Middle East Studies is a curious field. Unlike more sharply defined traditional social sciences, it may appear to be an arbitrary collection of disciplinary approaches studying an arbitrary collection of countries. It often finds itself in cross currents that mirror the politics—and passions—of the region it examines. The Middle East Studies Center at the American University in Cairo recently hosted a panel of specialists to engage in some self-reflection that seemed particularly apt in the midst of the Arab Spring: “Why Middle East Studies? A Discussion of the State of the Field.”
Policy and People at Egypt’s Global University
Is the Middle East entering a new Cold War? That was a question posed at a recent conference at the AUC by Fulya Atacan, a professor of political science at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul.
While the consequences of Asia’s rise have been exhaustively analyzed in the global context, relatively few have questioned the effect of a rising East on the rapid transformation of the countries of the Middle East.
Cairo was dark when U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder stepped off the plane in Egypt. Very dark. It was the beginning of the 1973 Middle East war, Israeli forces had reached Kilometer 101, and the capital was under a blackout.
Dispense with the notion that archives are endless rows of cabinets where bespectacled historians pour over dusty, yellowed records.
Two hours beforehand, a crowd was already pressing the gate outside Ewart Hall on the Tahrir Square campus of the American University in Cairo. When American linguist and author Noam Chomsky arrived on stage, the packed audience of twelve hundred rose in a thunderous standing ovation.
The wake from a larger vessel rocked the felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat, heaving it against the pontoon it was docked beside. As water entered the hull, the two Americans aboard pictured their mission of personal diplomacy sinking along with their second-hand boat.
I had the good fortune to work with a man of great skill and quality of character who was an exemplary diplomat: Medhat Haroun, American University in Cairo’s provost, who passed away on October 18.
Ayman Mohammed Abdel Sabour is a lawyer from Alexandria and a member of the I Am Egyptian Association for Development and Human Rights. It is a warm spring evening, and we are both official observers for the 2012 Egyptian presidential election. He and I are in the Nile Delta city of Damanhour, standing in the city’s cultural center where votes from polling stations in two of the Behera governorate’s fifteen districts are being aggregated. There are a few journalists here as well, watching a team of senior judges tally the figures under military protection.
Where are you, men of honor? Tunisian human rights activist Radhia Nasraouiproudly recalls a woman shouting these words in front of the government hall in Sidi Bouzid, the first flashpoint of protests that eventually brought down Tunisian ruler Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Of all the countries in the Arab world, Egypt may be the most vulnerable to global warming. The rising sea level predicted by climate change models threatens to flood large swaths of the Nile Delta, Egypt’s breadbasket, undermining Egypt’s food security and threatening the livelihoods of millions of agricultural workers. Key population centers are also at risk, most notably the city of Alexandria.
With two billion Internet users and another two billion mobile phone users worldwide, information and ideas flow across borders as never before. Needless to say, this is prompting greater debate over freedom of expression.
One often thinks of science in terms of its economic benefits. It is also important to look at how science and particularly technology has affected concepts like the balance of power.
What is a revolutionary foreign policy? Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr provided a broad sketch during a talk in March at the American University in Cairo. With a battery of foreign ambassadors listening attentively from the front rows, Amr spoke reassuringly of continuity. Egypt’s foreign policy, he noted, has seen no dramatic changes since former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in the January 25, 2011, revolution.
Little over a year ago, no political analyst I know would have argued that the leaders of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen would be deposed in the immediate future. This set of leaders, cumulatively, had been in office for more than 100 years. Nor would anyone have projected that there would be uprisings in Bahrain and Syria. Clearly, 2011 was the Year of Revolution in the Arab World.
Mohamed Messara seems enveloped by calm, which is surprising given his occupation. The year 2011 was a very dangerous one for photojournalists. Revolutions present opportunities for dramatic pictures, but the risks for conflict photographers like Messara are immense. Five journalists died in the uprising in Libya, and twenty have been killed elsewhere covering the Arab Spring.
Happenings, speakers and events at the American University in Cairo in Winter 2012.
Carlos Latuff has penned some of the most acerbic political cartoons of the Egyptian revolution. One of them shows a shoe hurtling toward Hosni Mubarak, such use of footwear being one of the gravest personal insults in Arab culture. Another iconic image portrays Egypt’s longtime ruler as a diminutive figure, dangled from his collar by Khalid Said, the young Egyptian whose death in police custody fueled the January 25 uprising. Latuff’s cartoons are ubiquitous in Egypt, adorning everything from blog sites and Tahrir Square t-shirts to the front pages of Cairo dailies. Yet, the cartoonist is not an Egyptian, but slings his ink-tipped arrows from a studio in far away Brazil, his native country.
Eugene Rogan is an American, but when he arrived in Cairo recently, to present a talk at the Cairo Opera House and appear on a panel at the American University in Cairo, he was in some way coming home. The son of a military contractor, he spent much of his childhood in the Middle East–initially in Lebanon, where he witnessed the reverberations of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War; and later in Egypt, at the time of the bread riots and Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Israel. Rogan, a lecturer at Oxford University, returned to Egypt for the launch of the Arabic translation of his acclaimed book, The Arabs: A History.
Happenings, speakers and events at the American University in Cairo from Fall 2011.