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Berkeley Law Lecturer, Students Work to Effect Change in Egypt

Stephen Rosenbaum '80
Lecturer Stephen Rosenbaum '80

By Andrew Cohen

For Berkeley Law lecturer Stephen Rosenbaum ’80, the question of whether to uproot his life and spend seven months in Egypt offered an easy response: “How many times does one get to witness a revolutionary process or the political and social transformation of a society?”

Rosenbaum is doing just that during a busy stint as adviser to the American Bar Association (ABA) Rule of Law Initiative in Cairo. Despite not being proficient in Arabic and living far from family and friends, Rosenbaum has happily dived in.

His main focus has been to help the law school at Helwan University launch an environmental justice clinic in February—a trying task, given that the school has no professional skills training and no faculty with a practitioner background. Egypt has just two other fledgling law school clinics, and its law classes are almost exclusively large, theory-based lectures with minimal student interaction.

“This effort requires a change in the educational culture from faculty to students to the administration,” said Rosenbaum, who has made Rule of Law visits to francophone nations for over a decade. “But it’s important in countries like Egypt to not simply sell ‘Made in America.’ Most academic players discount U.S. models as financially unfeasible or not adaptable to the local traditions, legal system, bureaucracy, or economic conditions.”

National sovereignty is also a sensitive issue in Egpyt, Rosenbaum noted. Government forces recently conducted raids on human rights and civil society organizations accused of receiving foreign funds and using them to promote a “foreign agenda.”
On Dec. 21, Rosenbaum presented a paper on legal clinics at an annual national law school conference in Alexandria. He is collaborating with U.S. professors who have run successful environmental justice clinics, and with a network of active clinicians inside and outside the U.S.

Rosenbaum, who will return to Berkeley in March to help lead a disability law symposium, is also coordinating Egypt’s first national moot court competition and laying the groundwork for a legal writing contest. Local moot court tournaments will be held at four universities, with the national finals March 10-11. The theme, government regulation of the internet and licensure of websites and blogs, is timely given the role social media played in Egypt’s revolution—which celebrates its first anniversary Jan. 25—and in organizing and mobilizing its youth.

“Launching the moot court competition has been quite a process,” Rosenbaum said. “Law students here have almost no background in research and analysis. Many have never spoken before an audience, let alone make an argument before a mock court, so it’s a pretty steep learning curve.”

Rosenbaum is also busy helping local law faculty on curricular reform. He even spent a week in Doha, Qatar advising a colleague on courses for a new women and family legislative advocacy clinic at Qatar University College of Law. The school—with classes segregated by gender and no women on the regular faculty—will play a lead role in drafting Qatar’s first law to counter domestic violence.

Candace Neal ’12, who spent fall semester at a field placement with the Egyptian Institute for Personal Rights, assisted Rosenbaum’s ABA colleague in teaching two legal analysis courses to recent law graduates. She also worked on the moot court competition, compiling documents students will use to make their legal arguments and writing a bench memorandum for the judges.

During the latter part of her field placement, Neal drafted research memos on national security issues, extraordinary renditions, emergency laws, corporate violations of human rights, and military extrajudicial killings. When a TV station urged Egyptians to protect the military from protestors—during a protest that devolved into riots in which more than 25 people died—Neal analyzed legal issues surrounding state incitement of violence.

“With revolution, civil unrest, and political awakening often comes serious judgment calls that challenge a state’s commitment to human rights,” Neal said. “It was really gratifying to research the legality of current events in real time.”

Neal’s classmate, Rabiah Rahman ’12, spent the semester working for African and Middle East Refugee Assistance, which provides legal help to refugees applying for asylum in Egypt. “I learned so much from my clients’ strength and tenacity,” Rahman said, “and I was able to enhance my client interviewing skills immensely.”