Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo sits at the heart of contemporary Sunni theology. I visited this week and heard the story of 1000 years of theological history that embraces Shi'a as well as Sunni teaching. And next to the mosque is a remarkable project run by the British council at Al-Azhar university, one of the oldest universities in the world, and now the proud home of a centre for English teaching.
The students and student teachers talked best. Drawn from five of the 63 faculties of the university, which has 400,000 students at a number of sites around Egypt, they spoke of their eyes being opened to another story of the West than that traditionally pumped out, they spoke of being a voice in their own country for that different image, and they spoke of the "fantastic...better than I could imagine" exchanges in Leeds and Cambridge. This is where the struggle for understanding, respect and coexistance is won. All being well there will be 500 students in the programme from September.
Posted at 14:39 28 February 2009 by David Miliband
Over the next few months British forces will complete their mission in Basra. But British engagement should go up: in business, education and culture this city wants British partnership. We will keep our Consulate here. The Invest Iraq conference will promote business here. Basra has the chance of a better future.
Posted at 22:10 27 February 2009 by David Miliband
If you had told me in December 07 when I spent a morning at Basra air base, and couldn't go off base, that 14 months later I would be chatting with Basrawis out with friends and family on the Corniche by the Shatt Al Arab waterway I would not have believed you. Not everyone goes for a walk with an armed escort but the Basrawis told me the same thing one after another: Basra security has been changed fundamentally, the big issue now is unemployment, the future is about Basra being a great city again. Iraqi leadership has been key but so has British military and civilian support. Police chief Adel has been given huge support from a UK police team. He spoke with pride about his force. Clean and efficient police are the difference between a city which functions and one which doesn't.
Posted at 22:09 27 February 2009 by David Miliband
Baghdad was a good place to mark President Obama's announcements on Iraq troop withdrawal. His announcement follows the same agreed pattern as that adopted by the UK: withdrawal of combat troops to fundamentally change the mission to one of training and mentoring. His announcement combines troop withdrawal with political commitment. I said yesterday in Baghdad that President Obama was proceeding with care and common sense. The commitment until August 2010 allows for critical US support through the National elections early next year. Then Iraqis will have their own future in their own hands.
Posted at 22:06 27 February 2009 by David Miliband