiums and talks to bring together scholars and researchers from throughout Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world.

Meet Dr. Azza El-Khamissy

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Dr. Azza: a truly inspirational woman
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When Dr. El-Khamissy studied at Moscow State University she spoke Russian in her classes, Arabic to her family, English to others, and French as an international language! Studying Latin in school helped her learn more quickly. On non-profits: Having worked at AAPSO for 10 months, she says, "It's a unique and special experience. The nonprofit world is the same as the corporate world, no difference. We do the same type of work, supported by many states and governments."

When I arrived at the AAPSO office, Mr. E. A. Vidyasekera, the secretary and coordinator, offered me a cup of hot tea, sat me down in a leather chair, and then introduced me to some of his ideas about why non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must be sensitive to culture. "We want the world to be multicultural, pluri-cultural," he explained. "Each country has its own personality. Its identity must be maintained...there must be coexistence." Mr. Vidyasekera's face turned serious when I asked him what he thought of America's personality. "Consumerism has become a very big problem. America wants to impose its culture on the whole world: now there is Coca-Cola everywhere, baseball caps worn backwards, these Hollywood movies, and here you can even eat KFC and drink beer out of bottles. It was never like this before."

When I asked him what he thought some of the biggest challenges of the year 2000 will be for students like you, he shook his head and pointed out the continued violence, war, and child soldiers one hears about in the media. He states, "We are leaving behind a murderous century. We must eliminate young minds from the gun culture." Looking towards the future, he points out the work that some of the people in his office, particularly the women, are doing.

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larger view
Hamsa: working to make the world a better place for women
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Hamsa A-hemid is the head of the women's section for AAPSO, and her goal is to hold a conference just for Egyptian women. Women's health, education, political, and economic status are her concerns. "They're together. You can't divide them," she explains. Although Dr. El-Khamissy and others want to push for a two-day women's seminar this January, Ms. A-hemid wants to tie it in with International Women's Day on March 8, 2000, claiming, "I don't want to do the past. What women need is not in the past, it's in the future." Having worked as teacher and translator in Dubai, UAE, Ms. A-hemid has knowledge of the "different people, different attitudes, different cultures" of countries with diverse cultural heritage. She thinks that different teachings will help Egyptians, whom she considers pretty homogenous.

Meet Kamilia Khalil

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Kamilia: Internet guru!
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Ms. Khalil is the office technology guru; she takes care of Internet access, incoming email and the network computers. Trained by the previous person in her position, she's been here about 18 months and can often be found at her desk listening to the radio with a big smile on her face and a kind word for everyone who brings their questions to her.

"What do you think of the status of women here?" she asked me. I am a Filipina-American struggling with that concept in my own life. "Egypt has too many written researchers," she continued. "I want to look for results. I don't think there are big effects. For instance, in the rural areas, there is still 51% illiteracy. If you compare it to the United Arab Emirates, in 1971, women started to learn little by little. They needed to get a certificate to work. Now there's a high literacy rate there! I think we have to do something big to change the conditions of women's lives in Egypt. It doesn't matter if you say 'Women are equal to men.' You can say this, but so what? Not only should the man help the woman but also respect her, not just say, 'I am the man and here you have to obey me.' "

As a branch of the internationally-focused AAPSO, Ms. A-hemid's women's section addresses not only Egyptian women's inequalities, but the inequalities of women throughout Asia and Africa. Just as her goals are to bring together and unify the needs and aims of men and women, AAPSO as a group seeks to bring together and unify the differing cultures of nations on the African and Asian continents. As Mr. Vidyasekera explained it, at both an individual level between, men and women, and a national level, between countries, "The big challenges we're facing today are conflict situations. Conflict situations are retiring the progress of humankind... There must be coexistence."

Related Link

Out of the movement which first led to the creation of AAPSO, also came the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) by a group of 29 newly independent countries. Today, the NAM has grown to over 100 members. The group passes decisions on many different issues, but it has no means of enforcing its decisions. It does not have a formal dispute resolution mechanism, nor does it promote democracy or human rights within member states. However, it does provide a voice for smaller states. The NAM meets once every few years. The group's most recent summit was held in 1998. Click here to learn about some of the topics of discussion on the table. Notice the role played by the United States and Western Europe.

Monica

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...worldtrekker@internettreks.org

 

Abeja - A Day in the Life of a Coptic Monk
Jasmine - Coptic Cairo
Kavitha - Egyptian Dynasty Part II
Monica - Alexandria, Egypt: City of Legend
Monica - The Liberation of Women

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