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9 of Cairo University's Most Influential Graduates Ever

In arts, politics and sciences, those CU graduates changed the world as we know it.


At the turn of the 20th century, widespread calls for establishing a liberal centre of learning in Egypt intensified. Prominent Egyptian intellectuals and thinkers backed the ambitious notion, which manifested in King Fuad's 1908 decision to establish the Egyptian University, which later became known as Cairo University. At first, the university comprised of a number of faculties, which preceded its official establishment, most notably the faculty of arts. In 1916, Princess Fatma Ismail donated 6 fedans of land to build the university's iconic campus in Giza, which was inaugurated in 1928.

Over the course of the 20th century, Cairo University became one of the biggest centres of learning in Egypt and the region, graduating notable figures that changed the path of history. Influential politicians, novelists, artists, physicians and experts in every field cultivated their knowledge and talents in the university, earning it a prestigious status among other Egyptian universities. Here are 9 Cairo University graduates who have, for the better or worse, changed and influenced the world:

Naguib Mahfouz

From the beating heart of Cairo, Naguib Mahfouz climbed his way up to an iconic status as a writer and a novelist. His novels channeled the complex social and urban life of the Egyptian middle class throughout the 20th century. In 1988, he became the first Egyptian to win a Nobel prize in literature for his masterpiece novel Awlad Haretna (Children of Gebelawi), which also caused numerous religious extremists to declare him an infidel as the novel was widely perceived as an adaptation of sorts from Abrahamic religions. Mahfouz graduated from Cairo University with a bachelor degree in philosophy in 1934. 

Magdi Yacoub

Easily Egypt's most loved and cherished surgeon ever. Yacoub's impressive career in Cardiothoracic Surgery, in which he saved countless lives, earned him the love and admiration of the public from around the world. In recognition of his notable achievements, Dr Yacoub was knighted and awarded the UK's Order of Merit in 1992. Sir Yacoub was born in the governorate of Sharqya in 1935, and gradated from Cairo University's medicine school in 1957.

Omar Sharif

The famed international actor was the first Egyptian to ever make it to Hollywood in the role of Sherif Ali in the historical epic Lawrence of Arabia, which got him the first ever Oscar nomination for an Egyptian actor. His international acting career flourished from that point on after he was already regarded as one of Egypt's biggest stars. Sharif, who was born as Michel Dimitri Chalhoub, studied in Maadi's Victoria College and later graduated from Cairo University with a degree in mathematics and physics.

Taha Hussien

The Dean of Arabic Literature, which is his sobriquet, is one of the Middle East's most influential 20th century writers. His books stirred widespread controversy and debate for their boldness, honesty, and bias towards rational reasoning, above any other considerations. 10 years before he became the first Arts' Dean in Egypt, he graduated from Cairo University after having joined in the university's first year ever. 

 Yasser Arafat

The leader of the Palestine liberation front was born in Cairo to a Palestinian family in 1929. Over the following years, he moved back and forth between Cairo and Jerusalem before finally settling in Cairo and pursuing a degree in civil engineering in 1956 from Cairo University. His years at the university also witnessed the development of his political views as he participated in the vigorous political debate and activities in the university at the time. Arafat united Palestinians under his banner as he intensified his diplomatic efforts to ease the damaging effect of Israeli occupation. In 1994, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to reach a peaceful resolution to the Arab/Israeli conflict. 

Sameera Moussa

A few years after her birth in Gharbiya to a wealthy family, Sameera Moussa moved to Cairo with her father in pursuit of better education. Moussa later became one of the first girls to become the top scorer in the nation-wide general secondary exam, after which she joined Cairo University's Faculty of Science and later became the first female to ever hold a university post. Moussa believed that peaceful nuclear pursuits should be a right to all nations, a purpose which she passionately worked towards throughout her short life. In 1952, 35-year-old Moussa died in a mysterious car crash in California, where she was invited to visit secret nuclear facilities to further her pioneering nuclear research. It's believed that Moussa was assassinated by the Israeli intelligence for her plans to launch Egypt's first nuclear energy programme.

Osman Ahmed Osman

One of the biggest Egyptian entrepreneurs and businessmen in the 20th century. His contracting firm, The Arab Contractors, was the first firm of its kind to be owned by an Egyptian in a time where most firms were owned by Europeans. Over the course of the 20th century, the Arab Contractors led the region with the biggest construction projects of the era, including the Aswan High Dam, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada International airports, among many others. His firm aided with the war efforts in 1973, for which they built the ferries that carried Egyptian soldiers across the Suez Canal and into occupied Sinai. Born in an impoverished family, Osman moved to Cairo and earned a scholarship to attend Cairo University's school of engineering, from which he graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1940.

Saddam Hussein

The totalitarian leader of Iraq rose to power in 1979 after he consolidated his influence over the country's security forces and army. As a devout believer in Nasserism, he began an era of extensive nationalisation of oil resources in the country. He maintained his position as the absolute ruler of Iraq until he was forced into escspe as a result of the American occupation of the country, which was founded on the basis that Hussein is secretly running a nuclear programme. Hussein attended the faculty of law at Cairo University from 1962 to 1964.

Mohamed ElBaradei

The first Egyptian to become the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which he led for 12 years ending in 2009. In acknowledgment of his efforts to limit use of nuclear energy for military purposes, he became the 2nd Egyptian to win the Nobel Peace Prize after President Anwar ElSadat. After graduating from Cairo University's faculty of law in 1962, ElBaradei moved to Geneva to obtain a master's degree in international law. He became involved in the political scene in Egypt around the time of the Egyptian revolution in 2011 before eventually leaving in 2013 after serving as an interim vice president for a brief period of time.