National Geographic : 1972 May
Among mosques built in Cairo at that time, and which continue to stand as some of the finest Islamic structures anywhere, was one called Al Azhar. It would soon be expanded into a university, the foremost institution for Islamic studies in the world. "We now have more than 20,000 students studying in 11 faculties," said Dr. Badawey Abd El-Latif Awad, rector of 1,000-year-old Al Azhar. He took a sip of orange juice and went on to tell me that nearly 3,000 of those are women, including a few from the United States. "There are still two basic require ments for entrance. Applicants must be Mos lem and they must be thoroughly familiar with the Holy Koran." Graduates Increase-But Jobs Do Not Al Azhar takes youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15, puts them through prepar atory schools and then through one of the higher-education faculties. From enrollment at this age, study for a doctorate covers a period of about twenty years. In 1961 the university expanded on its three traditional faculties of Islamic law, theology, and Arabic studies to offer degrees in such fields as medi cine and engineering. Dr. Awad spoke with pride of Al Azhar's new curricular thrust, but he emphasized that "the foundation of all study here is still theology and the traditions of the Holy Prophet Mohammed." In another section of the city, west of the Nile, is Cairo University, with an enrollment more than double that of Al Azhar. Thou sands more study at Ain Shams University and the American University. There are not enough good jobs to absorb the outpouring of graduates. I met one man with a recently acquired degree in engineering who makes a living checking manhole covers to see that they are in place. For many others the only choice is to take up a stamp-and-ink-pad station in a government office. Liberalization of some of the fusty tradi tions regarding the role of women in Egyp tian society has also swelled the ranks of job seekers. Mrs. Amina el Said, editor of Hawaa, a women's magazine published in Cairo, told me that there are now 3,000 married women studying at Cairo University. "The old tradition of marrying at 16 and having babies right away is going," she added. "There was an old saying about the Egyptian woman: She makes only two outings in her lifetime-the first time from her parents' 646 Stumbling block to progress, nearly two and a half decades of conflict between Arab and Israeli have kept Middle East nations preoccupied with defense. During the six-day war of 1967 sunken vessels closed off the Suez Canal. It has been out of use ever since, depriving Egypt of an important source of income. "Garden of the world," the 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun called Cairo, in trib ute to the city's debt to the Nile Valley's gen erous soil. Conqueror Jawhar chose the site in A.D. 969. It was named El Qahira-"The Victorious"-which has been Anglicized as Cairo. More than five million Egyptians about 15 percent of the country's 34 million people-live in the city. Cairo, like many other capitals, has become an overcrowded and problem-wracked metropolis.