Just a week after his latest trip to the Middle East, Brazilian president Lula da Silva was honoured March 25th by the Arab community at the Mount Lebanon Club, in the city of São Paulo. The event, which marks the 130th anniversary of Arab immigration in Brazil, was organized by the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce.
According to the Arab Brazilian Chamber's president, Salim Taufic Schahin, the organization decided to hold the tribute because of Lula da Silva's efforts to establish closer ties between Brazil and the Arab countries. He has been a great promoter of the development of better political, business and cultural ties between the two regions, he stated.
Since the beginning of his first term in office, in 2003, Lula da Silva set the pace for closer ties between Brazil and the Arab world as a priority. On that same year, he became the first Brazilian president to visit the region while in office.
At the time he travelled to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Libya, and launched the idea of promoting the Summit of South American-Arab Countries (Aspa), which had its first edition in 2005, in the Brazilian capital Brasília, and the second one last year, in Doha, Qatar. The third summit is scheduled to take place in 2011, in Lima, Peru.
After Lula da Silva first tour of the Middle East, the president also has been to Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Libya once again, to participate as a guest at the Summit of the African Union, Qatar, for the 2nd Aspa Summit, and more recently, Palestine and Jordan.
In May, he will be back in Qatar in return for the visit that emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani made to Brazil in January.
Regarding his last trip, which also included Israel, Schahin, who accompanied the president in Palestine and Jordan, stated that the welcome was exceptional.
The fruits of that trip will be increased business, political and cultural relations, he claimed. Plus the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, to which Brazil, with Lula da Silva wishes to contribute, he added.
In the economic field, Brazilian exports to the Arab world have soared from 2.76 billion USD in 2003 to a peak of 9.8 billion USD in 2008, according to data supplied by the Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade. Following the slowdown of last year business has again picked up in the first two months of 2010 with Brazilian exports increasing 33% to 1.4 billion USD over a year ago.
March 25th since 2008 is National Day of the Arab Community in Brazil. March 25th was also originally Constitution Day because on that date, in 1824, the first Brazilian Constitution was ratified by emperor Dom Pedro I.
But 25th of March is also the name of the best known popular shopping street in São Paulo, in which many Arab immigrants settled. The date of 25th of March is deeply linked to the Arab colony, because it lends its name to the street that is known throughout Brazil as the street of the Arabs, said Senator Romeu Tuma, who drafted and sponsored the National Day of the Arab Community bill.
Tuma, the son to a Syrian father and to a mother of Lebanese descent, is part of the 10% of Brazilian congressmen who are of Arab origin. The community is strong in the field of politics, and also has five ministers in President Lula da Silva’s cabinet.
The significance of the Arab community in Brazil can be gauged by its estimated 12 million members. Lebanese living in Brazil and Brazilians of Lebanese descent outnumber the current Lebanon population. Sao Paulo is considered the second largest Syrian city in the world.