CAC History


Click here to download Tim Sullivan's CAC history document (PDF format)



Prior to 1945, K-12 educational opportunities for American children in Egypt were limited to several Egyptian schools that admitted foreign students; other nationality schools including British, French and Greek Schools; a church-affiliated American boarding school in Alexandria; and private arrangements such as a small school for Americans conducted on a houseboat near Maadi. Following World War II, increasing numbers of American families came to live in Egypt. These U.S. citizens founded The Cairo School for American Children as a private, independent school to educate their children.

The Early Years 1945-56

In the fall of 1945, fifty students enrolled in grades one though eight at The Cairo School for American Children and began attending classes in a rented, three-story, vine covered villa located at 36 Road 7 in Maadi. Fourteen high school students were admitted at the beginning of second academic year when the high school curriculum was added. Two students graduated from the high school in 1947 and four graduated in 1948, In the fall of 1948 The Cairo School for American Children became the Cairo American School. This name would continue until 1955. Today's Cairo American College evolved directly from this institution.

Based on a summary of the document excerpt that Tim Sullivan included in this brief of Cairo American College, The Education of Americans in Egypt, the following list characterizes the early years of the school: the basic focus was to educate children of Americans in Egypt, although children of Egypt and other nations could enroll; classes were to be taught in English; American textbooks were to be used whenever possible; the curriculum closely followed a general American model but included foreign language and Egyptian history and culture studies; and the high school curriculum was college prepatory. The high school program included four years of English, French, and physical education and three years of mathematics, science and history. Electives included Arabic, music, drama, art and typing.

During these early years, the school had a central library, a hot lunch program, interscholastic and intramural sports, a basketball court, and a bus service for students from outside the Maadi area. In 1947-48, 46% of the students lived in Maadi, 40% in Cairo and 14% in Heliopolis. The relatively small enrollments and transient nature of these families resulted in unstable financial conditions in these early years. As a result, at different times additional leased facilities were acquired and then let go and twice the high school was temporarily cut back to grade 10. With the exception of a few students, tuition was typically paid by employers and there was a reduction in tuition for families with more than one child. Besides tuition, the school was financed by corporate and individual donations and the proceeds from an annual bazaar.

In spite of the political volatility in Egypt during this period, the school experienced a major interruption just once. Following the January 26, 1952, "Black Sunday" riots, the school closed for one-and-a-half weeks. During these early years, the size of the faculty more than double from 8 to 19. With the exception of language program instructors, the school's faculty members were predominantly American. The principal was the chief (and sole) administrator and had a support staff of one secretary. The Administrative turnover was high during this period with five different individuals serving as principal. Enrollment grew five times its original size to 290 students by 1955-56. The students were primarily from the United States and Egypt during this period. In 1949-50 a historical high of 20% Egyptian students was recorded. In these early years, two thirds to three fourths of the students were Americans. The 1954-55 school year marked the highest percentage of American students, 92%.

In 1955 the school took on its current name of Cairo American College and relocated to what had been the palace grounds built by Prince Mohamed Ali Ibrahim in the 1940s for members of his family at 40 Road 78, Maadi. Modifications to the buildings and grounds resulted in the royal garage becoming elementary classrooms. Additional elementary classrooms were located in the main building, which also accommodated the library, administrative offices, and the chemistry labs converted from the Turkish bath. A two-story building behind the main building was remodeled to provide high school classrooms. The circular driveway became a running track and a rose garden was converted to a basketball court.

The Hiatus 1956-57

The academic year 1956-57 was virtually a non-year for Cairo American College as American families departed from Egypt during the Suez War. The school closed for five months. When it re-opened in April 1957, few students returned, no high school classes were conducted, and there was no CAC graduating class of 1957.

The Multinational Enrollments 1957-63

During this 1957-63 period, the character of the curriculum stayed directly on the path created during the earlier years. Elementary and junior high emphasis were reading, writing, and mathematics, supplemented by science, social science, music, art, and physical education courses. The high school maintained its college preparatory focus with four years of English, French, mathematics, science, and social science with electives in Latin, art, music, journalism, drama, typing, and Arabic. French was taught from the first grade through the senior year. In the mid 1960's an English as a Second Language program was added to the curriculum.

