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Are Egypt’s youth forgetting landmarks in their history?

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First published in The Caravan on Sunday October 3o, 2011

There is a famous mantra about the failure to know one’s history. “He who knows only his own generation remains always a child,” Roman scholar Cicero once said.

As Egypt rewrites its modern history in the wake of the January 25 Revolution, its successes and failures of the 20th Century become more crucial than ever.

One of Egypt’s most pivotal events in the past 40 years – and which was recently marked with much fanfare by the government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – is the October 1973 War.

The war changed the military and political balance in the Middle East, established Egypt as a diplomatic force du jour and led to a chain of events that bring us to where we are today.

But many AUCians do not know the key dates and events of the October 1973 war.

The Caravan carried out an extensive survey which among other things asked: When did the October 1973 war start? When did it end? Why was it fought and on what fronts?

In a polling of 360 students, 30 percent said they were not aware the war started on October 6 and 50 percent could not tell when it ended.

The fact that the war was fought on the Sinai and Golan fronts was unknown to 43 percent and over 17 percent could name neither the Bar Lev line nor the Camp David Accords, which were the culmination of the late President Anwar Sadat’s military and political aspirations.

A total of 33 percent were unable to correctly answer the 11 questions asked by The Caravan last week.

Sherene Seikaly, a professor who teaches modern Middle Eastern history, says these results are cause for concern.

“I think it should be worrying for the community at large,” Seikaly told The Caravan.

“I think people [should be more knowledgeable of their history] especially at a time when it is very easy to look up this kind of information, we have so much access to information, it is literally at our fingertips,” she added.

Ali El Banna, a mechanical engineering senior, said he was shocked to learn of these statistics.

“Only now do I understand the importance of the core curriculum,” El Banna told The Caravan.

When asked how to raise interest in Egyptian history on campus, El Banna said there was nothing to do but urge students to learn about their history.

“We don’t have a [student] organization on campus fully dedicated to this type of thing,” he said.

He added that their should be an Egyptian history course in the core curriculum before saying: “I didn’t know you had to take a college class to know the October 6, 1973 War started on the October 6.”

Seikaly said she had grown up discussing history at home and assumed 1973 would be something regularly discussed in most Egyptian households.

She said, however, that the results of the survey are not unheard of and that a lot of people are ignorant of national history all over the world.

“For a lot of these people [the October 1973 war is] 20 years before they were born and mediated through nationalist narratives,” said Seikaly.

Additional reporting by Adham Haddara.

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Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

October 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Analysis, AUC, Egypt, Middle East

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