Cultural exchange programmes are not new and it turns out Birmingham was involved in an example of one in the early nineteenth century.
Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1849) was ruler of Egypt from 1805 to 1848 and is known as “the Father of Modern Egypt”. His reign was not without controversy as he sought to shape Egypt along more “European” lines in a move to compete with European industrialisation.
One of his projects was to send students to Europe to both learn about science and industry in European countries and to promote Islamic and Egyptian culture in the various Western European countries where they were based.
Four students came to England: Ali Effendi, Mohammed Effendi, Omar Effendi and Selim Aga.
In 1833 Selim visited Birmingham which was reported in a letter between James Watt junior and Matthew Robinson Boulton:
“My dear Sir
Yesterday I shewed your Mint to Selim Aga and Mr. Sanderson. The former is a young military officer, who has been compleating his education at Woolwich, and is quite unacquainted with the subject of Coinage. He is however a very intelligent, civil person… Selim is about to return to Egypt, and I have no doubt that… he should report personally to the Pacha what he had seen; which I have little doubt he will do favourably, as well as our progress with his Engines.”
As the letter suggests the firm of Boulton and Watt in turn benefited by building a steam boat for the Pasha (either Muhammad Ali Pasha himself or possibly his son Ibrahim Pasha) which was called “The Nile” and learning about Islamic culture.