Joseph Mayton
The Middle East Times
June 12, 2008 - 3:54pm

CAIRO -- A decision by the Egyptian government to decline an American Fulbright winner the opportunity to carry out his research in the Middle Eastern nation highlights the political nature of the award.

In a similar case last month, Israel threatened to deny exit visas for Gaza residents, initially forcing the United States to cancel their scholarships. Four of the Gazans have since been issued travel permission and have left Gaza for Jerusalem en route to the United States to study, but three others remain in limbo as to their status.

The intervention of the U.S. State Department apparently helped Israel's security apparatus change its decision to allow the four to leave the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Not so lucky is a 25-year-old U.S. student named Jordan (he asked that his last name not be used) who was awarded one of the prestigious scholarships to analyze how Egyptian media depicts the United States.

Jordan was making travel plans while awaiting approval by the Egyptian government – usually a rubber stamp for American students, by a country considered to be a staunch U.S. ally – when word came that Cairo had denied his proposal, putting a halt to the trip.

A recent graduate with a Master's degree in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona, the Michigan native was hoping to get hands-on field experience in Egypt until the bad news arrived.

"I heard about their [Egyptian government's] decision via the Fulbright office in New York," Jordan said.

"The New York office did not offer an explanation."

He pressed the matter further, talking directly to the bi-national Fulbright Commission in Cairo. The commission told him they have "little understanding of how these decisions are made, or why one request is honored and another denied."

American diplomats stepped in for the Gaza students and had that situation resolved. When Jordan called for assistance in appealing the case to the Egyptian government he was rebuked.

"They told me from the outset that appeals to the Egyptian government were rarely, if ever, entertained. Indeed, the Egyptian Fulbright Commission will not even submit appeals to the Egyptian government," the American student revealed.

The American Fulbright Commission and Washington have not been helpful, he related.

"The program director in New York claimed to have spoken to colleagues in the State Department who said that the situation was more or less hopeless and that I could not transfer to another Middle East country with my Fulbright," Jordan said.

"Also, when I asked if I could simply do language training in Cairo and drop the research," he added, "my e-mail was not replied to. A letter of inquiry written to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in Washington, DC, has also not been replied to as of yet."

When the Middle East Times contacted the American Embassy in Cairo, officials said they could not comment on the decision, saying it was "out of our hands."

Jordan's assertions that appeals are not made is correct, an official at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry confirmed to the Middle East Times.

"We haven't heard anything from the Americans concerning a Fulbright issue. We assume there will not be an appeal to reexamine the application," the official said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media concerning this development.

The Fulbright Scholarship Program was developed following World War II by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. He viewed such a program as needed to promote "mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world."

U.S. President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law in 1946.

Since 1980, Egypt has hosted over 150 scholars from the United States.

It will probably never be known why the Egyptian government denied the application. Jordan himself believes someone in the government in Cairo wants to keep mum on how the media reports America.

"My assumption is … [they] did not want someone bringing attention to the Egyptian public's distaste for American policy as evidenced in the local media," he argued.

"I have long been interested in Arab public opinion. Since polling and surveys are often taboo, I figured that studying the media, official and popular, would be the nearest way to determine what that public opinion might be."

Jordan won't get to do so this time, at least not on an official mandate.


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