American University in Cairo cancels Israeli speaker

Man in suit stands before podium between two flags

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is among the speakers who have been hosted by the American University in Cairo on 10 January 2019. 


The American University in Cairo has canceled an event featuring an Israeli researcher after widespread outrage from students and teachers.

The AUC was scheduled to host Vered Silber-Varod, who runs a media laboratory at the Open University of Israel, as part of its online lecture series during June.

Silber-Varod was set to speak on Monday.

The AUC’s main library announced the event’s cancellation on 27 June, as well as the cancellation of the lecture series.

The lecture series was meant to explore the role of new technologies in the humanities – a field of academic study that includes languages, culture and politics – throughout the Middle East.

Act of normalization

The cancellation followed outrage by students and faculty at the university, who said the invitation was an act of normalization with Israel.

“It is critical to highlight the role of the student body against all acts of Israeli normalization in AUC,” the university’s Political Science Association stated on Facebook.

“It is our responsibility as a faction of the student body to oppose any intellectual advocacy that hinders our principles.”

“This cancellation announcement would not have passed without our unified stance,” the group added.

Egypt, along with neighboring Jordan, are the only two Arab countries to have formal diplomatic ties to Israel.

Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was occupied by Israel in 1967 but Israel later withdrew under the terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel signed in 1979.

University run like “US embassy”

Francis J. Ricciardone, a former official of the Bush and Obama administrations, was appointed president of the AUC in July 2016.

Ricciardone previously served as the US ambassador to Egypt under President George W. Bush.

He also served as the ambassador to Turkey as well as the deputy ambassador to Afghanistan under President Barack Obama.

In February 2019, a body in the university known as the AUC Senate voted by an 80 percent majority to declare “no confidence” in Ricciardone and demanded a replacement.

Ricciardone had hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the university in January 2019, to the protest of students and teachers.

“Were any of the members of our community consulted as to whether it was a good idea to bring a former CIA director who has spoken in favor of torture to AUC?” Pascale Ghazaleh, a history professor at the university, wrote in an email message to Ricciardone, The New York Times reported at the time.

Ghazaleh stated that she objected to the university “being treated as an extension of the US embassy.”




My faith in humanity is still alive .Thank you for keeping the flame of peace .


The sole caveat is that we must avoid the debate being switched to academic freedom. As with the Defund the Police slogan of BLM, which the Right seized on as an example of irresponsibility and defence of lawlessness, our enemies are always astute about how to shift the debate onto reactionary ground where they know they have public support. We are not opposed to academic and intellectual freedom. On the contrary. Hence, we have to refine the argument about a cancellation of this kind. It needs to be promoted as part of a campaign in favour of Palestinian rights; pressure to make Israel change its behaviour.

Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.