New petition calls on Global Learning Office to increase study abroad programs in MENA region


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

Some involved with the petition, including members of the MENA Student Association, Johnson and Lys, plan to meet with representatives of the Global Learning Office in April to discuss the demands.

Pavan Acharya, Print Managing Editor

In 2011, Northwestern suspended its study abroad programs with The American University in Cairo and American University in Beirut after the start of the Arab Spring movement.

Though the closings came as many U.S.-based academic institutions shut down study-abroad opportunities in the region, multiple universities have since reopened their programs in the Middle East.

Northwestern’s study abroad programs in Cairo and Beirut, however, never reopened. 

The Middle Eastern North African Student Association submitted a petition to the Global Learning Office earlier this month that aims to increase study-abroad opportunities in Middle Eastern and North African countries by reopening University programs with AUC and AUB. The petition, submitted by the Middle Eastern North African Student Association, also calls on the University to create new study-abroad programs in Palestine with Birzeit University and Arab American University. 

The University currently does not offer study abroad programs in Palestine, Cairo and Beirut.

“By opening up study abroad regions, we’re helping to challenge and change harmful stereotypes and orientalist, western-dominated narratives the media pushes about us,” MENA Student Association President and Weinberg junior Sara Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim, who co-authored the petition, referenced NU’s current study-abroad options, which offer students more than 50 opportunities in Europe, 20 in Latin America and 20 in East and South Asia. It offers five programs in the MENA region in Israel, Qatar, Morocco and Jordan. 

In summer 2022, Ibrahim studied at AUC after receiving the undergraduate language grant from NU. She said it would have been much more difficult to apply and be approved to study in Cairo if she wasn’t already an Egyptian citizen. 

If NU reopens its program with AUC, students will have an easier time applying to and being approved to study in Cairo, she said.

Iman Soliman, chair of the Department of Arabic Language Instruction at AUC, said the university’s Arabic Language Intensive Program is situated in its downtown campus, a “cultural hub” with recreational activities like concerts and movie nights for students.

She said more American-based universities have expressed interest in the program in recent years as amenities have expanded.

“If you’re thinking of learning and studying a language of communication, I believe you cannot miss Egypt,” Soliman said.

Arabic Prof. Ragy Ibrahim Mikhaeel agreed, saying Egyptian Arabic is almost the “lingua franca,” or common language, in the Arab world.

He said he supports the petition and its request for the University to increase its number of study abroad programs in the MENA region, especially re-approving AUC in Egypt.

“The American University in Cairo is probably the most important and most experienced university when it comes to teaching Arabic for foreign languages and for study abroad opportunities,” Mikhaeel said.

Ibrahim also said creating study-abroad opportunities in Palestine is important since the University currently offers no program centering Palestinian voices, history, culture or heritage, she said.

Weinberg sophomore Mahdi Haseeb, who co-authored the petition, said many Palestinian members of the MENA Student Association do not feel comfortable studying abroad in Israel.

Haseeb, who also serves as MENA’s Senator on Associated Student Government, said he believes the University has not reopened study-abroad programs with AUC and AUB because there hasn’t been a push by students and faculty. 

“With a lot of things, when it comes to the administration unless it’s brought to their attention they don’t really think about it,” he said.

He added the GLO has been cooperative with the petition and met with members of the MENA Student Association in February to discuss what their specific demands would look like. 

GLO is in “full support” of increasing study abroad options in the Middle East and North African region, University spokesperson Hilary Hurd Anyaso said in an email to The Daily.

There have been discussions within GLO over the past ten years to reopen the AUC program, according to Anyaso. But, she said these conversations have been hindered by a “volatile security situation” and a level increase in the Department of State Travel Advisory.

She added AUC is at the top of GLO’s list for programs to review and consider for a potential future partnership.

Though NU approved an affiliation with AUB in 2019, the program was unable to reopen due to  the pandemic and Lebanon’s recent economic and political instability. Lebanon is currently on the “Restricted Travel List” for undergraduate students, and Anyaso said the program would need to fulfill a Travel Permission request from the Office of Global Safety and Security to be reinstated.

MENA Studies Director Rebecca Johnson, MENA Languages Program Director Franziska Lys and Turkish Studies Program Director İpek Yosmaoğlu all supported the petition and signed the document.

Those championing the petition, including members of the MENA Student Association, Johnson, and Lys, will meet with representatives from GLO in April to discuss their demands, Ibrahim said. She said these efforts to institute more study abroad programs in MENA countries are a smaller component of the MENA Student Association’s larger visibility campaign.

“This is definitely going to be one of our biggest goals and we’d like to see it happen so that more students can study abroad at these sites,” Ibrahim said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @PavanAcharya02

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