The Arab world used to be the center of learning and advancement. Leaders in the realms of science, philosophy and economic productivity all hailed from this region. Words Hoyas cannot live without, like “alcohol,”mascara” and “coffee,” have Arabic origins. Today, however, things are quite different. Imagine if students at major American universities did not know how to read or write in English. Furthermore, imagine if U.S. history was not taught in high school. (Lincoln who? What is the Confederate flag?) This may seem ridiculous – even absurd – to many Hoyas. But this is the reality for many students studying at major universities in the Arab world. In the brief time I have spent at the American University in Cairo, I have noticed that few students can read and write at advanced levels of Arabic, and many do not even speak Arabic fluently. Instead, it seems that most of the students, except those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and receive USAID scholarships, worry more about fashion than their education. Gucci headscarves and the latest Chanel sunglasses are easy to spot on campus. When I try to speak with my Levantine dialect of Arabic, I receive answers in English. In a way, Cairo – with its European-style roads, the common “merci” and the always busy Applebees – shows little sign of wanting to learn about its Arabic history and culture. I have encountered students at AUC who are taught European history, and many can speak and write in French and English. But when I ask a question about the media in Egypt or the year of the revolution, I am disheartened by the blank stares. I decided to visit the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar when I went to Doha to work at a Brookings Institution forum on U.S.-Islamic relations. I was impressed by the hard work of the staff and the students who were selected as representatives. Like most of Doha, construction is still heavy at the site. Inside the shared arts and sciences building (Georgetown should have its own building soon), signs of Georgetown are ubiquitous. Blue and gray rugs adorn the floor, and the student lounge is decorated with Hoya paraphernalia and posters of the main campus. Qatar should be applauded for investing billions of dollars in education. Unlike some critics claim, Georgetown was not bribed into establishing a campus here, and our government can learn from Qatar about investing in education. As we struggle with college finances and ever-rising tuition rates, Qatari students attend college for free. By directly participating in the process of preparing young leaders in the Arab world for the rapidly changing world economy and global politics, Georgetown is taking its ethos to this tiny Gulf nation and transforming the region. According to the Christian Science onitor, more than 60 million Arab adults, including 55 percent of all Arab women are illiterate. To effect change in those communities, Arab countries need to invest in education. It can begin with campuses like SFS-Q and AUC. Students who graduate from these universities should utilize their positions of privilege to empower others in their community. They should serve as an example of creative methods of learning and the power of critical thinking. The Arab education system has plenty of room for improvement. Georgetown can play a role in this process, but change must ultimately come from within. It would be incredibly ironic if American students know more about Arab history and Islam than Arab and Muslim students do. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, governments in Arab countries, like Mubarak’s in Egypt, see critical thinking skills as dangerous to their own regimes. Who am I to say that the education system should be changed? Perhaps I am a disillusioned Hoya with unattainable dreams of a better Arab world. But I believe this world will only change for the better not through bombs or politics, but through education. Education can’t consist of strict memorization, but of questioning everything and learning about one’s own history and contemporary society. Not censorship. Not brainwashing. Then again, where in the world does a place like that exist? Hammad Hammad is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is currently studying abroad at the American University in Cairo. He can be reached at Salamat runs every other Friday.

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