Friends, colleagues and family members paid tribute to the Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif at a memorial in September hosted by the AUC Law and Society Research Unit and Law Department. Seif, who died in August after complications during heart surgery at age 63, earned his law degree in 1989 while in prison for social activism; he gained fame for defending those persecuted in Egypt, including Islamists, liberals, communists, and homosexuals. Among those honoring Seif was his son, activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah. Abd El-Fattah himself was released from prison on bail in mid-September; he has been charged with violating Egypt’s Protest Law—a conviction carries a prison sentence of fifteen years. “He was the most tolerant man I have ever seen, but he was not a superman,” Abd El-Fattah said. “He was an activist like us. When we were young, he talked to us about the law. He told us about how important the law is, and how important justice is.”
The election in May of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi brought a measure of political stability to Egypt after the tumultuous ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. But the economic challenges facing Egypt are mounting, with unemployment at 13.3 percent; some 70 percent of the 3.7 million Egyptians without jobs are between fifteen and twenty-nine years old. A recent panel discussion at AUC’s School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, “Transforming Public Service: Youth and Employment,” illustrated the depth of Egypt’s labor crisis. Ibrahim Awad, director of AUC’s Center for Migration and Refugee Studies, argued that safe working conditions, paid leave, and employee rights—in addition to a living wage—need to become standard practice in the country. Only about one in five workers in the formal sector has access to medical insurance, paid holidays, sick leave, and a pension, while half of Egypt’s labor force is in the informal sector with no benefits at all, he said. Another core problem, according to Zeinab Safar, professor of mechanical engineering at Cairo University, is the low—25 percent—participation rate of women in the formal sector. “They are unused human resources,” she explained. “We need a culture that accepts women in leadership positions.”
Sandrine Gamblin is the new director of AUC’s Middle East Studies Center. Among her goals is to adapt to a changing student profile. She said the center’s master’s degree program is attracting more students from the global south. Unlike the center’s traditional mix from Egypt and the United States, the new students from countries such as Mexico and South Korea want to enhance political and cultural relations between their countries and the Middle East. “Students’ career goals are changing, too,” she said. “They are not just interested in going into social sciences and getting PhDs, but into careers in diplomacy and non-governmental organizations.” Gamblin formerly served as an education advisor at the French foreign ministry and coordinated the master’s degree in international relations at the Université Française d’Egypte. She has also been a researcher at the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales in Egypt, and a consultant with the United Nations Development Programme, United States Aid for International Development, and the International Crisis Group.