WU students evacuated from Egypt
Junior Parsa Bastani was studying in Alexandria at the Middlebury School in the Middle East, which is based at Alexandria University. He is on his way back to St. Louis from Prague and is contemplating various options for finishing out the semester.
Junior Allegra Skurka, studying at Cairo University, flew to Athens this week and plans to finish the semester in Jordan.
Protests against Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president since 1981, began in Cairo last Tuesday and turned to violent riots as more than 250,000 Egyptians took to the streets.
The protesters’ grievances include various legal and political issues, including police brutality, state-of-emergency laws, lack of free elections and free speech, food-price inflation and low minimum wages.
Standing on a balcony at a friend’s apartment near the city center, Skurka was close enough to feel the effects of the tear gas initially used to dispel the riots.
“It was [a] moment that brought me to reality, that the U.S. and my rights don’t travel with me wherever I go,” Skurka wrote in an e-mail to Student Life. “I wouldn’t feel the sting of tear gas if I were in the U.S. I was in a country whose citizens don’t have the right to stand up for themselves and who are being repressed by the very body that is charged with protecting them. Egyptians call it state terrorism. No one should have to endure that.”
On Monday, the Egyptian military declared that it would not fire on protesters. Mubarak and his family have allegedly since fled to London, and Mubarak has declared that he will not seek re-election and will leave office when his term ends in September.
Organizers of the protest were inspired by similar events in Tunisia, which succeeded in ousting Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of authoritarian rule.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued an order for all non-emergency personnel and their families to evacuate the country immediately. After EgyptAir canceled approximately 75 percent of its flights, airlines from around the world arranged about 85 flights to ferry those visiting Egypt to safer nations.
Skurka flew to Athens on a flight chartered by the U.S. Department of State.
“The decision was made to evacuate on Sunday, but we were not able to get secure transport to the airport for our chartered flight until Monday,” Skurka wrote. “It was much worse for the people who were trying to catch commercial flights out of the country as opposed to chartered evacuation planes.”
Bastani could not be reached for comment.
“We are very relieved,” Priscilla Stone, director of Overseas Programs at the University, wrote in an e-mail to Student Life. “Middlebury College and AMIDEAST, who were hosting these two students, did a very good job under trying circumstances in evacuating these students and keeping us and the families informed of their progress,”
2010 alumni Adina Appelbaum and Marcus Walton, studying in Egypt on Fulbright scholarships, were both out of the country when the protests began—Appelbaum in Morocco and Walton in Tunisia. Both have been reported safe.
Senior Toby Shepard, who completed a program at the American University in Cairo last spring, expressed relief at the students’ evacuation and concern for the Egyptian friends she made.
“On the one hand, I’m really excited for Egypt and for all of the Egyptians because this is a really important historical moment for them, and the possibility for real change is sort of exciting and infectious,” Shepard said. “On the other hand, as reports of the number of protesters who were killed has gone up, I’m nervous for my Egyptian friends who I know are still there.”