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U.S. Jewish Leaders Meet Egyptians to Discuss Joint Business Ventures

August 18, 1993
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In a move hailed as unprecedented, a group of major American Jewish philanthropists met last week with top Egyptian business leaders to explore the idea of cooperative business ventures.

The Americans were members of the United Jewish Appeal’s prestigious Prime Minister’s Mission, a delegation of contributors who have given a minimum $100,000 each to the UJA campaign. Many of them have investments and businesses in Israel.

They met with their Egyptian counterparts at the Taba Hilton, Israeli-owned until it was surrendered to Egypt as part of the Camp David peace accord.

The visit to Taba, organized around the mission’s theme of peace, began with a brief introduction by Joel Tauber, UJA’s national chairman from Detroit.

“We are very excited about the (Arab-Israeli) peace process,” he said. “But we all know peace is not a piece of paper. We all know that peace (means) Egypt and Israel doing business together.”

Tauber said the meeting was intended to spark the development of business contacts that will create a fertile climate for a meaningful peace.

The two groups were seated together at sparsely laden round tables. Largely ignoring the fruit and bottled water, they exchanged niceties, traded business cards and then plunged eagerly into conversation.

The UJA delegates had come from a briefing in Eilat by Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Basiouny, who insisted that the peace with Egypt is no longer a cold one. He added that Arab-Israeli economic cooperation could create a “paradise” in the region.

Still, even as they talked taxes and labor costs, the business leaders on both sides were aware of the symbolism of the meeting, which they described as unprecedented. Some even used the word “historic.”

“This is my first time in Egypt,” said Nancy Siwak, owner of a hat manufacturing concern in St. Louis. “It’s very exciting.”


Opposite her sat Ahmed Arafa, chairman of the Golden Tex Group Co., one of Egypt’s largest manufacturers of textiles and supplier to stores he owns in Cairo. He handed Siwak his card.

“We have met with many Americans, “said Arafa, “but this is the first time we have met with an American Jewish delegation.

“Our purpose is to make business. It doesn’t matter where (people) come from,” he added.

“We’re all business people interested in new ideas,” said Loula Zaklama, president of the Rada Research and Public Relations Co. in Cairo. “For us it’s very important to establish channels of communication with businesses in other countries.

“But with a Jewish group,” Zaklama continued, “it’s different and more exciting. The fact that they’ve gone to the effort to meet with their (Egyptian) counterparts is already a big step.”

“We believe that the only glue that will make this peace is commerce and that should be encouraged,” said James Pringle, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and regional vice president of the Morrison Knudsen Corp.

One member of the UJA mission suggested the UJA could help finance Israeli investments in Egypt but stressed the key is building a stable region.

Pringle and the Egyptian business people stepped up to the microphone one by one to answer questions and to describe Egypt’s favorable business climate. They stressed the time is now for the region to build strong economic ties in order to compete with the European Community, Asia and North America.

Arafa described himself to the gathering as a former top officer in Egypt’s Air Force. But “military principles are finished all over the world,” he said. “Now we’re building peace, building the (regional) economy. Cooperate with us.”

Siwak later hesitated when asked whether she was inspired to begin doing business with an Egyptian outfit. She said the markets and their profitability would have to be investigated. “But that’s what it’s all about.”

But she was unequivocal about the impact of the meeting. “I felt I was part of history in the making,” she said. “I didn’t realize how unprecedented it was. It was a very significant first step.”

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