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From the people who brought you the pyramids...

The new, roomier American University of Cairo campus is vast and architecturally ambitious. It was also a long time in the making.

The campus today is a tribute to Egypt’s vast historical legacy and to the university’s academic ambitions. The campus’ main thoroughfare is an open promenade, the academic buildings looming on either side.

Broad arches recall Cairo’s old city; black-and-white designs on the buildings represent a throwback to Mamluk architecture; the sandstone used in much of the construction was brought from Upper Egypt — a subtle nod to Egypt’s poorest region.

And construction of a satellite city around the campus, dubbed "New Cairo," is well under way.

With the creation of a new physical environment, at no small cost — the final bill is likely to hit $450 million, $100 million of which is coming from USAID — administrators are looking to boost the school’s academic reputation from that of a regional powerhouse to that of a world-renowned academic center.

“The new campus has given us the capacity to shake us out of our routine,” Provost Lisa Anderson said. “You sit in Tahrir Square [site of the old campus], you can’t see the horizon. You sit out here, you can see everything.” Behind her, miles of desert stretch out from the office window.

What really lights Anderson up is the topic of promoting greater interaction between AUC and Cairo. She has moved class schedules so that students will no longer have classes on Tuesdays, allowing them to spend one day a week doing fieldwork.

“We’re going to be thoughtful and self-conscious about what the American University in Cairo means,” she said.

The university is also hoping to improve campus life for students. “We’re still feeling our way and learning to spread our wings,” said Kim Jackson, a student representative.

Part of the effort was better integration of Arab and American students, many of the latter being enrolled in study abroad programs, and more participation in sports and athletics. The recently opened athletic facility features tennis and squash courts, an Olympic-size pool, a track and countless playing fields — all of which were absent from the old urban campus.

“We’re third on the pecking order. A lot of our athletes are contracted out,” said Director of Athletics Chuck Gordon, explaining how many AUC athletes compete primarily for professional or club teams.

With construction coming to an end, and last year’s controversies falling into the rearview mirror, the university’s prospects look bright.

But troubles persist: The university is in the midst of a $20 million dispute over construction projects delivered late or below standard. University officials hope the matter can be settled outside of court, though they acknowledge that international arbitration may be needed.

Despite such bumps in the road, the university is pressing ahead with several new programs, including a Masters degree in education by 2010, and the establishment of a business school and a school of public affairs.

More GlobalPost dispatches on Cairo:

A crumbling city

Cairo on $2 a day

More on Egypt:

A library with great expectations

How to save an oasis

A tale of two lovers

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