Moving back Downtown

A few years back, I studied at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA), an excellent, intensive Arabic language program funded by the US Department of Education and housed at American University in Cairo (AUC). When I attended, the program was getting ready to move--alongside all of AUC--to the new campus in the eastern suburb of New Cairo. 

But, as I report, the students were so miserable out at the new campus that CASA has moved back Downtown. 

...Says the center's director, Martha Schulte-Nafeh, "From Day 1 the CASA students said: We don't want to be here."

Students complained of the long commutes to and from the campus, which averaged two to three hours a day, round-trip. And they were unhappy that they were socially and geographically isolated on a largely English-speaking campus with a student body who came mainly from the upper classes of Egypt.

The new campus is "surrounded by malls and suburban developments," says Anna Ziajka, who is studying at the center this year. At the international food chains that have outlets on campus, "Even the waiters speak English."

I've written about AUC's new campus before. While I think it may satisfy the needs of the university's undergraduates, and it clearly has many advantages, I'm still shocked by how cavalierly the university seems to have made its decision to cut most ties with central Cairo. There doesn't seem to have been any serious discussion of the draw-backs of the move, or serious thought given to ways to keep certain components of AUC Downtown (I know, there is still the historic building in Tahrir Square, which houses the bookstore and continuing education programs. But that's it). It seems obvious that foreign exchange and Arabic language programs, for example, might be better situated in the heart of the city than in near-deserted suburbs. And I know the CASA program isn't alone in wanting to return Downtown--I hear several schools and departments have been unhappy with the move. 


Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.