Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

The hidden costs of Egypt’s chaos

Lost cultural and educational exchange is one of the consequences of sustained political turmoil in Egypt’s case, writes Tara Sonenshine

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s political pangs cause pain inside the country and around the world. What Egyptians need to remember, amidst all the chaos, is the need to keep their windows onto the world open. One of the hidden costs of Egyptian unrest — an opportunity cost rarely mentioned — is the potential loss of interaction with Americans and international students. Egypt’s public diplomacy bridges are critical in an age of globalisation.

For the past few years the number of American students coming to study in Egypt has fallen (as have the number of tourists visiting the pyramids and monumental historic sites).

Ironically, Egypt is swimming against the tide in a Middle East and North Africa region hosting more and more international students. According to the Institute of International Education’s 2012 Open Doors report, a number of countries in the Middle East have significantly expanded internationalisation efforts in recent years, and the mobility of young people is in both directions: inbound and outbound. I recently visited Education City in Doha, which boasts multiple US campuses housing Arab students. Similarly, Saudi Arabia has increased its international student outreach with more scholarships and programmes funded by the Saudi government.

As a destination for American students, Egypt has been losing ground for almost three years. Between 2009/10 and 2010/11 the numbers of US study abroad students going to Egypt fell 43 per cent from just under 2,000 to barely over 1,000. Meanwhile, the US has been working to facilitate more scholarships for Egyptian students to come to America, but political and economic instability has stalled progress in both directions.

The recent death of Andrew Pochter, a student killed in Alexandria during protests, may add to the chilling effect on student exchanges for American young people considering a year or a semester in Egypt. Pochter, like so many of his peers, was fascinated with the Arabic language and culture and wanted to experience it first hand. That passion cost him his life.

Study abroad is a key pillar of building civil societies. People-to-people exchanges open windows onto the world for nations and citizens everywhere. Many great leaders and scholars point to their study abroad experiences as pivotal and life changing. Some 52 Nobel Prize winners in the world participated in State Department funded exchange programmes at some point in their lives. By linking Americans together with people from across the world, lasting partnerships develop — partnerships that bridge political and cultural divides. Moreover, student exchanges generate valuable sources of income for both sides of the exchange. Last year international students contributed over $20 billion to the US economy.

There are many reasons for Egypt to pull itself out of this mess, including the fate of its democracy and peaceful transition. The world will be watching as this cradle of civilisation creates an environment that will, hopefully, be a positive, enabling environment, safe and secure, and ready to welcome and beckon young people.


The writer is the former US undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, an office that oversees educational and culture exchanges.

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