Here’s a link to my post on the Foreign Policy Egypt Blog about Al-Masri Al-Youm insinuating that AUC is spying for the DOD.
There is a lot of talk about biases, allegiances, expressing opinions, etc. in the academic world, especially in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Many on the pro-Israel side accuse Middle East studies professors, associations, and students in American and other academic circles as being one-sided, too pro-Palestinian, or anti-Israel. There is a lot of truth to these accusations. However, the issue is not black and white and there are differences between being pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, less supportive of Israel than your neighbor, anti-Semitic, left-wing, etc. It is not useful to paint everyone with the same brush, nor is it useful to attack people solely because their opinions are different than your own. There are lines, and when these lines are crossed, people should be held accountable. However, for example, people need to understand that just because someone does not support Israel to the same extent as they do, that does not necessarily make that person anti-Israel.
On that note, and the real reason I began writing this post, is because I wanted to share something that happened in the classroom today. I hope to write more on this later, but of course Obama talk is very prevalent at AUC and around Cairo these days, and my professor was asking us if we were happy that Obama was elected. Of course the class was unanimously thrilled. However, one student, who is a very nice woman though she and I disagree on a lot of things, decided to add “yes, but he offered Rahm Emanuel the job of chief of staff, and he is a little too Zionist, so that is not good.”
Now, now. We are all entitled to our opinions. However, I was upset by this comment. First of all, I found it ironic that this same woman who was literally jumping up and down with excitement the day of the election in anticipation of Obama’s win, who did not come to school the day after because she stayed up all night watching the results, who told me that anyone who would vote for McCain is “retarded,” is already criticizing Obama’s decision making skills. I thought he was supposed to be perfect? I support Obama, but I was never under the illusion (or delusion) that he is perfect or that once he was elected, all of America’s problems were going to just disappear into thin air.
More importantly, the discussion of Rahm Emanuel’s politics, history regarding Israel, his father, etc, and being upset about these things I have no problem with. However, to me, the comment made in class served no purpose and was out of context of the discussion, unnecessary, and inciting. Personally, I try not make comments that I think could be inciting or might offend other people even if such a sentiment might be warranted based on my opinion. Especially in a classroom, especially when we are not really talking about politics, and especially when I know there are other people around who might disagree with it and/or find it offensive.
Not to mention the fact the Emanuel is the fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and by that logic is qualified for the job. Israel is not the only issue he will be dealing with and hence should not be qualified or disqualified for the job solely based on that criteria.
Anyway, these are the types of comments I hear often in Middle East studies academic circles.
This is a pretty good example of what I have to hear all day long at the AUC campus. It’s obviously an exaggeration, but the mixing of English and Arabic is especially on point. Don’t waste your time watching the whole thing unless you understand some amiyya.
Thanks to The Daily News Egypt for also publishing my piece:
One of the reasons I haven’t been posting enough is that I have been working on this (the other reason being I have a ton of schoolwork, which I know is not a good excuse). Thanks to Tim and Abu Shanab for helping me with the piece, and especially to the editor of the Middle East Times, Claude Salhani, for publishing it.
I realize that some of my posts may paint a negative picture of Egypt and Egyptians. Nothing that I write is exaggerated and I try to be as true to my experiences as I can be. I think negative experiences, unfortunately, often have a stronger impact than positive ones, which may be why I write more often about bad things that happen.
Of course, there are lots of wonderful things about Egypt and Egyptians, and the Middle East and everything that relates to it as a whole, and I will make more of an effort to post these positive experiences to paint a fuller picture.
Students in my program get a monthly stipend, and the end of last month also happened to be Eid, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Because of this, the University was closed for about a week, and the director of my program mentioned to her friend that she was concerned because students would not be able to pick up their stipends and would be left without money at the end of the month to pay rent, etc. So her friend went to the bank and withdrew 1000 Egyptian pounds for each student. That is 30,000 Egyptian pounds, almost 5,500 US dollars, that a random Egyptian loaned to a bunch of American students trying to learn Arabic in Cairo. Pretty amazing, I think.
I do like Cairo, but after being in Turkey for two weeks; one week in the Southern Aegean on the beach, and the second week in Istanbul, which is now one of my favorite cities, some of the things I got used to about living in Cairo have become more noticeable post-vacation. For example, the traffic. One could write a thesis paper on the traffic in Cairo, but lately, I have been slightly annoyed by a couple of things. First, people driving incredibly fast down side streets, such as the one on which I live, and on which children are playing soccer, old people are sitting and selling corn and mint, and on which I am walking. Second, and this is not anything new, is the beeping of horns. Every Egyptian beeps his or her horn every time they get in their vehicle, all the time, without exception. A beep of an Egyptian horn may signify a number of things:
1. “Hello! How are you?”
2. “Move!” (to a pedestrian)
3. “Move!” (to another vehicle)
4. “Look out! I am next to you!”
5. For celebrations (often weddings, the beeping which goes: “daaah daaah dah dah dah!”)
5. “I am coming through an intersection but will not slow down” (so I am going to beep my horn instead)
6. “Do you need a taxi?” (especially if you look like you are a Westerner)
7. “That woman over there pleases me”
I am sure many of you have read this article about the noise in Cairo from the New York Times, and I cannot stress enough how true this is.
The beeping is really quite loud.
On another topic, we trekked down to the new AUC campus today, which was not too much of a trek actually, because the bus, which was comfortable and air conditioned, picked us up not too far from our apartment and it only took an hour each way. I was happy to say that the experience was much better than I thought it would be and I am more optimistic now about the move and the new campus in general. The campus is quite beautiful, modern with an Egyptian touch, though it still does not look to me like it will be ready by next week, but hey, I am not a professional contractor. The CASA offices, for example, are half plastered, and have construction materials all over the floors. The library looks like a comfortable place to study.
So far, there is a Jared’s Bagels, a Cilantro, and a Cinnabon on campus. There will be some other restaurants, including a McDonald’s. I am not sure I will get the same Egyptian experience at the new campus that I was getting eating at the 1 Egyptian pound a sandwich hole in the wall ful (baked beans) and taamiya (falafel) place near the old campus in downtown Cairo. Also, the campus also has a very “campusy” feel, which is weird for me not having been in school for a couple of years. The undergrads are young (not that I am that old, but there is a big difference between myself and 18 year olds) and we talked to some graduate students today, who also happened to be very young.
We are thinking of staying at school until late during the weeknights to maximize our studying time. If we go to school, then take a 1 hour bus home, then try to eat, work out, and then study, we won’t get anything done because it will be 9 o’clock before we ever get started. I think if we can schedule ourselves well we will be able to make good use of the new facilities, if they ever actually open. However, a 2 hour commute, class, and studying is a long and tiring day, so we’ll see.
I have just been informed that my classes (by the way I am a “fellow” at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad at the American University in Cairo (AUC)) will be starting a week late because the new campus in the middle of the desert which the university has decided to move to is not “ready.” This is very disappointing because I am only here for 12 months and of course want to maximize my benefit from the program. I have been on vacation and am ready to start classes again and get back into a proper schedule. We had heard rumors that they had to overhaul the electrical system at the new campus because mice had chewed through the electrical lines, that the gym, library and other essential facilities will not be open until January of next year, and of course the busing system from areas of downtown Cairo to the new campus may turn out to be a mess. I am sorry to say that this whole thing may, at least in part, be telling of Egyptian planning and efficiency; even our professors have expressed their frustration. I do not want to judge unfairly, but if you look at this in the Egyptian context as a whole, it is unfortunately not surprising.