The Welcome and 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner was held on the first evening of the conference, with Raed Safadi in place as the Master of Ceremony. He set the tone by picking up on the theme of ‘the power of ideas’ and reflecting that ERF started out as “an idea that turned into a conversation, and then became a leading institution for a region more known for its challenges than its successes.”
He invited Galal Amin to give the keynote speech on this theme. Amin took the audience on a reflective journey, starting on a light note: “I suspected an ulterior motive when Galal asked me to present on this topic. Only a few days ago, he was in a position of power, and then he moved to a place (ERF) where ideas are being produced. Of course he is very anxious for someone to say that it is, after all, ideas that have the power….”
Amin borrowed from Karl Marx in drawing an analogy between the role of intellectuals in generating ideas, and midwives in delivering babies. “The midwives neither create the baby nor cause it to be born, but simply facilitate the birth.” Speaking of his own generation of intellectuals, he said; “We all accepted the role of midwife in our desire to see the revolution”.
He owned up to a certain amount of scepticism about the potential of ideas on their own to bring about change. “Before Egypt’s 1952 revolution, people had been talking about land reform very strongly and eloquently but nothing happened – until a few army officers staged a coup, and in less than two months it was implemented quite successfully. So it was not the force of ideas of the socialists and reformists (that brought about change), it was the power of the military.”
But Amin concluded on an upbeat note: “Ideas may only have little power to change our lives, but it is ideas that make it worth living.”
Applauding the people who have helped to shape ERF
The keynote was followed by a public celebration of key people whose contributions have influenced the evolution and achievements of ERF over its first two decades. Raed Safadi was invited to receive a Merit Award for thought leadership and his significant contribution to the institution, and Founding Managing Director Heba Handoussa and the Board’s first Chairman Samir Makdisi were honoured, along with Research Fellows Ragui Assaad, Hanaa Kheeir El Din, Mustapha Nabil, Djavad Salehi and Subidey Togan. ERF also paid tribute to donors and partners for their institutional leadership and unwavering support, and a special recognition award was presented to Abdlatif Al-Hamad