Egyptian Law Professor Strives to be a Force for Positive Change

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December 2013

Dr. Ahmed Khalifa is unwavering in his focus on revolutionizing legal education in Egypt. An assistant professor at Ain Shams University (ASU) Faculty of Law in Cairo, Ahmed has undertaken a 15-year journey to becoming an effective educator. After obtaining his LL.B. degree in 1998, Ahmed accepted a position at ASU, his alma mater, foregoing more prestigious and higher-paying positions. Inspired by a former professor, he wanted to make a difference. After earning an ASU LL.M. degree, he won a Fulbright scholarship and earned another LL.M. degree from Temple University in the United States.

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Dr. Ahmed Khalifa says interactive teaching techniques help students better understand and use the law, while allowing professors to work with the students as they learn.

His American education was eye-opening. It was unlike the lecture-based courses in Egypt, and it exposed him to interactive teaching techniques. “It taught me how to approach law as a tool to be used, rather than a subject to be memorized,” he said, emphasizing the philosophy that law can be interpreted in many ways. After another teaching stint at ASU, he eventually earned a Ph.D. in France and went to work for a United Nations criminal law institute in Italy.

In 2012, Ahmed decided to return to Egypt to be a force for change. “I had [fairly] unique experiences [with] a wide variety of teaching styles in the United States and Europe,” he said. “I wanted to use [those experiences] to help to change the way law is taught in Egypt.” He says his purpose was to “graduate better-trained young lawyers, who will one day become more effective lawyers, prosecutors, judges, professors and government officials."

Soon after he returned, a colleague told Ahmed about the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and its work, including about an upcoming training for law professors on moot court competitions. Ahmed and professors from nine universities attended the day-long workshop in February 2013. “This was just what I had been looking for,” said Ahmed. “ABA ROLI was providing the kind of support that I and other professors needed to start to change the way law is taught in Egypt.” The training Ahmed attended, subsequent trainings for more than 100 law students and the national moot court competetion were supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Today, Ahmed continues his collaboration with ABA ROLI, including by speaking at trainings for students and working with other Egyptian law professors to develop practical-skills courses. Ahmed says that the introduction of practical-skills courses “fundamentally changes the relationship between the professors and the students. … By using interactive teaching techniques, we are not only able to teach students how to better understand and use the law, but we are also able to work with the students as they learn.”

Earlier this year, Ahmed and a colleague offered to help students who, inspired by the ABA ROLI-organized 2012 national moot court competition, wanted to take part in the Price Media Law Competition. The students won the regional competition in Doha, Qatar, and participated in the final rounds of the competition in Oxford, UK.

“Participating in an international level competition is extremely challenging. Our team of beginners argued against Brooklyn Law School, New York Law School, University of New Delhi and Cambridge University, all of which have extensive traditions of moot competitions,” said Ahmed. “We learned a lot, [and though] we still have a lot to learn, we expect to get better each year.”

These opportunities continue to generate interest among professors and students alike. “Last year, after the first ABA ROLI-sponsored national moot competition, six students asked for assistance to prepare for the media law competition, while others participated in the ABA ROLI-sponsored moot court competition training. This year, 60 students have asked to participate in moot competitions,” he said. “They are not asking just to compete and travel …. They say they want to learn [how] to apply the law in factual settings, to use law as a tool. … They want to learn how to become real lawyers.”

Ahmed and his colleagues have developed, with ABA ROLI support, a month-long voluntary course to train students in the analytical, written and oral skills necessary to excel in moot court competition. Ahmed says, “We know that this class will assist them [in becoming] better law students and better lawyers.” He says the students also realize this and are excited about coming to classes—even these extra classes for which they receive no academic credit.

Ahmed hopes that the supplementary practical-skills courses will be incorporated into Egyptian law schools’ curricula, and he plans to continue to work with ABA ROLI to establish a legal clinic at Ain Shams “similar to the ones I saw when I was at Temple University.”

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