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Politics crowded out all else in Egyptian ambassador’s posting

By Laura Beaulne-Stuebing      

Embassy's first enhanced Diplomatic Circles column explains moves by Wael Aboulmagd and other 'modern nomads.'

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There's no manual for diplomats that says, 'in the event of a political uprising, or when a series of citizens from the country you're posted to are jailed back home, do this and that,' in a step-by-step fashion.
Something like that could have been helpful for outgoing Egyptian ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, who's leaving Canada after over four years and after being dealt an unexpected hand. 
Mr. Aboulmagd watched from afar as Egypt changed dramaticallyHosni Mubarak's stepping down in 2011, violence in Tahrir Square, the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi. And, of course, there was the arrest of Canadians John Greyson and Tarek Loubani (later released), followed not long after by the arrest of Mohamed Fahmy (sentenced to seven years in prison), an Egyptian-Canadian in charge of Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau.
It all clouded the well-spoken, straight-talking ambassador's time in Ottawa. Most diplomats get to do the fun stufftalk about increasing tourism and boosting trade. Instead, Mr. Aboulmagd said, he couldn't sit down and have a meeting about trade or improving educational ties between Canada and Egypt without dealing with politics first. 
"My diplomatic tenure here has been to a large extent defined by world events back home, and that's not typical," Mr. Aboulmagd said in an interview with Embassy, just days before his departure. 
But he got the chance to really flex his diplomatic muscles while in Canada. 
"It is not the responsibility of a good diplomat to exclusively give very idealistic official narrative. That doesn't sell in today's era where there are so many sources of information," he said as he sat in an easy chair in his office, the desk on the other side of the room piled with stacks of papers he'd been sorting.
"A good, competent diplomat is able to complement whatever is out there with context, and with credible data and information to allow intelligent people out of Egypt to make their own conclusions."
The point isn't to draw a perfect picture, but to draw a balanced and realistic one, he said. Good diplomacy is about not just maintaining healthy relationships, but about managing differences and difficult situations.
When asked about the Canadians in Egyptian jail, Mr. Aboulmagd made the distinction between the courts and government. 
"The legal system will take care of itself, meaning that there are multiple layers of adjudication, and if one level doesn't satisfy there is another level, there are appeals," he said.
"Those are just the realities that we contend with." Linked to those realities is what both the Egyptian and Canadian governments can do within their mandates, he added. 
"I stress that word because there are limitations to the mandates of the executive, vis-à-vis a case in the courts," he explained. "We do everything…and both governments will attest to what I'm sayingand co-operate on a very regular basis fully and transparently through making sure that every right of a Canadian citizen there is preserved."
"We continue to work for what is in the interest of every individual, " he said, "regardless of guilt or innocence."
Nobody wants to see negative media coverage of their home, "but it's a fact of life and it will happen," he said.
"I always remind…my colleagues, our role is not only to guide and shepherd a healthy, positive relationship. Our role and need may be even more in managing differences."
And, in true diplomatic form, he said despite those differences and despite how his posting has been clouded by events far away, Canada and Egypt maintain good ties and he has enjoyed his term tremendously. 
A short stay for Turkey's ambassador
Tuncay Babalı was posted in Canada for less than two years and is headed out after a farewell bash at his home on Aug. 28.
After revisions to the terms of office for Turkish ambassadors back in the 1990s, the typical stay for heads of mission like him ranges from one to three years, he said in an interview. He knew he wouldn't be in Ottawa for very long when he set foot on Canadian soil. 
The months in Canada were fruitful for him, though.
The outgoing ambassador said he has either fully achieved the targets he set out to achieve or is certain of their trajectory in the future. He cited the completion of exploratory talks toward the launch of a Canada-Turkey free trade deal, ramping up air travel between the two countries, making education connections and forming high-level relationships that "go beyond the marching orders of our speaking lines…for real co-operation" as accomplishments. 
"My successor will have a good base," he said, "to…strengthen and further our really good relationship to Canada."
The ambassador lit up when the conversation turned to his family, and his three sons who've embraced what Ottawa has to offer. His oldest, 15-year-old Emre, is a cancer survivor who helped out with a gala event for the Union for International Cancer Control, which raised money for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. 
"That was really special for us," the ambassador said proudly. 
And on his short stay in Canada, Mr. Babali said Turkey is right up there with the highest number of missions in the world, now at 235 across the globe. This"the de facto currents affecting our terms of office," he notedforces those in the Turkish foreign service to make tough choices, and often results in shorter postings, having to say goodbye to friends sooner than others might have to. 
"This brings a lot of shortcomings, of course," he said. "We are modern nomads in this profession."
Jamaica's four and a half years and a trade deal gone afoul
"I don't think that you'd expect us to have any kind of conversation and not mention the trade agreement," Jamaica's outgoing high commissioner, Sheila Sealy-Monteith, said with a laugh. 
The seasoned diplomat whose previous postings have included a stint at the United Nations, and who is returning to Jamaica after more than four years away, was speaking to Embassy in a meeting room in the Jamaican High Commission, on Aug. 21 during her final week in Ottawa.
Ms. Sealy-Monteith spoke highly of her tenure in Canada and said Jamaica's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2012 were by far the highlight of her tour of duty. 
"I don't know if you're aware of how much we overturned the perception of Jamaicans in Canada through that experience. It was major, it was significant," she said.
But there were hiccups over the years, and one in particular. Negotiations around a free trade deal between Canada and Caribbean Community (a group called CARICOM) countries that began before her posting have stalled and, as far as she knows, have come to an end.
She said the deal was important for Jamaica and other Caribbean countries and the negotiation process was a long and detailed one, and not easy. So many countries, so many levels of governments, so many competing interests at play. 
A June deadline passed with Canada proposing a deal in principle to the Caribbean trade bloc, according to a Jamaican business group leader, but the CARICOM members couldn't come to a consensus on the offer and asked to postpone the deal. 
The negotiations haven't been successful, but Ms. Sealy-Monteith said things will sort themselves out in the end. The ties between Canada and Jamaica remain very strong, she added. 
"My own view on this, coming out of years of experience, is that there's so much that is taken care of with time, and when you get to points in your relationship where there is a lull…then it's an opportunity to dig deep into those very important foundations of those relationships," she said.
"And you move on, you continue to work, you build on other areas and time will take care of what there is."
Azerbaijan's new chargé
There were a few things on Ramil Huseynli's plate when he arrived in Ottawa in July: find a place to live and find a place for his kids to go to school.
Mr. Huseynli is the new chargé d'affaires in Azerbaijan's embassyhis first posting in Canada coinciding with his first time in Canada, ever. He was stationed in Washington from 2005 to 2009 and was educated at a university in North Carolina, but never made it across the border until now. And before he even had business cards printed, he was hunting for a home for him and his family who were to arrive later, at the end of August. 
Beyond those more immediate tasks, Mr. Huseynli has some long-term goals in mind. A top priority is to establish political dialogue between Azerbaijan and Canada and convince the Canadian government to set up an embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital city. 
"The relations between Azerbaijan and Canada can be described as friendly…but it's one of our top priorities is to have tight, reliable relations with Canada," he said. 
"The current level of co-operation between our countries does not reflect their potential."
Azerbaijan hasn't seen a state visit from a Canadian minister in more than a decade. Foreign Minister John Baird was meant to travel to the country in the spring, but the trip was postponed after the death of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
"It was going to be a state visit and our president was ready to receive him. On the last minute it was cancelled," Mr. Huseynli explained. He added that they're waiting on the Canadian government to find another time for Mr. Baird to travel across time zones to his home country. "It's very important for us," Mr. Huseynli said. 

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