Egypt symposium highly-rewarding experience for scholars and students

The 13th Annual International Studies Symposium on Feb. 23 at York’s Glendon campus drew close to 300 people, including prominent scholars from around the world. Organized over a six-month period by the 2007-2008 Independent Study Committee (ISC), made up of undergraduate students from Glendon’s International Studies Program, "Beyond Myths: Dialogues on Contemporary Egypt" brought a unique and outstanding international experience to York.

Left: Hadeer Abo El Nagah speaking as part of the Human Rights and Minority Issues Panel

Among the participating scholars were Emad Shahin, a visiting professor at Harvard University, Habiba Hassan-Wassef of the Center for Rural Development Researches and Studies at Cairo University, and Fulbright Scholar Hadeer Abo El Nagah, affiliated with the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s Studies at Carleton University.

Keynote speakers at the conference included Farkhonda Hassan, secretary general of the National Council for Women in Egypt, and Hala El Bishlawy, deputy chief of mission at the Egyptian Embassy in Ottawa. Both stressed the importance of strong relations between Canada and Egypt, as well as Egypt’s progress towards democracy.

Attendees at the symposium were able to attend two of the following six panels: Geopolitics & International Security; Environmental Security; Democracy and Civil Society; Human Rights and Minority Issues; Society, Culture and Religion; and Economics and Development. Each panel examined issues that are extremely pertinent to the future of contemporary Egypt. During the intermission, Toronto’s Arabesque Dance Company performed, while attendees sampled Egyptian-inspired cuisine.

"Thank you for giving me this opportunity to become part of the Egypt Symposium and share with you this enriching experience," said Hassan-Wassef. "It gave me great pleasure to visit Canada and to work with your very efficient and resourceful team. I congratulate you for your thoughtful and careful planning and organization of all aspects of this event…from the scientific program to the entertainment and the personal care you extended to each one of us."

Right: The Arabesque Dance Company performs traditional Egyptian dances

PhD candidate Omar Ashour of McGill University’s Department of Political Science added, "It was a great pleasure meeting all of you at the symposium. I really enjoyed it and I can’t stress enough what a wonderful job you have done."

The ISC decided to study and research Egypt because it is the oldest and most populous country in the Middle East and its political importance has shaped the region throughout its history. Egypt’s geographic position and geopolitical situation have had an effect on its economic development and its political relations with neighbouring states. The ISC notes that as Egypt shapes its modern identity, it must balance the demands of a modern state, such as good governance, democratization and human rights, with its traditions rooted in ancient cultures and religions. Also, the social, political and economic forces influencing the formation of this nation state make Egypt a fascinating case to study.

"This project provided the committee members with a great opportunity to become familiar with Egypt and enhance our knowledge of the issues concerning the Middle East region," said Kate Bobko, ISC’s director of communications. "In addition, the symposium also enabled us to augment our organizational skills as undergraduate students and researchers."

This year’s International Studies Symposium attracted almost 300 people

The conference proceedings will be published in the following months. For more about the event, visit the Egypt Symposium Web site.

Sponsors of the event included York Alumni, the Glendon College Student Union, and York University’s Office of the Vice-President Academic.

The 14th Annual International Studies Symposium planned for 2008-2009 will focus on Venezuela.

Submitted to YFile by Kate Bobko, the Independent Study Committee’s director of communications, and Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.