Duke students currently in Cairo are subject to in-country travel restrictions due to potential unrest surrounding the Egyptian presidential elections this past weekend.
Before leaving for Egypt, DukeEngage Cairo and Duke in the Arab World participants agreed to various restrictions pertaining to movement around the city. Administrators created these policies—which went into effect Saturday—in anticipation of protest and possible violence as Egyptians headed to the polls June 16 and 17. As the situation in Cairo remains calm in the areas where students are living and working, the limitations are slowly being lifted.
Since Saturday, DukeEngage students have been bound to Garden City—a small, upscale district within Cairo. Until Wednesday, students were unable to visit the primary partner organization where they volunteer throughout the duration of the program. Additionally, they have an 8 p.m. curfew, compared to the standard 11 to 12 p.m. curfew, and are still unable to visit the program’s secondary partner organization. Students are not allowed to visit Tahrir Square, where protests have been almost unending since spring 2011.
Students studying abroad with Duke in the Arab World, who will leave Egypt this Saturday, are limited to the district of Zamalek. Professors meet the students at their American University of Cairo residence hall for classes, Amanda Kelso, associate director of the Global Education Office for Undergraduates, wrote in an email Wednesday. Duke in the Arab World students were not aware of these specific constraints before the program began.
“The restrictions haven’t taken too much of a toll on our overall experience,” said DukeEngage participant Sarah Haas, a sophomore. “The restrictions have, however, impacted the people we are working with.”
While the DukeEngage students have been away from the workplace, many people at the organizations were asking where the American students were and why they were restricted to their apartments, Haas wrote in an email Wednesday.
Although administrators must be mindful of student safety in the region, they also recognize that they have an opportunity to witness a crucial moment for Egypt and the Middle East, said Eric van Danen, director of communications for DukeEngage.
“There are very few Americans here right now, and we have front-row seats to something we will read in history books soon to come,” Haas said, noting that she hopes no disruptions will force Duke to bring the students back to the United States.
Administrators in Durham have been maintaining close watch on Cairo’s political atmosphere throughout the programs’ duration, gathering information from the U.S. State Department, Duke’s long-term emergency management partner International SOS as well as on-the-ground reports from Mbaye Lo, who directs both programs and is an assistant professor of the practice of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.
“Reports suggest that things have been largely calm,” Van Danen said. “But because future events are unpredictable, those restrictions remain in place.”
Kelso noted that the Global Education Office put significant time and resources into contingency planning for the Duke in the Arab World program.
DukeEngage administrators, in conjunction with Duke’s International Travel Oversight Committee weighed whether or not to hold the Cairo program this summer, ultimately deciding in early April that the conditions were safe enough to send students to Egypt. ITOC also considered suspending the program last summer.
Egypt’s Supreme Election Commission initially scheduled to announce the winner of the election today, as both candidates—Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq—claim victory. Currently, Egypt is under military rule, and former President Hosni Mubarak is in critical condition at a Cairo hospital. Thousands have gathered in Tahrir Square this week in protest, but administrators expect that the Duke programs will continue as planned.
Van Danen said although it is unlikely a situation would arise that might force students to leave Egypt, Duke has a system in place to remove students from the country if necessary.
“With appropriate safety measures in place, students are going to continue enjoying their service experience and see the program to its end in late July,” he said.