When Egypt’s popular uprising began on January 25, the American University in Cairo became part of the historic events. The gates of the ninety-two-year-old downtown campus open directly onto Tahrir Square, the focal point of the mass protests. Following the resumption of classes in February after a two-week interruption, the university remained absorbed with everything connected with the revolution. The Egyptian public and AUC students alike crammed lecture halls to hear debates about the country’s future, and to attend a documentary film program, Egypt Rising. Workshops and teach-ins on everything from rhetoric and ethics to civil society empowerment multiplied across the old campus and the new campus in the suburb of New Cairo. Middle East experts like Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland visited to talk on the broader meaning of the uprising. Among the courses quickly developed around the revolution theme: “Isqat Al-Nizam: Egypt’s 25 January Uprising in Comparative Historical Perspective,” coordinated by Michael Reimer of the history department.
AUC is also archiving the events through such projects as “University on the Square: Documenting Egypt’s 21st-Century Revolution.” Intended for historians, activists, students, and the general public, the results will be on display in AUC’s Rare Books Library as well as in future public exhibitions, publications, seminars, and on AUC’s website. Part of the project involves obtaining oral histories from AUC students, faculty, staff, and alumni who lived through the momentous days. Besides undergrads out in the square protesting, AUC security personnel who guarded the Tahrir campus through perilous days and nights are among those interviewed for their personal accounts. Another aspect of the project is assembling a collection of revolution artifacts, including photographs and some of the ubiquitous Egyptian flags waved by the demonstrators. AUC intern Sean Graham helped launch the effort by scavenging Tahrir Square for leftover homemade protest signs, bullet casings, and tear gas canisters, which he initially stashed in his dorm room. Another item being eyed for the artifacts collection awaits a permanent display venue: a burned out car found near the campus. Says Graham: “This is a remarkable period in Egypt’s history. This is also a part of my history. The project gives us a chance to share that history with others, to tell our collective story for generations to come.”