EGYPT: University prepares for Obama

Cairo University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the Middle East, is being spruced up for the first time in more than two decades ahead of this week's visit by US President Barack Obama, where he will deliver a promised address to the Islamic World.

An army of restoration experts has been working diligently to complete their tasks before Obama appears in the main auditorium on 4 June to make his eagerly-anticipated address.

Obama, keen to convince the Muslim world that the US is not at war with Islam, will be the latest of a number of world leaders to visit the university, located in Giza south of the Egyptian capital. The list includes Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, former French president Jacques Chirac, former South African leader Nelson Mandela, and former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf.

Many academics have said they feel proud that Obana chose Cairo University for his speech. A selection of lecturers and 15 top students from each faculty of this government-run institution will attend the speech, according to local media reports.

But not all lecturers and students at the 101-year-old institution are happy. Several security measures implemented to ensure a smooth visit for Obama have angered them. One is a decision by the university administration to deny non-selected students and staff access to the campus on 4 June.

"This does not happen anywhere in the world, including the US," said Ahmed Lutfi, a professor in the university's economics and political science faculty. "I have not heard that the US has ever made one of its universities a no-go area for lecturers and students because of a head of state making an address in it. Unfortunately, such measures reflect the security-obsessed mindset in Egypt."

Some students are annoyed that Obama's visit coincides with the end-of-year examinations. As part of the security preparations, administrators decided to cancel examinations on the day of the visit.

"We were notified of the decision to delay exams scheduled for 4 June only few days ago," said Mahmoud Abdel Wahed, a commerce student. "This delay made at short notice has thrown our schedules into confusion."