As political unrest has grown in Egypt over the past six days, Yalies spending the semester in the African nation are searching for a safe haven from violence.
Thousands of Egyptians are protesting the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak. Yale administrators have contacted all 20 Yale students and faculty in Egypt for the semester and confirmed they are safe, said Donald Filer, associate secretary and director of international affairs, adding that four have already left the country. Filer said he advised the Yalies to stay where they are if their current locations are secure.
“We’re trying to make arrangements for them to leave as soon as possible,” he said, “which means getting them on a flight out of Egypt.”
This may be difficult, as outbound international flights are packed with people trying to escape the riots, Filer said, adding that he hopes all will leave the country within the next two or three days. Even traveling to the airport could pose a security threat, said Jane Edwards, dean of international and professional experience.
Only two undergraduates are currently studying abroad in Egypt, Edwards said, though more could be in the country conducting independent research. One of the study abroad students is Erin Biel ’13, who planned to spend this semester studying at the American University in Cairo. When the News reached Biel late Sunday night in her Cairo dorm, she had to cut the conversation short.
“There are looters coming through where I am living … I’m in my dormitory right now, but I can’t talk because there are sirens coming through —” she said before the connection cut off.
Herbert Biel, Erin’s father, said he spoke to his daughter Sunday night as well, adding that she is safe for now. While Herbert said his family is worried, they are reassured by the fact that the protests are not extremely violent. He said the Biels expect Erin to return to the United States in the next few days.
Leah Libresco ’11 said that Jessica Belding ’13 is studying abroad in Alexandria — which has also seen protests — through a Middlebury College program. Libresco, a friend of Belding’s, said she has not heard from Belding since President Mubarak shut down internet connections in the country. Belding could not be reached for comment. (Libresco is a staff columnist for the News.)
Jeffrey Cason, dean of international programs at Middlebury College, said in a press release Sunday that all students in Middlebury’s program are staying the night in the Alexandria airport. Cason said he expects them to return to the United States on Monday.
Sunday marked the sixth day protesters flooded the streets of Cairo in defiance of Mubarak’s three-decade-long rule, leaving burning buildings in their wake. Mubarak’s attempts to quell the riots by firing his cabinet, imposing a curfew, and shutting down Internet connections have thus far failed. The New York Times reported Sunday that even some members of the military are siding with the protesters.
Because the American University in Cairo sits on an island accessible by only two bridges, Erin has largely stayed safe amidst the protests, Herbert said. But just last week, he added, Erin had to run for safety when police fired rubber bullets into a crowd congregated in one of Cairo’s main public squares, which Erin was visiting with friends.
Herbert said his daughter is worried not just for her safety, but also for her academic plans.
“She’s very disappointed,” Herbert said. “She had planned this semester for a while because it meant quite a bit to her in terms of what she was trying to accomplish with her education.” Herbert added that the protests will provide his daughter with valuable insights about how geopolitical systems work.
Herbert said his daughter is also concerned about whether she’ll be allowed to enroll in Yale courses once she returns, given that semester is already well underway. Filer said that Erin Biel and other students will be allowed to enroll when they return to campus, but that the details must be worked out with Yale College Dean Mary Miller.
Miller said each student’s case will be handled individually upon the students’ returns.
The American University in Cairo where Biel is studying has canceled classes for the coming week.
Drew Henderson and Emily Wanger contributed reporting.