Interview of Kamel Elzawahry Transcript


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Interview of Kamel Elzawahry Transcript
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Revealing Florida’s Arab Immigrants Phase II: The Arab Business Community

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Kamel Elzawahry 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. Kamel, for being with us, and welcome to this interview which will be short and quick. My name is Esam Alhadi fr om the University of Florida, Gainesville, and this is my colleague, Ri chard Saltzburg, from the university library. This interview takes place at the Islamic Understanding Institu te in Panama City. Today is Saturday, April 20, 2013 and it is now 4:37 PM. It give s me great pleasure to have you with us today. We would like to begin by asking you to give us a quick review on your early upbringing, education and life be fore coming to America. Elzawahry: I graduated from the college of Medicine of Ain Ahams University in Cairo. I then took a teaching position as a le cturer for three years at the same university. The university sent me to England to do my gra duate studies there. I studied in Oxford, Leicester, and Birmingham. The political situation in Egypt at the time was unwelcoming and I couldn’t stay there. I made the decision to come to America. I arrived here in 1976. I joined the graduate studies program at Hahnemann University. I also did some studies at Rutgers and the University of Pennsylvania. I acquired qualifications in more than one field of speci alty, including internal medicine, neurology, and paralysis. My next move was to Pana ma City in 1980. A friend of mine informed me that they were looking for a neurologist he re in Panama City. I came here and have continued to live here since that date.


Alhadi: That means you were already living in Am erica for four years before moving to Panama City? Elzawahry: Correct. I was in Pennsylvania a nd New Jersey, and now I have been living in Panama City since 1980. Alhadi: Did you have opportunities to move to any other place? Elzawahry: I never moved to a ny other place since I came here. Alhadi: This long period of residence in Panama City makes you and Dr. Azzam among the people who witnessed the development of the Arab immigrant community here in Panama City. Elzawahry: That is correct. Alhadi: We will get back to this topic later on, but now I want to ask you to tell us more about your fields of specialt y, research, and studies? Elzawahry: When I came to the USA, the system here required me to redo all my studies and training that I had done before ge tting certified. This was in spite of the fact that I did all of my studies and training in Britain and E gypt. I started doing re sidency in internal medicine and another one in neurology and later became certified in neurology and then moved to Panama City. Alhadi: Where did you work af ter arriving in Panama City? Elzawahry: I started by opening my own office. Later I began to work with the hospitals here in town. My office grew very fast and steadily to the point where that I had to bring in more colleagues to work with me. The office has now become a medical center with six doctors working in it. Four of the doctors who work in my cente r are neurologists and


the other two are specialists in neurosurger y. The center is called the Brain and Spine Center and is located here in Panama City. Alhadi: Do you have an o ffice outside Panama City? Elzawahry: We had many branches, but because of the heavy work load we decided to focus our work only in Panama City. However, we receive and treat many cases from all over North Florida. Alhadi: Are all or some of the doctors with you in the center of Arab descent? Elzawahry: Two of them have Arab ethnicity, including my own daughter and another doctor of Lebanese origin, in addition to three American doctors. Alhadi: Is your daughter speci alizing in the same field? Elzawahry: Yes. Sh e is a neurologist. Alhadi: Is this an example of a father’s influenc e on his children? Elzawahry: It could be. Alhadi: You told us that you left Egypt in 1976. How is your relationship to Egypt at this time? Elzawahry: I am still connected to Egypt because of family ties and also psychologically. I believe a person’s love to their homeland ne ver fades. Even though the comforts and stability of life here in America makes it ha rd to think of going back to live in Egypt, I still maintain good relationships with the doctors and universities there an d I help them as much as I can. Alhadi: I would like to know mo re details about this. Can you tell us more about your relationships with the study and research cen ters and universities in terms of offering them training and research opportunities?


Elzawahry: We, here in the Brain and Spine Ce nter, accept doctors and students from foreign universities, particularly those from Egypt and other African c ountries. In the past years, we trained doctors from many countries su ch as Egypt, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. Because of my standing in the Worl d Foundation of Neurology, I have been able to offer help to developing and needy countries especially those in Africa and Asia. We offer scholarships and training programs. We get a physician from Nigeria every year to attend a training program. I am also on the board of the Florida Society of Neurology, and through our partnership with a Nigerian si ster society, we manage to get a number of physicians to attend medical meetings, and we also have training pr ograms for them here in various places. Alhadi: Why specifically in Nigeria? Elzawahry: It is the biggest c ountry in terms of population. However, with a population that reaches about 100 million, there are only 50 neurol ogists in the entire country. There is a high need for this field in that country. We also helped Ethiopia, South Africa and Chad. Alhadi: How is the situation in Egypt in regards to this field, given th at the population there is almost 80 or 90 million? Elzawahry: Egypt has the best training program among the Arab c ountries. There are more than ten colleges of medicine. Egypt also has a number of excellent medical field specialties. We help them through the exchange programs that scientific instituti ons in this country offer. The truth is that Egypt is not in need of American assistance in science, compared to other countries in the region. Alhadi: How about your connections with other Arab countries such as the [Persian] Gulf countries?


