Many visitors to Egypt might be surprised to learn that one of Egypt’s leading educational institutions – and the top-ranked institution of higher learning in the country – is actually an American university, or rather The American University in Cairo. AUC, as it is known, was founded in 1919 by the Presbyterian Church’s mission to Egypt, but the school quickly became a leading center for American style liberal style education in the region. Today AUC boasts more than 6,800 students, over 400 full-time and 350 part-time faculty, and two campuses.
The old campus of AUC is located in the heart of Cairo and adjacent to the city’s famous center of political expression – Tahrir Square. The Tahrir campus was built within and around the Khairy Pasha Palace and now spans that original property plus several additional city blocks. Run of to the campus is usually restricted to students, faculty, staff, and those with official business at the university, but most of the interesting architecture can be viewed from outside of the campus’s high walls and fences. A small but newly renovated retail bookstore for AUC Press is located on the campus and is usually accessible to non-university visitors. However, opening days and hours have varied greatly in recent years because of the frequent volatility in the vicinity of the campus and Tahrir Square.
The new campus of AUC is located about 45 minutes east of downtown Cairo and the old campus, out in a more modern suburban development known as New Cairo. This sprawling new 260-acre campus opened in 2008 and features a well blended combination of traditional Arab and modern architectural and decorative designs and styles.
The modern new campus is very unlike any other place in Egypt, and more resembles a college campus in the United States with an Arab flair. In addition to classroom buildings, sports stadiums, a gymnasium, a library, and more, the campus also includes several new residence halls for students, although most Egyptian students choose to live at home and commute to classes.
AUC has been a popular study abroad destination for American, European, and Asian university students for decades. Most of these year abroad students elect to live on campus, either in one of the modern dorms on the new campus out in New Cairo or in the old international student residence on the island of Zamalek in the middle of the Nile River in downtown Cairo. For these students, AUC offers a wide variety of Arabic language courses as well as an array of regular undergraduate and graduate classes focused on Middle Eastern topics and themes. The school is accredited both in Egypt and in the United States, so classes transfer more easily back into U.S. degree programs than may be the case with other foreign institutions.
As a visitor to Egypt, AUC is at least worth a pass-by and a few photos of or in front of the iconic facade of the old campus’s original building overlooking Tahrir Square. And if you find yourself out in New Cairo and can talk your way onto the property for a short visit, the new campus is quite a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Egypt.