A dozen students taking David Tresilian’s CL1091 course, ‘Modern to Contemporary in the Arab World’, and Justin McGuiness’s CM2006 course, ‘Media Globalization: Middle Eastern Perspectives’ – offered within the University’s First Bridge Programme – spent a rewarding four days in Cairo from 11 to 15 November exploring the city, attending classes at the American University in Cairo, and making connections between their study in Paris and the reality of Cairo, the largest city in the Arab world and one of the most important.
Day one was spent attending classes at the American University in Cairo as part of a collaborative programme between AUC and AUP. Professor Amina al-Bendary took time out from her role as associate chair of the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilization at AUC to welcome the students to the University’s New Cairo campus, and professor Dina Heshmat of the Department of Arabic Literature hosted the AUP students and their professors for a discussion of modern Arabic drama and the challenges of performance in the contemporary Arab world.
AUC Associate Dean George Marquis generously hosted a welcome lunch that gave the AUP students the opportunity to meet students from AUC and to share perspectives and experiences. The day was rounded off by a visit to the AUC Library’s Special Collections of historical works on the Middle East kindly hosted by Librarian Mark Muehlhaeusler and further discussions with students.
Day Two saw a memorable early morning visit to the Pyramids, with the AUP students enjoying their close proximity to the only surviving Wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A walking tour of Historic Cairo, the Islamic City built under Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mameluke rule, took students to the Cairo described in the novels of Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, along Sharia Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah, through the Tentmakers Bazaar and to the magnificent Mameluke Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan in the shadow of the Cairo Citadel. A visit to the nearby Mosque of Ibn Tulun, one of the oldest and largest mosques in Cairo and the entire Islamic world, rounded off a rewarding day.
News of the horrific attacks in Paris that took place on the evening of 13 November reached the AUP students and their professors on the morning of their third day in Cairo. They cast a terrible pall over activities on the third day of the visit, but students were still able to enjoy visits to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, home of the collections found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, and to the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo, an area housing the oldest Christian church in Egypt and the place where the Holy Family is believed to have sheltered in its flight from King Herod into Egypt. Old Cairo is where the Arab conqueror of Egypt, Amr Ibn al-Aas, halted his troops in 641 CE, founding the Arab garrison city of Fustat from which the city of Cairo grew.
Overall, the study trip was a marvelous opportunity for students to connect their reading with the reality of the Arab world. Arriving in Cairo in the middle of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, the first since the Revolution in 2013, allowed students to experience the city during the election campaign and to see Egyptian democracy in action. Professors David Tresilian and Justin McGuinness were particularly grateful to their opposite numbers at AUC for welcoming the AUP students and for arranging for them to meet and talk with Egyptian and Arab students. This trip was truly an example of inter-cultural dialogue in action and a source of memories and reflections for all.