American University in Cairo (AUC)

views updated Jun 11 2018


A small, international university founded in 1919 by U.S. educators.

The American University in Cairo (AUC) opened in 1920 under its founder and president Charles R. Watson, the Egyptian-born son of missionary parents from the United States. Although he had worked for the United Presbyterians' Board of Foreign Missions, Watson insisted that the university be independent of that organization; he wanted a Christian but nondenominational school.

The university opened modestly with a preparatory section (which closed in the early 1950s). Characteristic of colleges throughout the United States but then new to Egypt, there were also four other programs: an undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences; a noncredit Extension (now Public Service) Division; a Department of Education; and a School of Oriental Studies to serve missionaries, businessmen, diplomats, and other Westerners. AUC also featured physical education, coeducation, an open-stack library, a journalism major, and extracurricular clubs.

After twenty-five years, Watson was succeeded by John Badeau (19451953), who brought AUC into the postcolonial era. Arabic-speaking and affable, he cultivated Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser and other influential Egyptians. As U.S. ambassador to Egypt (19611964), he kept a friendly eye on the university.

The students were drawn mainly from economic and cultural elites, including many foreigners and minoritiesJews, Greeks, and Armenians were numerous until their communities emigrated en masse during Nasser's regime. Egypt's Coptic Christians were part of the student mix, as were women. Muslims were few, especially during the 1930s, when it was charged that AUC was proselytizing them for Christianity. AUC dropped hymns and prayers from its assemblies, but it was not until the 1960s, when AUC began closing on the Muslim holy day, Friday, and hired some full-time Muslim academics, that Muslim students enrolled in great numbers. Today they outnumber Christians.

Tiny in comparision with other Egyptian universities, AUC has sought distinctive offerings for both its Egyptian and foreign students. In 1961 to 1962, when Cairo University had almost 30,000 students, AUC had only 360 enrolled; in 2002 AUC had about 5,000 students enrolled and a teaching staff of 396. Since 1950 graduate programs have been added, as well as the Social Research Center, English Language Institute, Center for Arabic Studies, Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA), university press, Management Extension Services, and Desert Development Center. In the late 1950s the Ford Foundation and the U.S. government provided major funding to replace funding once provided by private U.S. donors with missionary ideals. In the 1980s a Saudi business alumnus was the largest private donor.

When the United States replaced Britain as the dominant foreign power in the Middle East, the highly visible AUC campus became the target of anti-American demonstrations. During the Arab-Israel War of 1967 the university was sequestered, but Nasser's personal interest (he had sent a daughter there) soon restored things to normal. Egypt's President Anwar Sadat (19701981) had pro-U.S. policies, which brought new opportunities to the university. Both President Husni Mubarak's wife Suzanne and his politically prominent son Gamal are AUC alumni.

In 2007 the university is scheduled to move its main campus from Tahrir Square in the heart of downtown Cairo to the planned community of New Cairo being developed on the desert plateau east of the city. Its full-time enrollment is then planned to reach 5,500.


American University in Cairo web site. Available from <>.

Murphy, Lawrence R. The American University in Cairo: 19191987. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1987.

Donald Malcolm Reid


views updated Jun 27 2018

Cairo (Al-Qahirah) Capital of Egypt and port on the River Nile. The largest city in Africa, Cairo was founded in ad 969 by the Fatimid dynasty and subsequently fortified by Saladin. Medieval Cairo became capital of the Mamluk empire, but declined under Turkish rule. During the 20th century it grew dramatically in population and area. Nearby are world-famous archaeological sites, the sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza; museums include the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and Museum of Islamic Art. Old Cairo is a world heritage site containing over 400 mosques and other fine examples of Islamic art and architecture. Its five universities include the world's oldest, housed in the mosque of Al Azhar (972) and the centre of Shi'ite Koranic study. Industries: tourism, textiles, leather, iron and steel, sugar refining. Pop. (2002 est.) 7,764,700. See also Egyptian architecture

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