As a result of political turmoil and protests led by university students in Egypt during Arab Spring — when uprisings took place throughout the Middle East last spring — the Emory University Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA) has suspended the University's study abroad program in Cairo, Egypt for all of 2012. The reasons for the suspension stem from concern for the safety of students studying abroad in a politically volatile nation, according to Philip Wainwright, associate dean for summer and international programs.
The semester-long program, located at The American University in Cairo, was introduced more than 10 years ago, Wainwright said. According to Wainwright, the program immerses students in Arabic culture, which caters particularly to Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies and Arabic (MESAS) majors and also provides a full curriculum available for students interested in other subjects. One to two students from Emory participate each semester, Wainwright explained.
"For many years, our program in Cairo was the primary site for students to learn Arabic," he said. "We added the program to diversify our study abroad options for students interested in Middle Eastern politics or Arabic."
However, last spring, the political situation in Egypt included the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime, the suspension of the Egyptian Parliament and Constitution, the assumption of political power by the Egyptian Armed Forces and bloody student-run riots and protests.
Judging by the advisory responses from the State department, travel warnings and security assessments from International SOS — an organization committed to providing travel advice for businesses and schools — and input from MESAS professors at Emory, the CIPA staff deemed the situation in Egypt too dangerous to continue sending students there, according to Wainwright.
"We strive to strike a balance between an educational mission and an obligation to student safety," Wainwright said. "We would much rather err on the side of safety than send students into danger."
Because the program in Egypt was suspended, in part, Wainwright said, more students — particularly MESAS majors who are interested in Arabic — traveled to Morocco in fall 2011 and spring 2012 than in past years, and will continue to do so this fall.
"Student interests usually flow towards the country where they can be the most productive," Wainwright said. "They tend to stay away from countries in turmoil."
Wainwright acknowledged that CIPA received a very mixed response from students regarding their experiences in what he said he considers politically unstable nations, like Lebanon or Israel. Similar to the events that occurred in Egypt, the politics of these countries can be volatile and often lead to riots and violence, he explained.
Though some students noted that being in the center of political instability was frightening, the same students have said that there is an element of excitement in living and studying where history is being made, according to Wainwright.
College senior Kristin Cole, who studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa last summer, said that riots taking place in South Africa occurred in a different city than where she was at the time; still, she explained, one of her assignments was to speak with people who had suffered from apartheid politics.
"We were encouraged to meet natives and talk to them about their experiences," Cole said.
At the same time, though, she and other students studying abroad in the region were advised not to use public transportation.
"Emory provided us with transportation to get to class and our internships because going on public transportation would have been extremely dangerous," Cole said.
Nonetheless, while CIPA will not accept applications to study abroad in Egypt for all of 2012, CIPA has yet to decide whether to reinstate the program in 2013, according to Wainwright.
If the political situation in Egypt calms down, CIPA will accept applications for 2013; however, students participating in the program would have to undergo an extensive orientation with a specific focus on security before they would leave the United States.
The orientation, he said, could include standard advice regarding basic safety in a foreign country and will also include advice regarding the specific situation in Egypt with a focus on particularly dangerous regions to avoid.