Encouraging an East-West dialogue

The courses offered on the Menton campus focus on the Middle East and Mediterranean Basin countries. Intercultural dialogue and interreligious debate are an important part of campus life, largely thanks to Bernard El Ghoul, the director of the campus, who fosters the common values of tolerance and living together among a student community of diverse backgrounds and origins. Portrait of an esteemed director, whom students affectionately call the "Lebanese Di Caprio."

Bernard El Ghoul is the first to admit that the role of director is not always evident. It can sometimes be difficult to find a balance between educational choices, strategic orientations and administrative procedures. "Unfortunately, I don't spend as much time as I would like to with the students," he explains with a touch of disappointment in his voice. El Ghoul is nevertheless much appreciated by his students, who nicknamed him the "Lebanese Di Caprio."

After he pursued a degree in political science at the University of Aix-Marseille, El Ghoul joined the Sciences Po Paris campus in 1998. With his Master of Advanced Studies in International Relations in pocket, he went on to pursue a Ph.D in the socio-economic transformations of the Gulf countries, after which he spent two years posted in Abu Dhabi and Dubai working for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When in 2005 he was offered the directorship of the new Sciences Po campus in Menton, El Ghoul took up the challenge without hesitation. Although only 27 years old at the time, he was considered to be the ideal candidate for the position: an expert in the Middle East with dual French-Lebanese nationality and fluent in French, Arabic and English. Born in Paris in 1977, he discovered Lebanon and the throes of a country at war very early on; but it is above all the memory of the joy and hospitality characteristic of the Mediterranean countries that he intends to bring to life on the Menton campus. 

A campus on the shores of the Mediterranean

The quality of the teaching and the dedication of the teaching and administrative staff are the hallmarks of the campus. Each semester, students take a language course in Arabic, Turkish or Persian and they also have the opportunity to study regional dialects. Linguistic training is complemented by courses relating to the different civilizations: Introduction to the Arab-Muslim World, the Cultures and Religions of the Mediterranean Area, the History of Modern Arab Political Thought, and States and Societies in the Arab World. 

"Our aim is to encourage French and European students to work with students from the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, in an East-West dialogue. This intercultural dimension, this face-to-face encounter with Europe, reveals that the Middle East is not only a conflict zone. It is also and above all an area of opportunity."

12 years after its creation, the Menton campus welcomes almost 300 students. The campus is situated in the heart of the city of Menton, in the old Saint-Julien hospice, one of the most beautiful historical buildings in the seaside town. Students benefit from the immediate proximity to the beach, numerous sports facilities, and they can also easily visit neighbouring Italy; the border is only a few kilometres from the campus. "The location is a real asset. It's a campus with a focus on the Mediterranean, situated in the Mediterranean area. We are based in the geographical area that we study." 

Cultural mixity is the very essence of our campus

"Cultural mixity is the very essence of our campus,” explains El Ghoul who describes himself as "a product of Eastern and Western influences." While many students at the Menton campus come from North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, the United States and Asia are also represented in the student body. "We have rapidly become recognised as a thematic campus, attracting students from all over the world, and not only from the geographical area that we study." In this very international climate, students develop strong bonds of friendship and solidarity. "The values of sharing and friendship are very present on campus and originate from the East with the three great monotheisms of the shores of the Mediterranean Basin. This is reflected in the friendly atmosphere among the student community. The students take things seriously but without taking themselves too seriously. They always want to share their cultures and languages."

These small differences between people "who seem very much alike"

"The students showed exceptional resilience during the Arab Spring in 2011," recalls El Ghoul. When the protests were taking place in Tahrir Square, some of the students who were spending their third year in Egypt had to be be repatriated. They were then moved to a more stable country, Syria, to continue their year abroad. Only a few months later, the country underwent a civil uprising and once again the students had to return to France. 

Tolerance and open-mindedness are therefore 'de rigueur' on campus in order to limit the exacerbation of differences among young people who have a great deal in common. This involves the limiting of national symbols and a requirement for neutrality on the part of the administration. "We have banned the display of flags and other national symbols so as not to offend one another or incite the hatred of others. Only the flag with the Sciences Po coat of arms is tolerated," El Ghoul explains. "The students should not feel that they are denying their identity, but nor should they take an abrasive stance espousing strong national and identity claims. First and foremost, they are Sciences Po students who must be able to blend into a common melting pot."

Tanguy Garrel-Jaffrelot, student in journalism and international affairs at Sciences Po

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