Students and University in 20th Century Egyptian Politics

Students and University in 20th Century Egyptian Politics

Students and University in 20th Century Egyptian Politics

Students and University in 20th Century Egyptian Politics

Excerpt

The study of Students and University in 20th Century Egyptian Politics actually started twenty years ago. I was at the time an MA student of the late Gabriel Baer, and he assigned me that very title as the topic for a research paper. A year later, after examining the literature and primary sources then available in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I gave an oral presentation in class. The contents were rather gloomy. I described how the occupation experience was central in shaping the attitudes and political behaviour of an entirely new sector-the students-that had been created by the modernization process. This new generation, born into the humiliating reality of British rule, had been pushed by its frustrations into the politics of demonstration and violence. Egyptian student politics of the pre-revolutionary era were highly volatile, and equally prominent. The 1919 Revolution, the 1935-6 riots, inherent student restiveness and violence between 1945 and 1952, were all key background factors in the rise and fall of Egyptian parliamentarianism. I analysed these youthful politics in terms of the students as objects of a coercive, fundamentalist, multi-dimensional revolution. For the students-both as individuals and as a sector-were a product of the country's attempts to cope with the challenge of Westernization.

So was Egypt's new, secular, modern university. An institution and a concept essentially Western, it was borrowed by the country's modern nationalists and transplanted into the fabric of a society not quite ready to absorb it. Indeed, the modern university, by its very nature, was supposed to break existing social balances, transform ideas and revolutionize people and frameworks in a spirit of confrontation. I described the establishment, the shaping and the subsequent reshaping of Egypt's university. Far from being established by professionals and educators, the institution was the unfortunate product of politicians who were themselves, understandably, obsessed with fighting the occupation and torn by relentless rivalries. My analysis of the pre-revolutionary period, of the university's structure and orientation, and of the students' role in politics, emphasized the distortions created by foreign occupation

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