Alum, Ambassador Gopinathan: From Arabic at AUC to Global Diplomacy
Ambassador Shri A. Gopinathan was among the first three of the Indian Foreign Service to be enrolled at AUC for a two-year Arabic program in 1979. Currently, there are approximately 20 Indian diplomats enrolled in AUC's specialized Arabic language program, focusing specifically on diplomatic needs.
Gopinathan's Arabic studies at the University helped shape his career in international affairs, providing him with the necessary knowledge and experience to later serve as ambassador to Egypt from 2005 to 2009, when he was recognized by AUC with the Distinguished Alumni Award for his professional accomplishments and global work.
“My time at AUC helped me tremendously,” he said. “Our teachers and staff helped us gain many useful insights into the Egyptian social fabric. These perspectives were invaluable during my second assignment in the country.”
As a member of the Indian Foreign Service, Gopinathan had opted to study Arabic as his compulsory foreign language. Up until that year, the government of India had assigned a private tutor to Foreign Service officers. “We were the first ones to be enrolled at AUC for structured language courses. This tradition has continued uninterrupted for the past 37 years, and I hope that it will continue in the future,” he explained.
Gopinathan’s uncle had previously encouraged the idea of joining the civil service. After working in India’s largest public sector bank for a couple of years and seeing a friend join the Foreign Service, Gopinathan decided to heed his uncle’s advice and explore a field he perceived as “intellectually stimulating and challenging.” “I took the plunge, and I gave a shot at the civil services examination, listing Foreign Service as my first choice, and I was fortunate to be selected,” he explained.
During his time as ambassador, Gopinathan observed sustained efforts on the part of Indian and Egyptian diplomats to improve relations between the two countries. “I was privileged to be part of President Hosni Mubarak’s visit to India, after a gap of almost 28 years, in 2008. We organized a Made in India show, to showcase opportunities to expand economic and commercial relations between Egypt and India. We also deepened cultural ties, by organizing visits of cultural troupes and artists in both directions.”
Arabic as an Asset
“The knowledge of the Arabic language stood me in good stead when I moved to Doha, Qatar from 1981 to 1984,” said Gopinathan of the time spent directly after his AUC course.
Prior to taking up the ambassadorship, he also served as deputy permanent representative in the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York from 2002 to 2005. From 2009 to 2011, Gopinathan worked for several other international organizations in Geneva as well. “The language became very useful to me in conversing with many Egyptians, in giving short speeches in Arabic at cultural functions and in meetings and conferences,” he reflected. “It helped me establish contacts with Arab delegations easily while working in New York and Geneva.”
Upon returning to Egypt, he was able to revive some of these AUC connections that had been developed earlier. “It was good to see that many of AUC alumni were among the higher echelons of the Egyptian government,” he remembered. “Learning Arabic led me to appreciate the artistic, literary and musical traditions of Arabic-speaking people as well as acquire innumerable friends over the past three and a half decades.”
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