Interview of Aly Hafiz Shabaan Transcript


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Interview of Aly Hafiz Shabaan Transcript
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Revealing Florida’s Arab Immigrants Phase II: The Arab Business Community

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Aly Hafiz Shabaan April 20, 2013 Islamic Understanding Institute Panama City, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Also present, Richard Saltzburg Alhadi: Thank you, Dr. Ali. Shabaan: Hello. Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi, from the Univ ersity of Florida, Arab ic language, culture and literature program. This interview is being conducted with Dr. Aly Hafiz Shabaan at the Islamic Understanding Institute in Panama C ity. Today is Saturday, April 20, 2013. It is now 3:56 PM. Thank you one more time, Dr. Aly, for being with us. I would like to start by asking you to give us a quick preview of the early stages of your life before coming to America. Shabaan: I am Egyptian. I was born in Alexandr ia, Egypt. I graduated from the college of engineering at Alexandria University. I al so obtained my M.A. degree from the same university. I came to this country to do my Ph.D. in 1975. I joined North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. I obtai ned my Ph.D. in mechan ical engineering. I currently work with a company called Applied Research Associates. I do research in energy. Alhadi: This is a good introduction. Let me go b ack to the early phase of your life. Did you grow up in Alexandria? Shabaan: I grew up in Alexandria. Alhadi: I know that thos e who grow up in Alexandria tend not to leave it.


Shabaan: True. They compare Alexandrian people to fish that never like to leave water. Alhadi: I know this from my experiences in Cairo. People there be lieve Alexandrian people never like to leave. Let us now move on to your transition from North Carolina, where you did your Ph.D., to Florida. Why did this transition occur? Shabaan: I chose to come to NCSU because I wa s offered a scholarship to do my study there. After finishing my study, I joined Applied Rese arch Associates in Raleigh which receives most of its funding from the DOD [Departm ent of Defense]. This company won a contract with the air force research lab. The company asked me to start an energy research group here in Florida. I came dow n here to Panama City in November 1989. Alhadi: Now I want to ask you about your field of specialty and research activities and interest. Shabaan: My research work at Tyndall Air Force Base satellite laboratory research lab focused on developing new energy technologies for the deployed forces. The main focus was to reduce fuel consumption, using solar energy to power air-conditioning units and to make it more efficient. In general terms, it was all energy-efficiency-related, ranging from power generation to energy use equipment. Alhadi: You remained in Panama City from 1989 up to this day? Shabaan: That is correct. Alhadi: Did you have to move to other cities for work reasons? Shabaan: I am stationed here, but I ma ke work-related trips to other cities. Alhadi: Where did you go? Shabaan: I have been to so many places inside and outside America. For instance, I visited Europe many times. There I visited Sweden, Switzerland, and France. Here I might have been to all the states.


Alhadi: I didn’t hear you mention any Arab country. Did you visit any country there? Shabaan: I don’t have any work relationship with an Arab country. My work was all in the energy research field relating to the [U.S.] Air Force needs and had nothing to do with training or weapons. For this reason, it had no thing to do with the Ar ab countries. I left my work with Tyndall Air Force Base and m oved to the downtown premises. The scope of work became much wider than the work we were doing at the air force base. This was at the time when the idea of doing joint work with the [Persian] Gulf countries kicked in through an organization with the name of Mi ddle East and North Africa. They were planning to start a five-billi on-dollar renewable energy projec t in many countries. This included working in the fields of solar a nd wind energy. We started communicating with the government of Dubai about the possibility of working with them in a number of energy-related areas. Alhadi: How did they react? Shabaan: I wasn’t fully involved in the initial negotiations, becau se it was all bus iness related. The whole process was spearheaded by a Pakist ani fellow, but I realized that there was generally an agreement to go forward with th e project. I believe there is a good chance for this work to go forward. I am also working with the USAID on a program to advance the use of renewable energy in developing c ountries. We gave them a number of ideas that could be implemented in Egypt, and we ar e still waiting to hear from them. One of these is a water desalination project by usi ng solar energy. We have also proposed using solar energy to dry agricultural products such as rice. This shows that we have been involved with a number of American organi zations that have work plans to be implemented in many foreign countries. Since I am originally from Egypt, it is easier for