The nationality patterns among students changed significantly early in this period. Other than a few dual-nationality Egyptian students, by Egyptian government policy, Egyptians were not allowed to attend non-Egyptian schools, which of course included CAC. The number of students from other countries quickly grew to fill the void. In 1955, there was a total of 6 different nationalities represented among the students. By 1960, among the 252 students, two thirds were American and the other third contained students from 25 nations. The contingent of students from these countries continued to account for between one fourth to one third of the total enrollment throughout the remainder of this period. Total enrollment grew so rapidly (averaging about 17% per year) that it was projected to soon reach the maximum capacity of the school's facilities.

Planning for a new Campus 1963-67

In the fall of 1963, with an enrollment of 435 students, the Board of Directors envisioned a new campus to accommodate 800 students. The Board acquired U.S. foundation and government grant funding, purchased a twelve-acre, school-zoned plot in Digla from the Egyptian government, and hired architectural and educational consultants to assist in planning the new campus. This property also had a touch of royalty in its recent history. As Samir W. Raafat in his book,Maadi 1904-1962: society and history in a Cairo Suburb, explains: in 1951, Princess Fawzia of Egypt (also, formerly Queen of Iran) and her husband, Major Ismail Chirine, planned to acquire this property and build a ranch/residence estate on it for themselves. However, following the 1952 coup, the property was confiscated by the new government. "The blueprints for Princess Fawzia's Digla ranch were no longer needed. The only construction that had taken place was a one-meter high limestone wall around the 11-plus feddan perimeter, while, in one corner of the property, an area of about four feddans, Ismail Chirine had planted mango saplings. These had been hand-picked from the royal estates in Inchass." (pg. 217)

By 1966 the campus plan was completed, building permits were approved, additional funding for construction, materials, and equipment was obtained from the U.S. government and U.S. corporations, and in the fall of 1966 construction began. To relieve the overcrowding while permanent facilities were being built, temporary classrooms for some of the elementary classes were set up in prefabricated structures on the property away from the construction.

Curriculum maintained the basic patterns established in the earlier years. Enrollment increased slightly towards a peak of 446 students (75% American) taught by 45 faculty members during the 1966-67 school year. These record high numbers would not be matched again at CAC until the mid 1970s.

Restructuring to Maintain Course 1967-74

In the aftermath of the June 1967 war, the population of the school changed abruptly in both size and national composition. The size of the faculty went from 45 to 20. From 446 students in the previous spring, only 36 K-8 and no high school students were enrolled in the fall of 1967. By the end of the 1967-68 school year enrollment had increased to a total of 168 K-12 students, which included only 13 high school seniors. For the first time enrollment reports indicated that less than 50% of the students were Americans, and for a short time, most of the faculty were Egyptians and other non-American nationalities. The Board of Directors and administration remained primarily American and the support staff was largely Egyptian. In the next year and a half, enrollment quickly climbed to around 300 and stayed within this range for the next several years. The high school enrollment, however, remained at a low level until 1974.

The lower level enrollment patterns were maintained in spite of the fact that in the middle of this period (fall of 1970) the school moved to its newer, larger facilities in Digla. As Sullivan's history points out, "three years after moving to Digla, CAC had about 350 students rattling around in fifteen buildings on nearly twelve acres of grounds." (pg. 33) The overriding enrollment variable during this era was the reduction in the number of American families in Egypt caused by a severing of formal diplomatic relations in 1967 between Egypt and the United States. Interaction between American and Egyptians was slowly rebuilt during the years that followed. The government and staffing of the school were restructured to maximize stability and maintain the established American curriculum. The parents' association was inactive and did not re-emerge until 1975. In spite of these cut-backs in operations, the school's leadership continued to develop structures and facilities in anticipation of major expansion in the future.

A Decade of Rapid Growth 1975-85

Just as the June 1967 war resulted in reducing, and all but freezing, the level of Americans in Egypt, the October 1973 war signaled the thawing of Egyptian-U.S. relations and the return American families to Egypt in much larger numbers than before. During the October 1973 war, few foreigners left Egypt. CAC missed only a few days of classes, although many classes were temporarily held off campus (primarily in teachers' homes) during the three weeks of the war.

