I had just finished grading final papers and exams and submitted my grades to the AUC registrar when I went to Yahoo news and saw that Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi has been named a runner-up for the Time Magazine person of the year. Looks like the other Muslim President won it this year. I had quietly been hoping Morsi would get it but was glad to see that he got the important recognition he did.
Like all campuses at this time of year, it is quiet here. The emails have slowed, the appointments dwindled, and the lines at various campus eateries disappeared. I went to my favorite place on campus today, Beirut Express, for my typical two falafel sandwiches and Diet Pepsi. They were out of falafel, so I had egg sandwiches with french fries and salad and a regular Coke since they were out of Diet Pepsi. Can’t say I loved it, but it did fill me up. I told the friendly man behind the counter that this was my last day on campus. He asked for clarity. “You will not come back. And what about your daughter.” I said no, not for a while, and he said “Sir, I will miss you so much.” Right back at you my friend, who even though he came to know my order gave me the wrong thing nearly every time, and always gave me a break when I did not have the right change. I will miss you too.
I am not sure how big a story it will be here that Morsi was a runner-up. He has lost so much support in the time that we have been here. I spoke the other evening with a man who has been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood for 25 years, who knows Morsi personally and had been a very eager supporter. He was disenchanted and disappointed that the Brotherhood had called on its members to surround the Presidential Palace over two weeks ago in order to protect it from protesters. He felt that the nine deaths that resulted from this conflict were the President’s responsibility. Still another colleague here who teaches at AUC and also runs an important NGO, who had shared with me months ago that we needed to give Morsi a chance, had lost all confidence in the President because of his all of his missteps and miscalculations. I am not sure if people have judged this to be a result of incompetence, which is not unusual when repressed political forces take power, or the result of a real power grab by Islamist forces. I am not sure either, but I too share the concerns of my colleagues about the course of this government.
As I write, colleagues are stopping by my office to wish me farewell. I am deeply impressed by the important and relevant work of the Gerhart Center and its role in the Arab Awakening (I am told that spring is not a pleasant season here so I am now call it the Awakening). The birth of democracy here has led to the closing of the downtown Tahrir campus which has disrupted many of Center’s programs, the rescheduling of some finals because of the national holiday declared because of the constitutional referendum, even worse than usual traffic because of constant protests and a general sense of unpredictability. But my colleagues here carry on, knowing that their work has always been important, but now certainly more important than ever.
I have so much to say about our time here, but I want to gather my thoughts a little more. For now, I close up this office, which has a Koran on the shelf above me, and head home on the bus. The trip might be an hour, might be 2, depending on traffic. We leave for the Siwa Oasis on the 21st, and then back in the U.S. late New Years eve, where we sill trade the smell of burning plastic for the smell of North Carolina. I have always been convinced that smell is the most nostalgic of senses, and have already I will be happy to share with you pictures and stories when I see you, but how will I share the smell?