Reflections on Egypt trip

Ramadan, Dalia and Ahmed talking to us about their hopes and dreams

I have been home for nearly a week now and my mind keeps going back to the final encounter we had with three incredibly bright and annimated Egyptian university students. Thanks to our great American-in-Egypt go-between, Cathryn Goddard, our last afternoon was spent back at the lovely lounge of the Talisman Hotel in downtown Cairo with Ahmed, Dalia and Ramadan. A fourth female student was unable to make it. All are students at the American University of Cairo and speak exceptionally good English.

Being at the American University also means that they come from wealthy families and live in fancy gated communities. Their tuition is over $20,000 US per year, an unimaginable fee for the vast majority of Egyptians. These students are very aware of their priviledge and  exhibited evidence of a strong social conscience and recognition of the need for radical social change in Egypt. Still, only Ahmed was optimistic that he would see much postive change in his lifetime. They know their own prospects are good, but those for their age-mates are not.

It was fun to compare notes on the two books we had discussed, but most of the conversation surrounded their lives, what they hope for themselves and their country, and in what ways social mores are changing. Women, for instance, make up the majority of students in many university faculties. Just like here. Class distinctions remain very strong, limited upward mobility and social engagement across class lines.

The big question they had for us was whether there has been any diminution of Islamaphobia in our countries. When most of us replied that fear of Islam was continuing to increase, the dismay on their faces was heart-breaking.

As the days passed in Jordan and Egypt, I became more and more accustomed to seeing the Islamic way of dress as being the norm and our western clothes and exposed hair as being the exception. I saw chidren and adults going about their daily business. Kids playing games; young people flirting; older couples talking and holding hands; business people rushing along with brief cases; farmers taking animals or produce to market.  Personally, I remain puzzled by Islam. Much to admire, but I wonder if “tolerance and respect for ‘the other’ is taught in schools and held up a principle value. I do hope so.

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