Shafik Gabr’s Woodley Park home is filled with paintings once written off as paternal, even racist, images of the Middle East as seen through the eyes of 19th-century European artists — a world of daring snake charmers, menacing harem guards and exotic women. But Gabr, a restless Egyptian industrialist who keeps three iPhones and a BlackBerry stacked on a desk in front of him, sees something else. He regards Orientalist painters such as Charles Wilda, Johann Discart, John Frederick Lewis and Jean-Leon Geromeas intrepid early globalists who put themselves at risk to document a new world opened by Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian expedition from 1798 to 1801. They have compelled him to launch an initiative to improve East-West understanding.
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