Europe builds bridges

ALEXANDRIA – The European Union is pursuing its own program to debunk the «erroneous» theory of a clash of civilizations by building education bridges over the Mediterranean. «European people don’t believe in the clash of civilizations,» European Commission chief Romano Prodi said at a conference here this week on how higher education can build bridges between peoples. The conference at the Alexandria Library drew delegates from 27 countries involved in Tempus-MEDA, a program created months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to promote intercultural understanding. The program of university cooperation, amounting to 43 million euros for 2002-2004, links the 15 EU states with their 12 non-EU Mediterranean partners – Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Malta, Algeria, Cyprus, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. «It seeks to initiate projects linking European universities with those on the other side of the Mediterranean, in order to create new programs in all disciplines and improve university administration,» according to Jean Marcou, director of the French program at the Economy and Political Science department at Cairo University. His department, for example, used Tempus to create an MA in European Studies, in cooperation with the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the universities of Berlin, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Tempus also helps to set up international administrative centers in the participating universities that facilitate student exchanges. For Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s wife Suzanne, who took part in the conference, Tempus is «the best answer to these erroneous theories being spread over the past few years about a clash of civilizations.» In a ceremony last October that drew royals and leaders from Europe and beyond to this Mediterranean port, President Mubarak inaugurated the new Alexandria Library, a revival of the ancient beacon of international learning. Marcou said «launching programs presupposes a dialogue between European nations and civilizations with different origins,» because contacts between universities lead «to a better mutual understanding and an exchange of experiences.» Prodi also touted Tempus as one of the applications of the idea of «soft security.» Security is not obtained by «building walls or installing missile shields but through trade, exchanges and dialogue. That’s what we call soft security,» Prodi said. Prodi created a «Wisemen Group,» a high-level advisory group «for dialogue between cultures and peoples,» his colleagues said. The group, which assumed its duties in January 2002, is made up of 15 Jewish, Christian and Muslim experts. Its proposals will be presented during a Euro-Mediterranean conference in the Italian port of Naples in December, according to the co-chairman of the group, Assia Alawi Bensalah, a Moroccan academic. The European Union and its partners must bring «to their common space their own virtues and wisdom» given that «the leader of the world (the United States) somehow despises the rest of the world,» he said.