When Egypt’s Committee of the Fifty that was writing a new Constitution for Egypt met for the first time last August, the world-renowned heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub was elected among the three deputies to its president Amr Moussa. Sir Magdi has served Egypt in countless ways,
all of them along the line of self-denying, dedicated service. Back in August, and despite his countless responsibilities, he did not shirk off the task of participating in the writing of the new Constitution. He was pivotal in securing for health services in Egypt a generous percentage of the GDP, engrained in the country’s Constitution. In mid-January, Egyptians endorsed that Constitution with an overwhelming majority of 98 per cent.
Epitome of soft diplomacy
Earlier in 2013, Sir Magdi had paid Egypt’s southern neighbours visits that, if anything, were the epitome of soft diplomacy.
It is a fact that the River Nile is the lifeblood of Egypt. Technically a desert, with the Nile as the only water source, anything that impedes the river flow spells disaster for the land. The Renaissance Dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, one of the major tributaries of the Nile, is thus a source of particular concern to Egypt, and has been cause for strained relations between the two countries. It did not at all help that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt during its year in power, from June 2012 to June 2013, handled the problem so ineptly that it succeeded in creating a diplomatic chasm between Egypt and Ethiopia.
On a tour of the Nile Basin countries, Sir Magdi visited Ethiopia. His errand visit was far removed from official or diplomatic negotiations, yet it sent a special message of goodwill. He performed some 30 open-heart operations in Addis Ababa. The visit was organised by the Chain of Hope, a charity Sir Magdi established in England with the aim of taking free-of-charge heart surgery to people in developing countries. He believes it his responsibility to treat patients regardless of their identity, colour, religion or gender.
On his visit, Sir Magdi took Egyptian doctors so as to reinforce the message that Egyptians are not calling for death, but rather life. When the Egyptian delegation of 11 doctors and nurses were done with their work, Sir Magdi announced that he would train a group of Ethiopian doctors to carry on spreading the message of hope.
Never go to war
As one of Egypt’s most influential people, what Sir Magdi did was an act of humanitarian effort and soft diplomacy through which countries interact away from official channels. His idea was one that successive political regimes had not thought of or planned for. He wished to let the Ethiopian people know that Egypt cared about them and would never go to war with them.
His Chain of Hope’s activities have expanded and delegations have been assigned to take the surgery to the people rather than expecting them to visit England or Aswan for treatment. Through the Chain of Hope, heart centres have been set up in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia and doctors have been trained to manage the centres independently.
In addition to Ethiopia, Sir Magdi visited Burundi and Mozambique. His effort resulted in a preliminary agreement to dedicate a piece of land in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, to build a hospital for children suffering from heart diseases, similar to the Magdi Yacoub centre in the Upper Egyptian town of Aswan. The Egyptian Ambassador to Burundi, Attiya Abul-Naga said the Chain of Hope Charity would manage all the finances to build the hospital and would deliver it to the Burundi people fully furnished and equipped. Sir Magdi will be responsible for managing the hospital, and will supervise the Burundi doctors during their training period until they can independently manage the hospital.
29 January 2014