Each year for the past three years an Egyptian-U.S. Delegation meets in early March. Approximately 20 of us gather – scholars, practitioners, journalists, religious representatives, and members of the Egyptian parliament, who do our utmost to understand the realities of one another’s religious and political contexts. The annual delegation is convened by Jennifer Cate, the exemplary Executive Director of Hands Along the Nile.
As a delegation, this week we met with representatives at the United Nations in New York, and with members of the U.S. Congress in Washington DC, including with the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Yasser Reda, and the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Mr. Sam Brownback. The Egyptian side of the delegation is headed by Deputy Parliament Speaker El-Sayed-El-Sherif, one of the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. Place the titles aside, and you are left with a group of people seeking deeper awareness; it is something we all do every day.
Even so, why do dialogues like these matter at local or international levels today? What good is done by convening and who benefits? What we know is that with all the challenges facing the world, our ailing global public discourse requires engagement like this. We all participate whenever such engagement takes place on street corners and conference rooms, on park benches and places of worship. And genuine engagement requires a perpetual infusion of genuine curiosity about one another and an equal measure of desire to overcome ourselves.
Overcome ourselves you say? I think so. When we honestly meet others, we are required to address and surmount our own biases for the good of societal well-being that transcends our particular lives. Society requires such self-transcendence from us. In our U.S. culture of outrage, how often do we condemn others as naked emperors and simultaneously believe our own skin as emancipated and invulnerable? As we enter an election year in the United States, we may well believe – somewhere in the range between a neo-conservative and a post-liberal progressive – that we are uninfluenced by bias. We are right, and they are wrong: we say. But this is an assertion parading as a self-evident truth and steeped in unperceived sanctimony. Our unearned liberation today indeed incentivizes tomorrow’s intellectual laziness and lack of self-awareness. We always have to ask ourselves what we cannot see in ourselves.
And here’s what I learned this week that I did not know, and even perceived otherwise. The Egyptian Parliament has 596 members, 91 of whom are women. Such a small percentage, I thought. It is roughly 15% of the whole. Here comes the bias part. In Egypt, constitutional changes last year will give women a quota minimum of 25% of the whole. In addition, for the first time in Egyptian history the national secretary advisory for the president is a woman; there are 8 women cabinet members, 140 female judges, over 2000 administrative prosecutors who are women throughout the government, and more. In the United States, the 116th congress is comprised of 23.7% women, but with no constitutional equivalent for minimum representation of women. In addition, women and men farmers, be they Christian or Muslim, in more culturally traditionalist Minya (in Upper Egypt) work cooperatively for shared agricultural aims. And, microloans in that same region are producing entrepreneurial possibilities for young women, such as the young woman wearing a burqa and full niqab who I met in a small town last year when she beamed while walking me through the store she started with great success within her community. My point is that our own growth will come by looking within. Dialogue and engagement is necessary because we transcend our limitations always better when we do so together. This means that we need one another for deeper clarity and more hearty awareness. If this is true in the world and an international dialogue, how much truer is it in our country today? Our only way forward will require each other. Transcendence more often happens in the plural. We.
Dr. Michael Reid Trice, PhD serves as the Director of the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs, and is an Associate Professor of Constructive Theology at Seattle University. He is a scholar, speaker, and writer in his fields. Trice is also the Co-Founder of the Religica Theo Lab (theological laboratory) that is a site of engagement for students, faculty and society in order to test the hypotheses regarding the manifold role of religion in public life. Dr. Trice served as the Secretary for the Parliament of the World’s Religions from 2016-2019, and provides leadership on the Interfaith and Faith and Order commissions of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; he has served on international boards including Church World Service.