17 Aug 2017

Fellow Singaporeans and Friends of Singapore,


1          Thank you for being present tonight to celebrate Singapore’s 52nd National Day. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to 52 new Singaporean students who recently arrived in Cairo. As many of you have sat for your exams at Al Azhar University, my colleagues and I wish all of you the best in your exam results. We hope that all of you will obtain “mumtaz” (excellent) grades.  For those of you graduating this year, the Embassy looks forward to celebrating with you in early November when we will organise a graduation ceremony for our students, their parents and relatives.  


2          Singapore’s history of nationhood of 52 years is very short compared to Egypt’s 7000 years of civilisation. Yet everywhere we go in Egypt, we frequently hear from Egyptian friends that Singapore is a model for them. I have often wondered why. From discussions with Egyptian friends, three points stand out. First, the speed of Singapore’s transformation from the Third World to First World. This was why Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi visited Singapore in August 2015. Second, the type of governance we have in Singapore. Egyptians have concluded that good governance is key to achieving development results and have embarked on wide-ranging reforms. There is realisation that, without active, fair and rules-based governance, it is not possible to meet the aspirations of its people. Third, Egyptians are curious about Singapore’s ability to achieve multi-religious and multi-racial harmony when many countries are facing considerable difficulties. Many governments and people take this for granted. The experiences in the Middle East and elsewhere in the World over the last 6 years show that some governments wrongly assumed that religious and racial harmony would happen naturally. It did not. Prolonged religious and racial conflicts led to societies being torn asunder, with hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes and around 5 million people, which is almost the entire population of Singapore, forced to flee their homes.  


3          The lesson for Singapore is that we will have to continuously re-examine our assumptions.  We must keep track of external trends and do more to safeguard our racial and religious harmony.  We must be aware that Singapore is our home and that the conflicts of others should not be allowed to divide us.  There are three external trends that should concern all of us. First, religious extremism has grown exponentially, globally and regionally. Extremist groups are resorting to all ways and means to sow divisions within our diverse societies. Many of them are technologically savvy, using social media to seed radical ideas on how societies can be re-constituted and re-ordered. Second, a rise in Islamophobia in many countries, from verbal abuse to physical damage of mosques. It is wrong to point the finger at a religion just because a few people misuse and misinterpret religion to commit atrocities. There are direct and damaging effects of Islamophobia that we will have to deal with as they can impact social cohesion. Third, the threat of a terrorist attack on our soil. Recent terrorist attacks in Paris, London, Brussels and Stockholm tell us no country can take security for granted. Closer to home, there have been terrorist incidents in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Davao and, more recently, Marawi in the Philippines. Some of these attacks have been committed by local citizens who had pledged allegiance to self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. During PM Lee Hsien Loong’s dialogue with Community and Religious leaders on 24 July 2017, PM said: “Singapore is a target. We know it, they have said it and they have acted on it.”  


4          It is against this backdrop that Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam launched the “SG Secure” movement in March 2017. It is a community-centred movement because it requires all of us to play our part in order to secure Singapore and protect fellow Singaporeans. It is also a recognition that government alone cannot secure Singapore and protect Singaporeans. As Minister Shanmugam put it, “There is a strong, urgent need for the community to be vigilant before and during an attack; a community that knows how to respond; a community that is prepared and equipped with the necessary skills to protect ourselves, their families and the community”. I was struck by how the British community responded with resilience, defiance and humour to the terrorist incident in London on 3 June 2017 that left 7 dead and 48 others injured.  It was the third terrorist incident in months. The next day after the attack, British citizens were adamant that they would keep calm and carry on. Restaurants opened as usual and concerts went on as scheduled. Many British citizens offered support to those caught in the attack, including opening their homes for refuge. Different places of worship opened their doors on the night of the attack, offering food and shelter to people affected. Likewise, with close partnership between the Singapore government and its people at all levels, the aim of the terrorists and extremists to sow fear and division would fall apart.  Even though we are overseas, let us support the SG Secure movement in whatever way we can to inoculate ourselves against ideas that do not fit with our shared values.  As Singaporeans overseas, let us stick together, look out for one another, and keep the Majulah Singapura spirit of diversity strong even if we are far away from home.


5          Thank you again for being here tonight to mark Singapore’s 52nd National Day. I look forward to interacting with many of you this evening.        


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