Egyptian politics lead to shortened study abroad trip


Timeline of 2013 Events in the Overthrow of Morsi and its Aftermath

Austin junior Rachel Clark goes to Egypt for the summer and stands in front of the pyramids. (Courtesy Art)
Austin junior Rachel Clark goes to Egypt for the summer and stands in front of the pyramids. (Courtesy Art)
By Maleesa Johnson
Staff Writer

The study abroad trip wasn’t going as she’d hoped.

Austin junior Rachel Clark watched as one American student after another left for the Cairo International Airport.

On June 1, a little more than a month before Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was deposed, Clark arrived in Cairo to take two six-week classes, Egyptian Politics and Government and Arab Society. Originally, she was supposed to stay for eight weeks. Because of the turmoil of Morsi being removed from office, Clark was forced to leave three weeks early.

“I knew there would be some protest and there would be violence, but I wasn’t expecting a full-on revolution,” Clark said. “I didn’t even find out about the revolution until the day we got there when we saw graffiti about it.”

Clark said she enjoyed the time she had in Egypt. She got to go to museums in Cairo and experience the culture in marketplaces and visit various sights such as the Pyramids.

“I really wanted to stay,” Clark said. “I was planning trips with my friends like once we’re off lockdown we can go to Alexandria or the Red Sea, but that ended shortly.”

These plans never came to fruition. Toward the end of June, multiple administrators and professors started contacting Clark. Word of protests against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi had made the news and they emailed to check on her status. From then on, Clark was in contact with someone from Baylor every day, sometimes multiple times a day.

“They were very kind, gracious and patient,” Clark said. “They could tell there were times when I was freaking out.”

These times of unease were not constant for Clark. She was staying on Zamalek, a small island in the middle of Cairo. Though the island is about half a mile away from Tahrir Square, the central point of the riots, the conflict did not reach the bridge to Zamalek until after Clark left.

“The island that I was on, if there was no media, you would have never known the protest was going on,” Clark said. “It’s like a little international community so I felt safe there unless I went out.”

The tension built as protests turned into a revolution. On the first day of July, eight people had been killed in riots around the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.

“I had a lot of comments from my aunts and uncles like ‘get the hell out of dodge, leave right now,’” Clark said. “I left in good timing because the day after I came back the protest and fighting had moved onto the bridge that lead to Zamalek, so I would have been trapped there. “

The riots were not the only cause for unease. An anti-American sentiment began to grow in the midst of this chaos.

“People were blaming America for their problems and saying America was working with Morsi,” Clark said. “Some of my friends there were posting hateful statuses so that was making me a little uneasy.”

Students were given warnings of what places to avoid. Clark said she felt safe most of the time, but there were nagging thoughts in the back of her mind.

“They say to avoid small mosques because those are the mosques where they spread really ridiculous statements, so when I would go down a street and see one, I’d think ‘I should maybe go down another street,’” Clark said. “That sounds terrible because I know a lot of them would be safe, but you start thinking what if this person does this.”

In spite of nearby casualties, study abroad students from varying universities remained in Cairo. However, by July 3, the State Department sent out a warning for all Americans to evacuate Egypt. Clark received this notice an hour after Baylor contacted her telling her it was no longer safe. Upon her arrival at the airport, she boarded a Lufthansa flight leaving Egypt. Rachel said she thought the pilot must have been nervous, as he left thirty minutes early.

“I left within thirty hours of when I got the notice to leave,” Clark said.

The sudden departure left Clark with a lack of closure. She said she enjoyed her time in Egypt and was disappointed when she had to leave three weeks earlier than planned. She said she hopes to return someday.

“I miss my friends,” Clark said. “I did not get a proper goodbye to Egypt.”

Clark was not the first Baylor student to be evacuated from Cairo while studying abroad. In 2011, two students studying in the same location had to leave. However, Randy Penson, the associate director of the Center for International Education, said it is rare for students to be in that situation. In situations like this, Penson, joined by Naymond Keathley, the Interim Director of Center for International Education, and various other faculty stay in contact with the student and keep a close eye on the news. Should a student ever convey discomfort, they would take action to place that student in a safe place.

“I think at any point, if she felt uncomfortable we would have probably moved even quicker,” Penson said. “She was very calm and didn’t seem nervous at all.”

Penson said the study abroad trip to Cairo for the fall has been canceled and he is unsure when they will resume allowing students to study in Egypt.

According to the Associated Press, terror leader Moktar Belmoktar announce last Thursday that he is joining forces with a Mali-based jihadist group and has promised support Islamists in Egypt. It is also estimated that 42 churches in Egypt have been attacked by supporters of Morsi. The violence continued when on Aug. 14, the police cleared two protest camps set up by Morsi’s supporters. This ignited nationwide violence that reportedly left hundreds dead and thousands injured.