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Fulbright Trip to Alexandria

 

 

October 23-24

 

Alexandria Trip—Fulbright

 

Fulbright sponsored a trip to Alexandria this weekend. We took a bus from the Fulbright office in Dokki to Alexandria. I did some reading for lectures, and talked with Zohair and Scott about teaching social science in Egyptian universities.

 

We stayed at the Sofitel Hotel in Saad Zagloul Square on the Cornish. Very nice hotel—one of the architectural splendors of Alex in bygone days when the city was cosmopolitan and diverse. Now it is a hotbed of Muslim Brotherhood recruitment.

 

We did some interesting sightseeing. We got to Alex about noon and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. We then went to the Sofitel to check in. I roomed with Samr Ali from the University of Texas. Then we had a short talk in a conference room of the hotel by Nadia Fanous, a Coptic tour guide who talked about the glory days of Alex before the 1952 revolution. At that time, Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city of ½ million people, and now has exploded into an 8 million person metropolis that cannot accommodate all of its growth.

 

We then took a walking tour of Alexandria. We went first to the Jewish Synagogue, and were greeting by police first, and then the leader of the Jewish community in Alex (he was not a rabbi). He said he is one of only 22 Jews left in Alexandria. He said that when they have big festivals and holy days, they have to fly a rabbi in from Europe to conduct the services (they also sometimes have to bring in other male Jews from surrounding areas and Cairo to constitute a minion). He claimed that it was not religious prejudice that drove Jews out of Egypt in the 1950s, but the fact that Nasser nationalized all industry in his Arab-socialism push, and many of the factory owners were Jews, so they had little choice but to flee Egypt and head for Europe (this seems to be a common story—it is not prejudice or mistrust, but other factors that create tension between Copts and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, Nubians and Arabs, etc. One almost gets the sense that the majority of the population has bought into the propaganda of the Mubarak regime that we are all Egyptians and there is perfect unity). The synagogue was huge, and I asked the man what will happen when the 22 Jews of Alexandria die. He said with resignation that this place will become a museum. Because so many other Synogogues in Alex had closed, this one had a collection of 15-20 Torahs and other Jewish stuff that will some day be part of the museum collection (run by the national government, of course).

We then went to St. Mark’s church. This is the cathedral for Pope Shenouda, the pontiff of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. His “ex cathedra” chair was sitting on the alter. This was not the original church of the 2nd century, but was built on the same stop as the original (or so legend dictates). We went into the basement where the supposed head of St. Mark himself is buried. It is a pilgrimage spot for Copts, and surrounding the small grotto which is glassed off, there were slips of paper for the prayers of the faithful. Beautiful icons were throughout the church as one would find in Greek Orthodox churches (a close cousin theologically).

 

We then walked to the Alexandria Cultural Center and Alexandrian Opera House (where the Cairo Opera performs). Beautiful structures, but several of us remarked that these cultural treasures were beyond the means of average Egyptians—this was the purview of the upper middle class and elite. We even saw a Japanese Pottery exhibit in the cultural center. After this we went to Santa Lucia Restaurant. I sat with Scott Hibbert, Scott a student Fulbrighter studying Arabic, and Kathy Cain and Noha. We had an interesting discussion about post-9/11. Noha was studying for her MBA at Georgia State University at the time, and had only a few uncomfortable experiences. She said that at the time, she did not wear the hijab, so that reduced some of the prejudice.

 

That night after walking back to the hotel, several of us went to the Montgomery Club in Sofitel to have drinks. It got loud and smoky when the Arabic singer dressed in very little started up with her keyboardist, we went to bed.

 

The next morning (Oct. 24), we spent the day at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandrian Library—AL). We didn’t see the ancient one I’ve seen before, but had a more extensive tour of the AL than I’ve ever had. We had a presentation by Sohair Wastawy, the chief librarian who got her PHD in library science in the US. She talked about the cultural and intellectual history of the AL both ancient and modern. She also mentioned a ADR program sponsored by the AL—and I left my card to see if we could develop some collaboration or I could come back for more information. We also saw the Culturama, the Manuscript Museum, a couple of art collections and antiquities by an Egyptologist, and the Anwar Al-Sadat museum.

 

We then went to lunch with several Egyptian Alexandrian Fulbrighters who had spend time in the US. It was great to meet Egyptian scholars and artists (I sat with a painter and physicist) who had participated in Fulbright.

 

I read my lecture articles on the bus ride home. We did not stop at an Egyptian rest stop on this leg of the trip, but did yesterday driving up. This particular rest stop I had never been to, but was even more expansive. There were many shops, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee shop, a zoo, and a large playground. Really trumps anything in the Midwest US that I’ve seen!

On October 23-24, the Fulbrighters in Egypt took a bus trip from Cairo to Alexandria, about a 3 hour bus ride away.

Here are some pictures of our group having lunch at a Mediterranian Sea:

Bruce Lohof, director of Egypt's Fulbright Commission on far left, and others eating

Bruce Lohof, director of Egypt's Fulbright Commission on far left, and others eating

More Fulbrighters eating

More Fulbrighters eating

Beautiful Med. Sea oustide the restaurant

Beautiful Med. Sea oustide the restaurant

My hotel room balcony in Alexandria along the Cornische

My hotel room balcony in Alexandria along the Cornische

Oldest and Largest Synogogue in Alexandria

Oldest and Largest Synogogue in Alexandria

Another view of Alexandrian synogogue

Another view of Alexandrian synogogue

Inside the Synogogue

Inside the Synogogue

St Mark's Cathedral in Alex, seat of Coptic Pope, dedicated to St Mark who established Christianity in Egypt in 1st C.

St Mark's Cathedral in Alex, seat of Coptic Pope, dedicated to St Mark who established Christianity in Egypt in 1st C.

The Torah inside the Alexandrian Synogogue

The Torah inside the Alexandrian Synogogue

Image inside St Mark's Church in Alex

Image inside St Mark's Church in Alex

Cave beneath St. Mark's Church where it is thought that Mark's head is burried

Cave beneath St. Mark's Church where it is thought that Mark's head is burried

Portrait of Pope Shenuda in St. Mark's Church

Portrait of Pope Shenuda in St. Mark's Church

Papal Chair in St. Mark's (ex cathedra!)

Papal Chair in St. Mark's (ex cathedra!)

Another view inside St. Mark's

Another view inside St. Mark's

Other images of Alexandria:

Sofitel Hotel where we stayed (along the Cornische)

Sofitel Hotel where we stayed (along the Cornische)

Along the Mediterranean in Alex

Along the Mediterranean in Alex

Fishing in the Sea

Fishing in the Sea

Mosque at sunrise in Alexandria

Mosque at sunrise in Alexandria

1 comment to Fulbright Trip to Alexandria

  • Don & Rosie Stoebner

    I hate to tell you this but I’ve read the scriptures hundreds of times and knew Jesus was taken to Egypt as a child, but didn’t really understand that Jesus was in Egypt. I’m a bit slow at times. Please don’t respond,I’m just enjoying your reports and your experiences. We’ve had them also, but not from other countries. We live in a wonderful world of technology, don’t we? Don

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