George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Feb 04, 2011

Recently I wrote about the International Clinical Trials Symposium in Cairo, and ASCO's participation in that fine meeting. Little did I expect that Cairo would soon be plunged into unrest. I know that some of you must have wondered whether our representatives made it home safe and sound. I am happy to report that they did, though not without a front-row seat for some of the protests that engulfed Egypt's capital.

It is too early to predict how things will turn out there. Will the Egyptians replace a corrupt oligarchy with a dreary theocracy, or will something better come of it, something approaching a civil society? Everything I have heard and seen about the citizens of Cairo suggests that they are a naturally argumentative, disputatious people. As one who appreciates a good argument, and who considers free public discourse to be the basis of a civil society, I consider this a good sign, and hope for the best. In Churchill's fine formulation, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

Regardless, we wish the people of Egypt well. In particular, we hope that our colleagues there who practice the healing arts remain out of harm's way, and that they may safely meet with us again under better circumstances. It may seem faintly ridiculous to talk about medical meetings in the midst of a revolution. But it is medical meetings and their innumerable self-organizing counterparts that makes civil society possible. I don't (delusions of grandeur notwithstanding) get to order anyone about as ASCO President, but I do get to see hundreds of volunteers sitting down with each other, arguing, planning, tinkering with things, creating new approaches and coming ever-closer to a solution for a deadly disease. No one needs to tell them what to do. Multiply ASCO by the thousands of societies that populate our country (actually, the headquarters for thousands seem to populate Alexandria, Virginia) and you have a civil society, and (in Karl Popper's sense) an Open Society. Let us hope that Alexandria, Egypt, and Alexandria, Virginia, soon have a lot more in common than a proud and ancient name.


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Lobna M. Sedky, MD

Feb, 08 2011 10:34 AM

There was no doubt that Egypt's guests would have left safely. I believe that as oncologists we believe in evidence-based medicine, therefore I was a bit surprised with your comment about challenging the egyptians attitude based on what you heard.... The egyptians keep amazing the whole world with further actions of civilisation as they used to do over thousands of years...the 25th of jan revolution surprised us as well as the ASCO guests in egypt;in fact many envy them to witness the uprising of the egyptians demanding change, reform & implementation of justice as civilised, smart, alert & knowledgable youth. Hopefuly, you will participate in the future ASCO activity in egypt and deal with the egyptians to properly judge their behaviour.

Doug H.M. Pyle, MBA

Feb, 07 2011 4:17 PM

Thank you Dr. Sledge for your reflections.  While we were indeed very relieved to see our staff and faculty return safely, we continue to watch and think of our friends and fellow members who call Egypt home - Dr. Elzawawy, Dr. Khaled, and many, many others.  As fate would have it, one of the ASCO faculty in Cairo was Dr. Alex Eniu of Romania who recalled his own country's experiences 20 years ago.

George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Feb, 08 2011 6:42 PM

In response to Lobna Sedky, I certainly did not intend to impune the character of the Egyptian people, but rather to applaud them.  I find what is going on in Tahrir Square to be impressive and courageous, an example of the universal desire of the opressed to breather free air. That such outporings can be derailed or suppressed is the sorry story of the last century. I meant only to express my hope that things will work out for the best, and that no harm will come to our many friends there. 

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