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In Memoriam: Rudolf E. de Jong (1958–2024)

On Friday 16 February 2024, Rudolf E. de Jong passed away unexpectedly in Cairo. Since 2012, he was the director of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC), which he skillfully managed for 12 years. He was laid to rest in Amsterdam on 27 February. Rudolf was 65.

In Memoriam: Rudolf E. de Jong (1958–2024)

Rudolf was an Arabist and an expert on Bedouin dialects of Sinai. In 1986, he began his studies in Arabic at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), where he submitted an MA thesis on Arabic dialects in the Fayyum in Egypt. This thesis, published in two parts in the Zeitschrift für arabische Linguistik (1996), sowed the seeds for his later work. For his doctoral research (under the supervision of Professor Manfred Woidich) at the UvA, funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), Rudolf conducted dialectological fieldwork in Sinai. He obtained his doctorate cum laude on 2 September 1999, the research results of which were published in the book A Grammar of the Bedouin Dialects of the Northern Sinai Littoral: Bridging the Linguistic Gap Between the Eastern and Western Arab World (Brill, 2000). In 2003 Rudolf received a VENI grant from NWO to expand his research, resulting in his second book A Grammar of the Bedouin Dialects of Central and Southern Sinai (Brill, 2011). His many publications on the dialectological features of Egyptian/Sinai Arabic have made a lasting impact on the field of Arabic, dialectology, and sociolinguists. Rudolf was excellently equipped to be a good field researcher. He bridged the gap between scientist and interlocutor by listening to people and winning their trust. These skills were particularly crucial when conducting research in  Bedouin society, and he forged lasting friendships with many of his research participants.

The importance of his research on dialects in Sinai can hardly be overstated, his work there was groundbreaking. With his research, Rudolf not only unearthed a wealth of data and described it all accurately, he was able to show through an innovative and statistically based analysis of the isoglosses, that the Bedouin dialects spoken in North Sinai represent a transition between those of a more sedentary type in the Eastern Nile Delta and those of the Bedouins in the Negev Desert, and that they connect further east to so-called North West Arabic. Thus, the existing gap in our knowledge, in particular ‘the linguistic gap between the Eastern and Western Arab World’, was filled in an exemplary manner.

Aside from his groundbreaking research, Rudolf was also a teacher and an active member of his academic community. He taught Arabic and dialectology at the universities of Groningen, Amsterdam and Leiden. He was actively involved in AIDA, the Association Internationale de Dialectologie Arabe, from its very beginning, and between 2004–2015 he served as secretary general. Rudolf furthermore served as co-editor of the online edition of the Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics (Brill), and most recently in 2022, he and three colleagues published the textbook Arabic Sociolinguistics (Cambridge University Press).

In 2012, he took over the helm of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo, where he was director for 12 years until his death. His directorship stands out as a period of growth and expansion for the institute. Student numbers soared, and the institute became internationally well-known as one of the most important academic centers in Egypt and the Middle East. Rudolf’s leadership style was unique and centered around the empowerment of and respect for his staff and students. He listened, had empathy, and consulted with his staff on major decisions. In doing so, he maintained a pleasant and convivial environment to work and study.

Rudolf was most at ease on his balcony at the institute, with his coffee, his cigarette and, if possible, a Dutch ‘stroopwafel’. He delighted in the company of researchers, diplomats, students, and staff, and could often be found discussing plans and strategizing. Rudolf relished in collaborative work, and was able to synergise and bring people and ideas together. Nobody passed through Cairo without coming for tea or coffee with him on the balcony.

With his passion and commitment, Rudolf turned NVIC into an institute that attracts students and researchers from all over the Netherlands, Flanders and beyond; an active institute where education, research and outreach complement each other seamlessly and where everyone can feel at home and valued.

We wish Rudolf's family much strength in coping with this sudden loss, and we will permanently miss him as a colleague and a friend.

Marleen De Meyer – Ifdal Elsaket – Manfred Woidich

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