Remembering Tarek Swelim (1958–2023)

AUC Press was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of art historian Dr. Tarek Swelim, who died on 2 September 2023 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

Tarek brought passion and energy to everything he did, his zest for living, intellectual curiosity, and convivial and companionable personality earning him many friends from all walks of his life. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1958, to Dr. Nabil Swelim, an Egyptologist, and Ayshin Rida. He attended school in Alexandria and Cairo before obtaining a bachelor’s degree in tour guidance from the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management, Helwan University, in 1979. He later turned to academia, earning a master’s degree in Islamic art from the American University in Cairo in 1986, and a PhD in Islamic art and architecture from Harvard University in 1994. His scholarly interests ranged wide, from Mamluk Cairo and Greater Syria to early Islamic Egypt and ancient Egypt.

Admired for his extraordinary storytelling skills, Tarek was for many years a lecturer and travel consultant for American tour groups in the Middle East and North Africa. He later taught at the American University in Cairo, Ain Shams University, Egypt, and, more recently, Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, where he served as associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the university’s College of Islamic Studies.

In 2015, his detailed and richly illustrated architectural analysis of Cairo’s Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Ibn Tulun: His Lost City and Great Mosque, was published by the AUC Press. Former AUC Press associate director for editorial programs Neil Hewison fondly recalls the time he spent working with Tarek on the book: “He was a fine scholar and a lovely man with a big heart and a hearty laugh. It was always a great pleasure to work with him, and later to call him a friend,” adding, “even in illness, his expansive and generous spirit was undiminished.”

AUC Press senior acquisitions editor Nadine El-Hadi also worked closely with Tarek: “He was always a pleasure to work with. His sharp mind, vast knowledge, and generosity of spirit made him a much valued AUC Press author. His passing is a great loss to his field and to our AUC community.”

Tarek also contributed to The History and Religious Heritage of Old Cairo: Its Fortress, Churches, Synagogue, and Mosque, edited by Carolyn Ludwig (AUC Press, 2013), and the exhibition catalog, The Arabesque: An Introduction (IAMM Publications, 2018).

Our thoughts are with Tarek’s family at this time.

From AUC Press archives:

Tarek Swelim took us on a short visit of Ibn Tulun Mosque in celebration of the release of his book Ibn Tulun: His Lost City and Great Mosque (AUC Press, 2015).
An interview conducted by AUC Press in 2013 with Tarek Swelim, a contributor to The History and Religious Heritage of Old Cairo: Its Fortress, Churches, Synagogue, and Mosque (AUC Press, 2013).

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