Cairo University

Aya Nassar

Cairo University was founded in 1908 and is regarded as the first modern university in Egypt. It is the second oldest after Al Azhar University. The faculty of Economics and Political Science was founded in the early 1960s. Cairo University was first called The Egyptian University and then King Fuad I University, until it was renamed again into Cairo University following the abolishment of the monarchy.

The university’s main campus lies in the heart of Giza and is the centre of a vibrant transportation network. In its founding days, it was considered outside the city centre; the campus was built on rural land and still is close to the zoological garden and Al-Orman botanical garden. Both the zoological and botanical gardens are perfect examples of modern western-style nineteenth century green spaces in Cairo that were modelled and landscaped by European planners. The campus itself was designed by European architects and still exhibits the formal grandeur and impression (Reid 2002).

The university’s iconic dome presides over the administrative building; the clock dominates the skyline upon crossing the River Nile. Some faculties and other University buildings have been erected later outside the main campus. The guesthouse and the faculty of Economics and Political Science are located on the main campus.

The workshop started with the academic year, so the participants rubbed shoulders with thousands of students flocking the campus for their first weeks of classes. Being accommodated on campus meant that the participants had to adapt to the rules and regulations that all students have to abide by on campus.

  • Rem Saad gave a lecture on ethnographic methods and shared ideas and tricks as to how to get in contact with people in the research field Al Darb Al Ahmar. She spoke about ethnography as a product and process of description, arguing that a researcher needs time in the field, so that people can get used to him/her. For the researcher him/herself, it is equally important to take their time during field work so that different stories and perspectives can be collected.
    “Sometimes,” she said, “you are more observed than you observe.” And she added: “Don’t throw away any information you get.”

  • Diane Singerman in her talk described a phenomenon one can come across in Cairo, known as ‘waithood’. The term is closely associated with the five sectors of education, employment, housing, credit and marriage. Parents save money as soon as they have a son, so that he can once buy or build a home and thus make a marriage possible. “Cairo is full of empty apartments because people buy them for their children to pass on to them when they get married.” She relates this example to the United States where parents save for their children’s education and to send them to college.
    The term ‘waithood’ obviously refers to the fact that the apartments are mostly empty until the children grow up and get married, which is why a high percentage of houses are vacant in Cairo. The cost for weddings is estimated to amount to 3.87 trillion Dollars per year.

»People are very thirsty to be proud in those areas. We are not giving enough respect to the handicrafts and this is one reason why they are leaving the crafts. […] They become security guards or work in dish-fix-up-shops and they are skilled craftsmen who should be paid ten times more, so that we don’t lose our crafts. But they are not respected in society, they are not recognised as watchmakers in Switzerland, for example. You have industries, traditional crafts that are respected and even if they don’t make that much money, at least they live a decent life, they have a status in society, respect.« – Dina Shehayeb

Dina Shehayeb during her lecture