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COD professor on hand for monumental changes, events unfolding in Egypt

Carol Riphenburg professor political science COD stands with student front Faculty Economics Political Science Cairo University. | Phocourtesy~Carol Riphenburg

Carol Riphenburg, a professor of political science at COD, stands with a student in front of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University. | Photo courtesy~Carol Riphenburg

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Updated: October 25, 2012 6:07AM

A professor from College of DuPage has had a front row seat to the recent unrest in Egypt.

Carol Riphenburg, a professor of political science at COD, was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Grant to undertake research in Egypt. Since Aug. 17, she has been working with Economics and Political Science faculty members at Cairo University on her project, “Women and Political Participation in Egypt: Opportunities and Encumbrances for Women Following the Jan. 25 Revolution.”

While she is studying the effects of the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, she has also witnessed the recent violence over the film “Innocence of Muslims,” clips of which appeared on YouTube and have sparked angry protests outside U.S. embassies worldwide and an attack on the American Consulate in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. There were days of unrest in Egypt as well over the film, which portrays the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud.

Riphenburg said much of the trouble stems from a lack of understanding of free speech.

“Egyptians are very religious and emotional when it comes to their Prophet being insulted,” she wrote Sun-Times Media in an email from Cairo. “They don’t understand freedom of speech in this sense and can’t understand why our government can’t clamp down on the maker of the video. So, there is widespread support for President (Mohammed) Morsi’s condemnation of the video.”

She has discussed the situation with her colleagues in Cairo, who have given her insight on the situation there.

“Some of the professors I have talked to believe that the demonstrators damaged their cause by resorting to violence,” she said. “What we have is a new, untested regime seeking to keep the support of religious conservatives.”

Violence and change

Riphenburg is in Cairo studying the impact of the regime change earlier this year. The recent violence and reaction to it has some connections with the overall changes going on in Egypt.

“A youthful and secular minority has embraced the modern age and launched the uprising (against Mubarak), but it has yet to convince the rest. The revolution has been sidelined by first the military and now the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said.

During her time in Cairo, Riphenburg has been blogging about her experiences at On her blog, she said, “This violence in Cairo and elsewhere in the region raises questions in the West about political instability in Middle Eastern nations where newfound freedoms have given way to an absence of authority. In Egypt, leaders work fast to repair deep strains with Washington brought on by their initial response to attacks on the American Embassy, quietly acknowledging that they were mistaken in their response. They focused far more on anti-American domestic opinion than on condemning the violence.”

Riphenburg will be in Egypt until Dec. 17. As a specialist in Middle Eastern studies, the changes going on there are unbelievable, she said.

“I wanted to do research in Cairo, since my specialty is Middle Eastern studies, and I was astounded at the overthrow of the Mubarak regime after 30 years of authoritarian rule,” she said.

Riphenburg hopes that changes in the region will lead to true democratic government and a system more accountable to Egypt’s people. She remains hopeful that will still happen, despite the fact that the region remains in a difficult and unstable period of transition.

Riphenburg said she studied Arabic on a fellowship at the American University in Cairo and has done research in many Middle Eastern countries. Her current project involves the position of women in Egypt.

“This is an area easier for a female outsider to access,” she said. “Egypt is the most populous Arabic nation, and I want to be here during this time of fateful change. It is very important for me to tell the story of Egyptian women and what they are experiencing during this time of political upheaval.”

Her research on the Middlle East has been exhaustive. Her many writings include pieces on women, including “Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future” for the Middle East Women’s Studies Review.

During her current Fulbright trip, Riphenburg is interviewing women in universities and nongovernmental organizations in Egypt and will share their stories with her students upon returning to College of DuPage.

“I hope to achieve a better understanding of how Arabic women are participating in the region’s momentous changes and fighting to get into the power structure,” she said. “There’s an Egyptian saying that once you drink from the Nile, you are fated to return to the Nile. I expect my return to be fascinating.”

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