Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A short story of academic oppression in Egypt

The real scandal at Cairo University is not the lesbian scene in a reading list text, but the cynical propaganda launched against it

Amira Nowaira, Wednesday 29 June 2011

"Academic freedom comes once again under attack in Egypt. An article published in the state-owned al-Akhbar newspaper under the provocative title "Teaching homosexuality at Cairo University" launched a frenzied attack on the university's English department for including a short story containing a lesbian scene on its curriculum.

This is by no means the first time that literature departments have come under fire from self-appointed guardians of public morality.....

The elected dean is not only a professor in the English department but also a woman. If her appointment becomes ratified, she will be the first female dean of the faculty of arts at Cairo University. One wonders if a fabricated moral scandal is not being used to discredit a department that has a majority of women on its staff, including the head of department as well as the teacher of said course.

The president of Cairo University has not ratified the election results yet and it is still unclear whether he will. Many university professors are vowing to take action if their call for democratic elections of university leadership is ignored.

Since the publication of the Akhbar article, English students and graduates have been increasingly vocal in rejecting any interference in academic curricula. They have created several Facebook groups that denounce any form of academic censorship at Cairo University.

"To fight for what we believe in, to take charge of our destiny and to make a difference, these are a few of the many lessons we have learned in the English department," wrote a student on one of these forums. "With our increasing numbers we have proven that we are willing to stand up and fight the good fight against ignorance and intolerance."

A radical Islamist cleric has recently called for the abolition of foreign literature departments because, according to him, they produce human beings who are culturally and intellectually deformed. But if the ability to think and argue and form independent opinions is a mark of intellectual deformity, then let us all hail such deformity.

To this cleric as well as to all the others who wrongly believe that they can close all the windows and shut all the doors, I can only say that they cannot take away our keys. They will have to understand that academic freedom is non-negotiable."

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