Envoy for Egypt
With former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak about to stand trial, a Sacramento entrepreneur is helping the post-revolution future of the country. Raised in Cairo, Kais Menoufy left Egypt more than 20 years ago to come to the United States on business, intending to stay two years. He has stayed 26, establishing several technology companies along the way, including Sacramento’s Delegata, but still maintains strong ties to Egypt. After 9/11, he established Building Bridges, an organization that promotes cross-cultural exchange between Egypt and the U.S. The son of a high-ranking education official, Menoufy has also founded two other cross-cultural and educational groups, Closing the Gap and Youth for a Better Understanding. More recently, he helped advise the Obama administration about Egypt. SN&R chatted with Menoufy about his recent experiences in Egypt and the road ahead for the nation.
How did you get involved with recent efforts to build a new Egypt?
This spring I was invited by the American University in Cairo to visit [and discuss] the new era in Egypt, focusing on a 2020 vision. We want to start building toward that [year] and create a road map for how to get there and what we want it to look like. We want to connect with the revolution and see how we can create jobs, get people back to work and help build the economy. There is a movement to attract half a million Egyptians, mostly from the United States, to go home in July and [develop] connections to the economy, the tourist industry, and see it as a safe, secure place.
What is the mood there at the moment?
There is a different energy in Egypt right now. Egyptians on an individual level feel more responsible towards the country. In the past they would just throw their arms up, because it was a struggle to just put bread on the table. Now they are thinking about what role they are playing. Everybody now has an opinion, which was dangerous in the past. They are thinking about how to make the country clean, organized, less corrupt—values that had been lost in the last 50 years.
Through Building Bridges, I have been able to use the infrastructure I have in California. We Egyptians have to use the channels available to us [to help Egypt].
Can you be more specific?
I was invited to the White House this spring to discuss [Egypt] with the Obama administration—what the U.S. could be doing to help. There are important economic needs like investment, creating jobs. We need to revisit loans and credit from places like the World Bank … [find ways] to provide injections of cash. It’s also about peace. [The revolution] is like a newborn. It’s quite vulnerable, sometimes needy, and there is high risk we could lose the momentum.
So what needs to be done long term?
By 2020, [Egypt] needs to have a transformation in its day-to-day behavior, have people feel free to produce and be successful and not become corrupted. They also have to learn to trust [institutions] and be good people, since corruption is embedded. I think to make this transition we need good economic tools.
It’s also an exciting time for the U.S. to really see the growth of the nation, one that is important to the U.S. because it impacts oil prices, [global] security, tourism. [The U.S.] needs to support this future.
You are a former player for Egypt’s national basketball team. Does Building Bridges involve sports?
I believe sports can create too much competition, so Building Bridges is about bringing people together from various backgrounds to exchange culture, knowledge and experience. Since I founded it after 9/11, more than 1,000 students have come to California to study at local colleges, such as McGeorge School of Law. A group from the [UC Davis] also went to Egypt a few years ago. I am also involved with Songs of Hope, which brings Israelis and Palestinians together to play music.
Anything else you would like to share about the revolution in Egypt?
I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the changes. All of my family still lives in Cairo, and I take my children there once a year to visit. [The revolution] is a beautiful thing.