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  • Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt
  • Mona L. Russell (bio)
Donald Malcolm Reid , Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt, Cambridge Middle East Library, 23 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Pp. xviii + 296. $30.

There is no doubt that the topics of education and modernity are intricately connected. Education is a critical link in the building, maintenance, and support of a hegemonic ruling elite, regardless of its political or religious orientation. Donald Malcolm Reid's Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt exemplifies these relationships by studying four themes implicit in the university's development: (1) Western imperialism (and competing imperialisms) versus various nationalisms (2) "university autonomy versus state control" (3) "elitism versus egalitarianism" (4) secularism versus religiosity (p. 3).

Reid demonstrates that the social, political, and cultural history of Egypt in the twentieth century can be examined through the lens of higher education. He traces the history of Cairo University from a collection of higher institutes and the dreams of early twentieth century nationalists to a reality that evolved with changing times. The book is divided into four parts: The Private University, 1908-1919; The University and the Liberal Ideal, 1919-1950; In Nasser's Shadow, 1950-1967; and The University Since Nasser. Reid utilizes an impressive array of sources including the Cairo University archives, Britain's Foreign Office records, Egyptian and Western studies on the relationships between the university and society, autobiographies/memoirs, interviews, and novels. The author makes ample use of tables, charts, and illustrations to facilitate the reader's understanding of how the university operates.

The first two parts of Reid's work are clearly the strongest, and not surprisingly these are the chapters most firmly rooted in primary source research. The first section briefly examines the history of higher education in Egypt, key figures in the battle for and against the institution, how it operated in its early years, and who attended it. We learn that the university, rather than being the brainchild of a single individual, bore the marks and concerns of a group of men including Jurji Zaydan, Mustafa Kamil, Muhammad Abduh, and Saad Zaghlul, as well as Prince (later King) Fuad, Lord Cromer, Douglas Dunlop, and Eldon Gorst.

Reid points out that the timing of the opening of the Egyptian University (as it was then called) was significant in that it happened in the wake of the Dinshawai incident and Cromer's departure from Egypt. From its earliest beginnings the new institution was pulled in various directions, from Europeans who sought to dominate the faculty and curriculum, to nationalists who founded a secular school, yet one which would not tolerate the teaching of Islamic history by a non-Muslim.

In the final chapter of the first section Reid addresses issues related to the nuts and bolts operation of the new school. While the author acknowledges that fees at the school were initially "modest" at £E1.20/year and characterizes a tuition increase to £E6/year as steep, he does not situate these figures either in the buying power of the era or with respect to other institutions of higher learning during the same time period. In this chapter Reid paints a picture of the student body, which included a surprising number of westerners (twenty percent), as well as women, some of whom attended classes alongside men and others who participated in the short-lived women's section (1909-1912) (pp. 51-56). Reid's discussion of the latter is clearly evident of the tremendous growth in women's history in the time since his book was published in 1990. Although Reid worked with a number of western sources and archival records, he failed to examine the topic from the perspective of Egyptian scholars such as Zeinab Farid, Ijlal Khalifa, and Latifa Salim, who published in the 1970s and 1980s.

In part two, Reid examines the educational battles that took place as Egypt struggled to attain and define its independence. Egyptian academics sought a niche in a profession dominated by feuding Europeans. King Fuad, the former rector of the university, added a wild card element by utilizing the university as an instrument against the British by promoting...


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