me to do research that will end with a produc t that will eventually be manufactured and get used. Alhadi: As you said, energy work focuses mainly on study and research proj ects. I want to ask you, based on your closeness to the issues, if the status of energy research in the Arab countries is up-to-date. Shabaan: I had a very good opportunity to monitor the work they are doing in this field in Egypt when I participated in a conference in Cair o, Egypt, three years ago. There are many new universities that have recently been opened. The research papers that were presented in that conference reflected a very sophisticated standard. I was very happy to know about these research projects. The researchers are Egyptians and they are mostly Ph.D. students. It was a very good opportunity to get to know them and to see their work. Alhadi: Are there any new energy resear ch centers there as far as you know? Shabaan: I am not aware of any. However, the conference that I attended in Cairo was organized by the Arab Academy for Scienc e, Technology and Maritime Transport. I know they are doing very good work. However, I didn’t have any opportunity to visit any other center. Alhadi: I believe you may be aware of whethe r the universities in Egypt and other Arab countries are technically and academically prep ared and qualified to conduct research in the energy field. Shabaan: I usually come across many papers in this field published in the Arab countries and we use them in our research. I believe they are doing very well in the research area. Alhadi: It is generally believed that energy research in the Arab universities focuses more on oil. What is the status of resear ch there in other energy areas?


Shabaan: I normally come across many papers deali ng with areas other than oil, such as solar and desalination. They are, indeed, doing rese arch in other energy fields. When I was in Egypt, I became aware of research in the PV [photovoltaic] area. This is an energy research field that Europe has started and the Egyptians have done some work in it. It is known as dye-sensitized photovoltaic cells. Many are doing differe nt research projects in engineering, science and chemis try, that are all energy related. Alhadi: I want to go back to your personal expe riences. You came to this country and obtained your Ph.D. degree in Raleigh, North Carolina. And you have been liv ing here since that time. What do you think America has given you, and in exchange, what have you given back to America? Shabaan: The first thing I got from America was a scholarship to do my Ph.D. It also gave me the opportunity to teach at the university one year after my arrival. I got all my study funded by the NSF [National Science Foundation]. They trusted me to lead the energy research effort at my current work place. It is a very positive experience for me. I know there is a lot of talk in the media a bout our Arab community, but the Americans appreciate any person when they know his real qualities and th e way he deals with things. Alhadi: You have been living here in Panama City since 1989. What do you think about the lifestyle here in this small town, compar ed to the other big cities you lived in? Shabaan: This town is not like Raleigh. Drivi ng here is very easy. Ra leigh has a number of cultural centers. We had a program in the uni versity called Friends of the College where artists and performers from all over the worl d came and performed. We had many events like that in Raleigh. This make s it different from Panama Cit y. This is a small town, and life here is much better for fam ilies than living in big cities.


Alhadi: I know that there are a reasonable numbe r of individuals of Arab descent living here in Panama City. Shabaan: This is also an area where you will notice the difference between this town and Raleigh. In Raleigh, there were a large number of people of Arab descent including professors and students. The commu nity here is closely connected. Alhadi: My question is still about the Arab co mmunity here. What contribution did the Arab community offer to the surrounding Panama City community? Shabaan: Technically speaking, there are many docto rs here who make their contribution to the health services in th e city. Some of them are well know n. In the business area, we also have people who have stores and they he lp by creating job o pportunities for local citizens. We also contributed to the pub lic service area by opening the IUI which includes the Avicenna clinic. The truth is th at the Arab community offers many services and contributions to the comm unity here in Panama City. Alhadi: How is the city and community r eacting to these services and contributions? Shabaan: We offer our services through the IU I in cooperation with the Gulf Coast State College. The reaction is very positive. Many people attend the lectures that we organize. We have been asked to offer a course in the college about Islam and the Arab world. Fifty students participated in this course. Following this course, the students came to visit the mosque to see how people beha ve, and also to know what we do here. Alhadi: You and all the other present colleagues live here with your families. I want to ask about the young Arab generation. How do they manage their relationships with American society and with the Arab community?


Shabaan: Most of the young Arabs graduated fr om the public schools and universities here. They have made friendships with Muslims a nd non-Muslims. I think this is a healthy relationship. They act like any other American young person but still maintain their Arab and Islamic traditions. Alhadi: Do you feel that there is a gap between the young Arab generation and the older generation? Shabaan: Yes, of course. Alhadi: Thank you very much, Dr. Aly. We are very happy with this interview. Shabaan: Thank you. [END OF INTERVIEW]