Once semester down and one to go, I arrived in Egypt last Friday eager to begin another term abroad in Cairo and see my friends. Finding tanks in the street, road blocks in place, shops closed, a curfew underway and both Internet and cell phone service suspended, I quickly recognized that this was not the Cairo I had left only six weeks ago.
Forced to leave Egypt only three days later, I find myself confronted with mixed emotions: anger at a regime’s obdurate refusal to listen to the Egyptian people, fear for my Egyptian friends and their families and appreciation for being a Georgetown student. Georgetown managed to secure the miraculous departure of 15 students, including myself, from Cairo to Doha, Qatar, Monday afternoon. Greeted by dozens of Georgetown staff and faculty members, we are all now safe and sound at School of Foreign Service-Qatar campus. In the days ahead, we will be meeting with academic deans and advisers in order to determine our plans for the next few months. Needless to say, we are all extraordinarily fortunate.
Just yesterday afternoon, I was told to pack my bags, merely 24 hours after unpacking them. I was certainly not pleased to be deciding which clothes to take or leave, nor was I happy to be leaving a country I had dreamed of for years and only experienced for a few months. If I had any legitimate, rational reason to remain, I surely would have. The facts, however, cannot be ignored. A shortage of food supplies, gasoline and water appears imminent as lines at the grocery stores and gas stations continue to grow. Perhaps even more alarming is that no one has any idea what tomorrow will bring.
Before boarding my flight, I spoke with my friend Alia, an Egyptian student at the American University of Cairo. Alia said that at least a million protesters plan to march on Tuesday — and for the first time since the protests began, Alia and her dad will not be joining in, as the demonstrations threaten to turn violent. Although Alia was certainly on edge the past few days, placing kitchen knives around her house and collecting heavy poles to place by the door, something in her voice today was different. The troubling uncertainty for her family and her nation’s future was audible as she cautioned me to be safe and call as soon as possible so she knew I was ok. The combination of the chaotic nature of the airport and Alia’s remarks made me think that perhaps leaving Cairo was a good idea.
After spending four months in Egypt this fall, I had come to think of Cairo as a second home. Forced to leave under these circumstances was truly disheartening. But my experiences and disappointment over the past few days pale in comparison to the bewilderment of each and every Egyptian. While it is assuredly inconvenient that I have to suddenly reconfigure my life for the next few months, disappointing that I will probably never fully learn the Egyptian dialect and upsetting that I overslept on the morning my classmates went to the Egyptian museum this fall, I will undoubtedly be able to overcome these little speed bumps. On the other hand, my Egyptian friends sit and watch the news, jumping as their cell phones ring and fighter jets fly through the air. Where they will study this semester is the least of their worries when faced with an inability to walk the streets past curfew or the possibility of running out of money before the banks reopen.
Now more than ever, it is important that world leaders recognize the Egyptian people’s demand for an end to Mubarak’s regime, a government which most recently freed criminals and ordered government officials to act as looters. Ultimately, if these demonstrations succeed and Mubarak leaves Egypt, each Egyptian will have a chance for unprecedented opportunities and political freedoms. Legitimate elections, true freedom of expression and an end to corruption and nepotism would assuredly benefit a people, who from my experience, deserve a nation that reflects their rich culture and phenomenal heritage. As I listened to my parents, Georgetown and the U.S. Department of State when they advised I return home despite my wishes, Mubarak too should listen to the calls of his people.
Michelle Saks is a junior in the College. Saks studied abroad at the American University in Cairo last semester and recently arrived in Egypt to spend another semester studying there; she was evacuated from Egypt on Monday.