The Dominican Institute of Oriental Studies (IDEO) in Cairo paid tribute to Ali El-Samman (1929‒2017) — an Egyptian statesman, a leading voice for peace and understanding among monotheistic faiths, and a columnist for Majalla –by naming the reading room of its library which the seminal thinker had played a decisive role in obtaining the construction permission. The IDEO was founded in Cairo in 1953 at the request of the Holy See to open a dialogue, without proselytism, between Muslim and Christian scholars. It is home to one of the most extensive collections of works on Arabic culture and Islam and is recognized as a preeminent research institution by international scholars.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1929, El-Samman graduated from the Faculty of Law at Alexandria University in 1953, and received a PhD in Law and Political Science from the University of Paris in 1966. Over his 60-year career, he worked with the French newspapers La Vie Africaine, Le Monde Diplomatique, and La Tribune des Nations. He served as director of Egypt's Middle East News Agency for Western Europe from 1967 to 1974. On behalf of Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat, he led the "Foreign Information Department for the Presidency of the Republic,” and served as foreign media advisor to Sadat personally between 1972 and 1974. He went on to hold senior government positions in other realms, including the development of Egypt’s national infrastructure.
The special evening took place in the presence of El-Samman’s wife Brigitte Lefebvre-Elsamman, his son Sam Elsamman a great number of prominent personalities, religious figures including former Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr Ali Gomaa, Dr Hamdy Zagzoug , former dean of Al Azhar faculty of theology and minister of Awqaf, Bishop of Egypt Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, Mrs Boutros Boutros Ghali, former ministers Dr Ahmed Darwish and Dr Ahmed Zaki Badr, Mustafa El Fikki director of Alexandria Library and journalist Moufid Fawzi.
The IDEO was founded in Cairo in 1953 at the request of the Holy See to open a dialogue, without proselytism, between Muslim and Christian scholars. It is home to one of the most extensive collections of works on Arabic culture and Islam and is recognized as a preeminent research institution by international scholars.
7376 Friar Rene-Vincent du Grandlaunay Director of library IDEO , Brigitte Lefebvre-Elsamman, Sam Elsamman and Friar Jean Druel Director IDEO in front of the commemorative plaque.
Friar Jean Druel, director of IDEO read a message sent from Jerusalem by Friar Jean-Jacques Perennes, former director of IDEO, in which he underlined the important role played by El-Samman in supporting Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies and in promoting religious understanding and human fraternity.
“Dr. Aly El-Samman was one of the honorable delegation of Al-Azhar in the series of interfaith dialogue meetings in the Italian city of Assisi, which was organized at the request of Pope John Paul II in October 1986. He realised the importance of these meetings in light of a growing stream of mutual mistrust and he sought to enhance respect for all parties - this respect is the only guarantor of peace in the world,” said Perennes.
He added, “Dr. Aly El-Samman also had the courage to develop trust and friendship with Jewish leaders such as the Chief Rabbi of France. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the "Aladdin" project since its establishment in 2009 which aims to build bridges between Jews and Muslims. He then established the international union for dialogue between Christianity, Islam and Judaism and remained its president until his departure.”
In the field of interfaith dialogue, El-Samman served as Vice-Chairman of the Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions, and an interfaith advisor to Grand Imam Mohammed Sayed al-Tantawi for interfaith dialogue. From 1996 to 2011, he led the Committee for Interfaith Dialogue at Egypt’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Until his death, he served as president of the International Union for Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue and Peace Education (ADIC).
Friar Jean Druel Director IDEO, Mrs Boutros Boutros Ghali, Brigitte Lefebvre-Elsamman, Mustafa El Fikki Director of the Alexandria Library
A video message from former Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr Ali Gomaa was screened at the ceremony where the Islamic scholar conveyed ElSamman’s tireless advocacy for peace and the rapprochement of cultures and religions.
“Aly El-Samman was a scholar, a patriot and a loyal man. He was a man of peace between all religions, all peoples and all civilizations. He was one of those who raised dialogue between religions, civilizations and peoples. That was his entire life mission. All those who met him loved him, and could never forget his gestures, his projects or his writings that allowed him to serve science, history and his country,” he said.
Dr Gomaa also praised El -Samman’s wife Brigitte. “She used to keep in touch with him wherever he was in the world, to hear from him, to reassure herself of his wellbeing and his health. She was the best wife ever,” he said.
In her speech, Brigitte talked about her late husband’s work in bringing together Al-Azhar and the Vatican in the early 1990s when Dr. Aly El-Samman organized a series of three meetings between the two organizations with the aim of creating an official agreement for dialogue.
“April 1994 - when Dr. Al-Samman was Chairman of ADIC he organized a meeting in Bern with the late Cardinal Franz Koenig, a member of the Holy Vatican College and the late Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Gadelhaq Aly Gadelhaq. This was the first step in Al-Azhar’s dialogue with the Vatican,” she said.
“Four years after the initial effort was made, his determination culminated in success,” she added, referring to the agreement between Al-Azhar and the Vatican signed on May 28, 1998 that strives to create a spirit of fraternity, solidarity, justice and peace between Christians and Muslims throughout the world.
“The naming of the Reading room at the IDEO Library is a wonderful tribute to my husband who believed that information and knowledge is a necessity and that the strongest enemies of coexistence are the threat that result from ignorance of different cultures,” she said.
At the end of the ceremony the commemorative plaque was unveiled in the reading room of the Library by Friar Jean-Rene Vincent du Grandlaunay, Director of the Library and Sam El- Samman.