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Insight into the opinions of Egyptian university students

A November 2009 study on how Egyptian university students view Europe, as part of the FP 7 EuroBroadMap Project, indicates that they regard Europe primarily in terms of economic development and advanced technologies. In a Nordic context, the students emphasize a strong aversion to living in Denmark, somewhat positive sentiments about moving to Sweden and a lack of knowledge on the other Nordic countries. The study also suggests that the students see Tunisia and Algeria, states that experienced significant civil unrest just prior to Egypt in early 2011, in a positive light and as having close ties to Europe.

The study was conducted prior the country's revolutions and the general focus on economic development and technology in Europe underscores the overall frustration that drove young Egyptians into the streets on January 15, 2011. On the eve of the revolution, nearly half of Egypt's 2.5 million unemployed persons were between the ages of 20 and 24, while 43% percent of the unemployed had university degrees. In this setting, the study of 98 university students in Alexandria, found that they saw Europe as offering good prospects for work, education and professional development, which would improve their standard of living.

From a Nordic perspective, the study indicates that opinions on Denmark remain low subsequent to the publishing of cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. The high, and negative, response rate that Denmark garnered indicates that these cartoons, considered offensive by many Muslims, remain fresh in the eyes of Egyptian students, who consider Islam and their Arabic background as central to their identity. Conversely, despite a lower response rate, Sweden was seen as a fairly attractive place to live, suggesting that Sweden's image as an egalitarian state remains strong. Finland, Norway, Iceland and Greenland were very rarely mentioned; however the few students who identified them stated that they would not like to live in these states in the near future. Given the apparent lack of knowledge on them, this may be based on the climatic differences between Egypt and these countries.

The Egyptian university students' strong conception of "Arabness" and positive views towards Tunisia and Algeria, countries where young people were experiencing similar problems, highlight how civil unrest has spread across North Africa as a result of inspiring outcomes in nations that share a perceived kinship. It is also striking that Tunisia and Algeria, as well as Morocco, countries that are seen as "friendly Arab states", are considered to have stronger ties to Europe than other countries in the region. This suggests that in some cases, European influence can be positive in North Africa and that closer ties with Europe can be envisioned once the domestic situation is resolved.

The study was based on a survey and analysis of the results and was carried out in Alexandria, Egypt by our EuroBroadMap partner IRMco Malta with assistance from Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Mitchell Reardon

Research Fellow