Anyone feeling down on Japan’s future and in need of a pick-me-up should listen to Hisham Badr, a former Egyptian ambassador to Tokyo and an ardent admirer of Japanese tradition.
In a new book written in Japanese, Badr says the Arab world, including Egypt, has remained a great believer in Japan’s economic success story, although few Japanese are aware of this respect.
The Arab people first became fascinated with Japan’s modernization when it won the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and became the first non-Western, non-Christian country that could compete with the Western powers.
Even after its total defeat in World War II, Japan staged a comeback and kept modernizing without losing its identity and culture, Badr said.
Today many developing countries are struggling with their own identity problems and Japan has remained a star model for them, according to Badr.
“I told Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi once that we have an Egyptian proverb. The proverb says health is a crown on the top of (the head) of a healthy man that nobody can see except for sick men,” Badr said in an interview with The Japan Times in Tokyo.
“(Japanese) don’t see it, don’t feel it. But seen from outside, seen from our perspective, it’s a big diamond crown. Everybody is looking at you,” he said.
Badr first came to Japan in 1985 and served as ambassador from 2003 to 2007. Now stationed back in Cairo, he is an assistant foreign minister.
Compared with the 1980s, Japanese people now appear less confident about their future. But Badr says this is only an “adjustment” and “balancing act,” much the same as what the Japanese have undergone in the past in overcoming hardship.
The title of his book, “Sphinx and Japanese Sword,” symbolizes the similarities between the Egyptian and Japanese people, according to Badr.
The sphinx, with human head and lion body, provides a key lesson for Egyptians that power should be controlled by human reason and justice, he said, drawing a parallel with the samurai spirit and its great emphasis on discipline.
“Living in Japan is an experience of balance, harmony, teamwork and discipline,” said Badr, who speaks fluent Japanese.
Asked what was his most difficult task during his stint as ambassador, Badr said it was to get the Japanese government to set up a science and technology university in Egypt. The school is finally set to open next year.
Building a university where students from Africa and the Middle East can learn Japanese science and technology is a terrific diplomatic approach for the region, given the Arab people’s respect for Japanese technology and modernization, Badr argues.
“The best bridge between Egypt and Japan and between the Arab world and Japan is education, rather than the Self-Defense Forces,” he said. “Put Japan’s flag over a university.”
In the Iraq war, Japan sided with the United States by approving its decision to invade and then sending the SDF there later to assist with reconstruction.
Because of the great “reservoir of trust” built up between Japan and the Arab world, Egypt did not begrudge the SDF dispatch, Badr said.
The ex-ambassador at the same time urged Japan not to be influenced too much by the Western media in viewingArab-related issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.