With over 1,000 people arrested, 3,000 people injured and at least 300 deaths, the Egyptian revolution finally achieved what it set out to do, with Hosni Mubarak stepping down as president after eighteen days of anti-government protests.
The transition to democracy now begins. In addition to political changes, the country has also been affected economically, socially, and culturally, which begs the question: what effect will the revolution have on the American University in Cairo in the long term?
To begin with, the majority of the international students who were supposed to start this spring semester have returned to their original countries. Does this mean that people are afraid to come to Egypt and attend AUC? President Lisa Anderson, a self-proclaimed optimist, says that this is not the case:
“This is going to be a huge boost for Egypt in the world, in the sense that one of the things that happened was they exhibited to the rest of the world the kind of inventiveness and creativity among Egyptians.”
She continued by affirming her belief that what is good news for Egypt will also be good news for AUC: “Over the last several decades, at least, was that Egyptians themselves had lost their self-confidence, and it came back almost overnight, and in that sense people will be out and about, much more willing to be proud and show off etc.”
“This should have a huge impact on the visibility of the country from the point of view of study-abroads, from the point of view of recruiting faculty, all kinds of things we do as an institution. The curtain has been pushed aside, and everyone can see us.”
Ahmed-Adham El Shazly, a mechanical engineering junior, supports that view, stating his belief that the revolution is already affecting AUC students:
“Throughout this revolution, I saw all of us as Egyptians change our attitude to one another. It was excellent, I finally felt proud and happy to communicate with others of my kind. This hasn’t always been the way we treat each other (at AUC), but since the beginning of this semester things have changed; and I hope to see it remain like this.”
President Anderson explained what happened with the people who applied for faculty positions beforehand: “We sent a note to the applicants for faculty positions, saying we’re suspended for a couple of weeks, and then we got all of these letters saying ‘I am still interested, I am even more interested than I was before.’ So I think that general sense of ‘boy this is an exciting place being in a university which is embedded with young people.’ Where else would you want to be?”
Despite her positive outlook, Anderson admitted that AUC will be negatively affected because of the number of international students that didn’t come in the end, “In the very short run, we’re going to have budget difficulties, because we’re going to have more expenses and less revenue.”
One of these expenses will be the repairs that will have to take place at the Tahrir Campus, which was badly damaged during the protests.
In addition to this, commodity prices are predicted to rise in Egypt in the near future, making life more expensive than it already is for people. Anderson stressed the need for balance between fair tuition fees for families and receiving enough revenue from students.
“We rely on tuition to support the university,” she said.
The other financial hurdle concerns inflation and the decreasing value of the pound. Anderson pointed to the history of AUC, and expressed faith that these problems will be overcome, just like all other problems the university has faced in the past.
The remarkable history of AUC is also a factor the president clearly feels will prove beneficial during these transitional moments in Egypt: “Because of our historic linkages, we are now very well positioned to strengthen our ties with other universities and with other communities of research.”
The sustainability of AUC is also in question; how much more can the university develop? The campus is one area that might need development, which Anderson acknowledges:
“In theory, this campus can hold a lot more students, but we’ll have to do more building. The property we own around campus is not completely built out, like for example the area behind the library.”
With Egypt on its way to democracy, it is inevitable that AUC will be impacted, especially concerning a reduced level of self-censorship:
“That’s another reason why the revolution will turn out valuable,” Anderson added, “because all of the sudden there’s going to be this creativity. A lot of the arts people under the old regime just felt it was the ‘dead hand of the past,’ (that) they weren’t permitted to do things.”
She continued by expressing her approval of a democratic Egypt, which she clearly feels will benefit AUC: “Any good university is better if it’s in an environment where there’s free expression, because then people debate things. If you’re in a context where people are afraid to say things or when there are limits on what the university can do, it’s just not good for education.”
She also agrees that AUC students will now find it easier to find jobs after graduating, “Coming along with a democratic government is a much more relaxed and fostering environment for business.”
Tareq Selim, a in political science junior, concurs with that notion:
“AUCians don’t only represent the upper classes of Egypt; they represent a very distinct and privileged class who live very luxurious lifestyles filled with excess. With the onset of democracy in Egypt, that should change. It will no longer be the exclusive club where the offspring’s of the political and business elite were sent to be groomed to replace their fathers. I expect it will become more open to a range of Egyptians from all socioeconomic classes. Hopefully equality will become more widespread as a result of the revolution, and it won’t only be the Egyptian upper classes gaining the benefits of education at AUC.”
Overall, comparing the advantages and disadvantages the revolution will have on AUC is, in the Presidents words, “trivial.” She believes that the university has a great future, “We will finally be visible to the rest of the world as an exciting place in an exciting country.”