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European Union External Action

Speech by HR/VP Federica Mogherini at Cairo University: "Europe and the Arab youth. Shared history, common future"

It is exactly one year since I took office in the European Union institutions, and some of you might remember there has been a little bit of scepticism before I started, mainly due to my age: too young, someone said. (…) But I can tell you today: don't let anyone use your age against you. It's your strength. It's your energy. It's your capacity to dare, to dream, to hope, and not to stop if people tell you “it has never been done before, so you cannot do it”.

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Once again, we are confronted with forces that are trying to divide us. Some tell us that there is a war between Islam and the rest of the world. They tell us that Europe, “Rome”, or the so-called West, are enemies to Islam and to the Arabs. And the same people tell us that Islam and the Arabs are enemies to Europe and to the rest of the world. They lie to all of us. They lie to Arabs and Europeans alike.

Let me be frank: there has been a time when, in the so-called West, many have fostered the narrative of a clash of civilisations. It was such a mistake, for so many different reasons. Today, the idea of a clash of civilisations has been taken over by Da’esh – terrorists who encourage sectarianism to expand their own power, who exploit divisions for their own interest. 

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If you look at our history, at our values and our future – there are so many things that unite us. This is the real challenge today. Will we focus on what drives us apart, or what keeps us together? For how long will we let our differences define our relationship? For how long will we deny our common interests, following the easy but false rhetoric of a clash of civilizations, while so much in our history and our future unites us?

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Of course the history of the Mediterranean is also a history of wars. But let me remind to all of us that even during the crusades, a dark era in our relationship, an Italian like me, Francis of Assisi – and I believe pope Francis did not choose his name by chance – came to Egypt to meet the sultan. In times of war, they talked about peace and faith. They chose to focus on what united people, not what drove them apart.

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Tension in the Holy Places can only play in the hands of terrorists of all kinds. It can facilitate radicalisation and recruitment. It can reinforce their narrative of a war of religion.  On the other hand, think what peace in the Holy Land could do. Think of a pacified Jerusalem, a city for all the children of Abraham, a capital for two States. How sweet would that be... I know sweet is not a word we associate with the Middle East… We should. What a powerful message would it send to the whole Middle East, to the whole world.

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Diversity is what makes the Middle East so rich, and unique. It's also what makes Europe so rich, and unique. It's our common strength. Da’esh wants to destroy all that. Dampen the colours of this region, and turn all the colours into black. We have a duty to preserve such diversity, and to help all minorities stay in their own land.

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Da’esh is putting forward an unprecedented attempt to pervert Islam. It is a movement that, rather than preserving Islam, wants us to trash centuries of Islamic culture in the name of their own fight for power. This is not glorious, this is simply destructive. Daʼesh is not a friend but an enemy to Islam in today’s world. Its victims are first and foremost Muslim people. Islam itself is a victim of their despicable acts.

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The average age in Egypt is 25. I was told today – by several of the people I met – that there are over sixty million young people in this country. This is a young country in a young region. There is so much potential for change and development, so much energy. The real challenge is making the most out of this potential.

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Everyone should be able to get the education they want and they need. Starting from girls and women. This is a crucial point when talking about women rights, but it is about much more than that, it’s about the quality of our societies, of our economies, of our countries. And let me tell you: a country where women don’t have equal access to education is not only less free, but much poorer and with a much poorer future.

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Any narrative opposing “us” and “them” makes no sense at all, today: Christians versus Muslims; Europeans versus Arabs; migrants versus locals. It is not “the other” who will tear our societies apart: it is the fear of the other that can destroy our societies. (...) We have so much in common. We face the same challenges. As I said, we have the same nightmares and the same dreams. We hold the same fundamental beliefs. We share a long history – it is up to us to build our future together. Shukran, and may peace be upon you.

Read full speech:

http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/docs/151104_01_en.pdf