Elzawahry: I am not personally involved in any wo rk with Gulf countries, but I am connected to a number of medical societies that have exchange programs with Gulf countries such asQatar, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia My wife is a dermatologist and she is currently working in Saudi Arabia. There are good numbers of Sa udi doctors who are here on a variety of active exchange programs with many univers ities such as Harvard and Johns Hopkins and also at the Cleveland Clinic. There ar e also many American doctors lecturing in Saudi Arabia. Alhadi: This is good to know. I also gathered from your talk earlier that you are a reference point when it comes to the Arab community he re in Panama City. Can you tell us a little bit about this? Elzawahry: When I first came, the number of Arab community members was small and our resources and energy were limited. We were blessed by having a good numbers of professionals come our way to join us. This has given our efforts and contributions a big boost. Dr. Al-Ahdal mentioned earlier that mo st of the professionals in our community were either physicians or dentists. Because we knew that this area was poor, we decided to offer help. Driven by the desire to make a contribution to my community, I, with the help of a number of Muslim and non-Muslim doctors, launched a society called the Bay Cares Program. It was intended to provide free medical care just like the current Avicenna clinic does. The clinic’s mission is to provide free service for those people who fall between the cracks. Those are th e ones who are not covered by any government insurance or any other program. Alhadi: That means that the services offered by your society are available to everybody, not just for Arab community members?


Elzawahry: Our services are for the entire community. I believe th at only 1% of the people who use this service are from the Arabic commun ity. The others are people who live in the area regardless of origin. I am very proud of the Avicenna Clinic. This year they were awarded a prize for all the char ity contributions they have be en doing. The society that I started in 1992 was able to offer medical serv ices to the community in 2011, with a value of no less than 25 million dollars. Thanks to God that our relationship with the surrounding community is very strong. The good will and support from all of our friends and the Arab community is on display. I take pa rticular pride in the actions of my peers. Alhadi: I know that there are many doctors am ong the Arab community here, but there are also other people in other professions. Elzawahry: That is true. We ha ve people in different professions Among the services we offer is a school called the Advanced School. It started for th e Islamic society, but it now accepts everyone and doesn’t discriminate base d on ethnicity or anything else. Although it is a private school, the admission is free fo r those who can’t afford to pay the fees. Alhadi: Does it teach the Arabic language? Elzawahry: It offers Arabic la nguage and religious studies. Ever y one picks the religious studies according to the religion they believe in. Alhadi: It sounds like it is ope n to everyone. Are there American students who have chosen to join this school? Elzawahry: We have a number of American students who also study Arabic language. Alhadi: What do you think the motivating reas on is for those American students who have joined this school instead of goi ng to an American public school?


Elzawahry: I believe everybody here knows how ni ce our community is and how kind and polite our children are in addition to being well-connected to the surrounding community. The American families and their children see a good model in our children and therefore ask to join our school. Alhadi: Let us go back and talk about Egypt. You have been residing outside of Egypt for a long time. What is your current relationshi p to Egypt and do you go there to visit? Elzawahry: I currently maintain a very good rela tionship with Egypt. There was a time when I wasn’t allowed in the country for political reasons. Thanks be to God that I was pardoned after the death of Pres ident Sadat, may God rest his soul in peace. I spent the period between 1972 and 1984 outside the countr y and was unable to see my family. After being pardoned, I began to visit Egypt every six months to see my relatives in Cairo. I still visit there very regularly. Alhadi: You made a reference to your daughter earlier. I wonder if you have any other children, and if your family is also closely connected to Egypt? Elzawahry: I have three brothers here in Panama City, and they also travel to Cairo and send their children there to learn Arabic. We are all maintaining a very good connection with Egypt. Alhadi: You mentioned that the Ar abic community here in Panama City is firmly integrated into the surrounding community, and th at it is contributing to th e greater community. Does the American community around you understand and appreciate what you are trying to do? Elzawahry: That may not have been the case between the years 1980 and1983. That was a time when the Arabic community was still in its infancy. The community here was not


accustomed to having an Arab community li ving with them. As time passed, people in town came to realize that the Arab commun ity is very kind, has good morals and they treat others well. This led to an improveme nt in relations between us and the surrounding community and eventually many Arabs were selected to serve in leadership positions in town. As Dr. Al-Ahdal pointed out earlier, there are five to six doctors serving as presidents of medical so cieties, and others are serving as chiefs of staff. I was honored to be the president of the Bay County Medical So ciety for a number of years in the 1990s. My wife, I pray to God to rest her soul in peace, was also the president of the medical society and director of medical education for nineteen years. Our colleague, Dr. Makki, of Lebanese origin, is currently the director of medical education. Alhadi: These are very good works, and they are worthy of being proud of. I am very happy to know about these valuable activit ies and contributions. I pray to God that he reward all of you in the best way. Elzawahry: Thank you. [END OF INTERVIEW]