During these years, total enrollment went from 343 to 1293 students. The percentage of American students grew from 44% to 63%. Egyptian students were able to enroll and their enrollment, starting from zero, grew to 7%. (It actually reached a high of 15% from 1980-82.) The senior class increased from 17 to 97 students and the faculty quadrupled from 32 to 137 members. Enrollment expanded so rapidly that many temporary facilities were needed, from externally rented classroom spaces to various short and long-term temporary structures on the campus itself.

In spite of the exponential enrollment growth, all of the school's programs were accommodated in on-campus, permanent facilities by the end of this period. A brief summary of this development effort demonstrates the vitality of the community in its ability and willingness to respond to educational needs. In the mid 1970s the twelve-acre campus, surrounded by trees, shrubs, and a low decorative wall, contained a large open playground and a sports facility area, several temporary structures, and fifteen new permanent educational buildings with a distinctively Egyptian architectural style. These facilities could accommodate 550 students initially and long-range building plans were ready to accommodate up to 800 students. Work on a new high school building and a swimming pool and diving facility was in progress. This campus transformation began midway though this period. By 1985, the school could accommodate 1400 students. These developments can be tracked by the following completion dates: new high school building (1978), swimming and diving facility (1978), three-part, sequenced, three story classroom building (1980-83), industrial arts building (1982), theater (1982-83), fine arts building (1983), additional elementary building (1984), and gymnasium (1985).

Consolidation and Stability 1985-95

Other than two disruptive factors that occurred in 1986 and several small trends, the patterns of the 1985-86 academic year were a good representation of the coming era. Overall enrollment was 1292 (with 80 high school seniors) on a campus that was designed to accommodate up to 1400 students. Slow growth was expected over the next few years. From the previous year, the percentage of Egyptian students had jumped to 9%, the American student percentage had dropped slightly to 57%, and other countries accounted for 34% of enrollment. There were 136 faculty members of whom 79% were American. Enrollment trends that emerged were: an incremental rise and the leveling off of the percentage of Egyptian students; a corresponding small decrease in the percentage of students from third countries; and an overall high school population growth outpacing that of grades K-8.

In 1986 two external factors had a significant (though temporary) effect on CAC's operations: the February security force riot and the drastic drop in the price of crude oil. The level of concern for safety and security that has persisted since 1986 is symbolized in the high security wall that was built around the campus in the summer following the February riot. The riot, together with the reduction of oil company personnel in the region, contributed to a short period of total enrollment declines that hit a low of 1061 students in 1987-88. From this point, enrollment began a steady increase toward full capacity by 1992-93. The percentage of American students dropped temporarily to a low of 52% in 1986-87 and then climbed back to a level of 59%.

Enrollment patterns in September 1994 included a total enrollment of approximately 1400 students made up of 59% Americans, 13% Egyptians, and 28% other nationalities. While the percentage of other nationalities declined during this period, the number of nations represented increased to a total of 59. The size of the senior class stood at 112 students and the faculty had climbed to 168.

Other developments from 1985-95 include: major growth in spending to upgrade information technology in both the classroom and work environments; enhancement of special education services; adoption of an international baccalaureate diploma program; a new K-12 curriculum coordination process; conversion from half-day to a full-day kindergarten; construction of a new four-story elementary classroom and administration building; and extensive renovation and expansion of high school offices, science labs, and classrooms. With the recent completed construction, the new optimal enrollment of the school is1450 students.

Preliminary work has begun on major renovations to the theater, a new arts classroom building, upgrading the playing fields, and networking the campus. During the 1993-94 and 1994-95 school years, a redefinition of the school through the development of a new mission statement and objectives as a part of an extensive strategic planning process focusing to the year 2000 has been a primary activity involving the whole CAC community.


This brief was assembled by James V. Glynn.

Most of the information for the period from 1945-1986 was condensed from Tim Sullivan's 55 page essay: "The Education of Americans in Egypt." Editing by Neila P. Brownstein.