first_imgI have just come back from a short business trip to Cairo. ‘Don’t go! You must be mad!’ I received worried messages while I was there, and was advised not to venture out on my own. But, on my first evening, I went exploring. The streets were crowded with late-night shoppers. No one took a second look at me. People were going about their business – late, since this is a Mediterranean country – as calmly and happily as if we had been in London or Brussels. I witnessed the same during the day when driving, if that is the right word, through Cairo’s gridlocked, hooting traffic. The only sign of tension was outside the Cairo Museum, where the entrance is blocked, and there is a phalanx of soldiers with guns and walkie-talkies. (But you should go inside: the treasures of Tutenkahmun qualify among the top must-sees of life.) This is not a travelogue. The travel part, though, is a symbol of the business part, which was a meeting with our counterparts in the Arab world, the Arab Lawyers Union (ALU). The ALU has a membership of bar associations in 15 countries, with a membership of more than 200,000 individual lawyers and 27 bar associations stretching from Mauritania to Iraq. My experience of travel and meeting people from different cultures is not so much that it broadens the mind, although it can, but rather that it confirms the old saw that people are the same everywhere, which is a great reducer of tensions. When we are separated, and read – each side about the other, because it is as true of their reporting about our lives as of ours about theirs – about violence or prejudice or extreme ideas, it is very easy for suspicions to grow and friends to drift apart. But when you are sitting in the same room together, you recognise your overwhelming similarities. We spoke about the European anti-money laundering legislation, and the forthcoming cases in the European Court of Human Rights (Michaud, and now the one brought by the Monaco Bar on similar grounds). They shared our opposition to lawyer reporting of suspicious transactions, and offered their support. They spoke of their own current problems, often around issues of transitional justice: how to move, in those countries affected by the Arab Spring, from a dictatorship to democracy. Europe has had similar transitions in a number of countries which are now member states of the European Union. I give just a flavour of our discussions, since they were private exchanges. But I think the message is clear. I know that it sounds as if my lesson is peace on earth and goodwill to all people. But I mean something else. We are extremely well-informed these days, we read or watch news non-stop, often from different political perspectives to ensure that we receive a rounded education. But our picture is still wrong, for a number of reasons: a tendency to sensationalism, reduced coverage of overseas affairs, pandering to pre-set agendas, and so on. We make conclusions based on electronic data, but nothing replaces the real experience. We think we are better informed today than in previous times, where there was not similar access to to 24/7 news. But maybe it was better to say ‘I don’t know’, as they would presumably have said in the 19th century, rather than the ‘I know’ of today, since we are often wrong because of the bias inherent in all our electronic information. I happen to work for a professional organisation where our links are with other professional organisations. But the same applies to individual lawyers or law firms. You have sometimes to sacrifice the time and money to go there – wherever there happens to be in your case – in order to learn. Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents about one million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairslast_img