"European people don't believe in the clash of civilisations," European Commission chief, Romano Prodi, said at a conference in Egypt this week on how higher education can build bridges between peoples.

The conference at the Alexandria Library drew delegates from 27 countries involved in Tempus-MEDA, a scheme created months after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States to promote inter-cultural understanding.

The programme of university cooperation, amounting to 43 million euros for 2002-2004, links the 15 EU states with their 12 non-EU Mediterranean partners - Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Syria, Morocco, Malta, Algeria, Cyprus, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.

'Soft security'

"It seeks to initiate projects linking European universities with those on the other side of the Mediterranean, in order to create new programmes in all disciplines and improve university administration," said Jean Marcou, director of the French programme at the Economy and Political Science department at Cairo University.  

Romano Prodi (C) seeks dialogue
rather than missile shields

His department, for example, used Tempus to create a Master of European Studies, in cooperation with the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the universities of Berlin, Barcelona and Amsterdam.

Tempus also helps to set up international administrative centres in the participating universities that facilitates student exchanges.

For Egyptian President Husni Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, who took part in the conference, Tempus is "the best answer to these erroneous theories being spread over the past few years about a clash of civilizations".

In a ceremony last October that drew royals and leaders from Europe and beyond to this Mediterranean port, President Mubarak inaugurated the new Alexandria Library, a revival of the ancient beacon of international learning.

Marcou said "launching programmes presupposes a dialogue between European nations and civilisations with different origins," because contacts between universities lead "to a better mutual understanding and an exchange of experiences".

Prodi also touted Tempus as one of the applications of the idea of "soft security".

Security is not obtained by "building walls or installing missile shields but through trade, exchanges and dialogue. That's what we call soft security," Prodi said.

European initiative

Prodi created the Wisemen Group, a high-level advisory group "for dialogue between cultures and peoples", his colleagues said.

The European Union and its partners must bring "to their common space their own virtues and wisdom" given that "the leader of the world (the United States) somehow despises the rest of the world”

Assia Alawi Bensalah,
co-chair, Wiseman Group

The group, which assumed its duties in January 2002, is made up of 15 Jewish, Christian and Muslim experts. 

Its proposals will be presented during a Euro-Mediterranean conference in the Italian port of Naples in December, according to the co-chairman of the group, Assia Alawi Bensalah.

The Moroccan academic took a dig at US President Bush over his more combative foreign policy.

The European Union and its partners must bring "to their common space their own virtues and wisdom" given that "the leader of the world (the United States) somehow despises the rest of the world”, he said.