Updated: 07 Aug 2021
CAIRO—Many people interested in cultural affairs in Egypt were disheartened recently as reports circulated that the Center for Translation Studies at the American University in Cairo was being shut down. These reports, which the university has explained, angered many due to the center’s role in enriching the academic translation movement and the role it has played in revitalizing cultural life through many activities for more than ten years.
Samia Mehrez, the director of the center, had informed the center’s followers of the news of its shutdown in an e-mail on July 26. However, the university administration explained later in an interview with Al-Fanar Media that the support of the activities of the center will continue under the Department of Arab and Islamic Civilization for its academic needs, but without the administrative structure.
Alaa Adris, the associate provost for research, innovation, and creativity at the university, stated, “We are working on a kind of restructuring, as we found that its activities do not require the presence of an independent administrative entity.”
The center’s allocations can be directed to other initiatives in the school of Humanities and Social Sciences, he said, “such as supporting two important publications, as well as expanding intellectual production without the presence of an independent administrative entity.”
He stressed that the center’s usual activities, including lectures, publications and conferences, will continue.
The center was launched in 2009 with the aim of promoting cooperation between the university and the Egyptian, regional and international institutions and organizations operating in the field of translation and interpretation studies. It has hosted dozens of cultural events and discussion panels, and published several important publications and translations, including “In the Shoes of the Other: Interdisciplinary Essays in Translation Studies from Cairo” (2019) and “Translating Egypt’s Revolution: The Language of Tahrir” (2012). (See a related article, “A Potential Renaissance for Arabic Translation.”)
‘A Great Loss’
Opinions varied within the academic circles concerned with translation studies about the fate awaiting the Translation Studies Center, and many intellectuals and academics who follow the center’s activities expressed their regret about its possible closure.
“The shutdown decision reveals the poor management that sees in higher education and scientific research only the material gains it brings.”Sameh Hanna
Former head of the Department of Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds
Sameh Hanna, former head of the Department of Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom, described any curtailing of its activities as “bad news.”
“The shutdown decision reveals the poor management that sees in higher education and scientific research only the material gains it brings,” he said. “It represents a great loss for translation studies in Egypt.”
Nourhan Tewfik, a journalist and founder of maqal ‘arabi, an online platform dedicated to Arab arts and culture, expressed her dismay over the changes.
The center played an important role in developing her career, Tewfik said, “and I am proud of my belonging to it and very sad because of what has been reported regarding its shutdown.”
She added, “I learned there to view translation as a daily act, which we all practice in different disciplines, and I also learned that the translator is a major influence in the process of cultural change.”
In turn, Khaled Mattawa, the Libyan poet and academic, praised the center’s activities. He stated, “it contributed vitally to enriching the intellectual life in Cairo, allowing the free exchange of ideas between local intellectuals and their counterparts around the world.”
The activities and lectures held by the center, Mattawa said, were “characterized by dynamism and differed from any other series of lectures in the world, given the discussions they presented between theorists and implementers of translation, and between creators and critics.”
The University’s View
While Mehrez, the director of the center, refused to comment on the administration’s decision, Ehab Abdel-Rahman, the provost, or chief academic officer, of the American University in Cairo, said he understood the reactions, which illustrate the good impact created by the center, but said their fears do not correspond to the reality of what is actually happening.
“I learned there to view translation as a daily act, which we all practice in different disciplines, and I also learned that the translator is a major influence in the process of cultural change.”Nourhan Tewfik
A journalist and founder of maqal ‘arabi
He stated, “We appreciate the reactions we received, but the picture is not clear to the majority of the followers.” He stressed the university’s continued endeavors to play a key role in the cultural movement and support of the humanities.
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
“We have about 140 graduate and undergraduate degree, and about half of them are directed to the humanities and social sciences,” Abdel-Rahman said. He noted the university “is not for profit, and it is not looking for programs that generate profit, but it is looking for programs that add to the community and work to develop it.”