During the first week of July, five University students were studying abroad in Cairo, where this past week the Egyptian government of President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by popular and military action. All five students, which included four graduate students and one undergraduate, have now left Egypt. A few recent graduates of the University have chosen to remain in the country despite warnings from the State Department advising Americans to evacuate.
In recent weeks, the political and social climate of Egypt has become increasingly violent and hostile to Westerners. On June 29, Reuters reported that an American student had been fatally stabbed by protesters in Alexandria.
The office of Diana Davies, the University's vice provost for international initiatives, has monitored the situation in Egypt in recent weeks, according to University Director of News and Editorial Services Dan Day. On July 2, the day that Morsi publicly rejected an ultimatum issued to him by the Egyptian army, the University issued a freeze to prevent any further undergraduate travel to Egypt.
On the afternoon of July 3, Davies' office decided to recall the University students. Day was unable to confirm whether the decision was made after the time when General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi declared that Morsi had been removed from office, as reported that afternoon by The New York Times. Day said he believed the University took this action shortly before the U.S. Department of State issued its recommendation advising Americans in Egypt to leave the country after Morsi was removed from office.
The students, who arranged their travel independently and out-of-pocket, flew out of Egypt on Thursday and Friday. Day said that at least one student made use of International SOS, an insurance service that the University uses to support its international operations.
James Casey GS, a history student who was studying at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad on a Boren Fellowship, evacuated Cairo on Friday, July 5. After Morsi's ouster, the Institute of International Education, a federal office that oversees the Boren Fellowship and other American programs, made the decision to close American educational programs.
Casey, who was five months into his planned 12-month stay in Egypt, left the country after CASA urged its students to evacuate. He flew to Washington, D.C., through Dubai.
Casey and the other CASA students are currently completing their coursework remotely and hope to return to the city. Casey, who studied abroad in Cairo for a year while an undergraduate, said he never felt unsafe there.
Casey made his travel arrangements through his own personal insurance company, FrontierMEDEX, rather than through the University's services.
"We didn't hear from Princeton until the last minute. In terms of evacuation procedure, we were told to just call the insurance company and say what was going on," Casey said. "If there had been a real problem, I'm not really sure that Princeton could have done anything for us."
In addition to the currently enrolled University students, a few recent alumni of the University are currently in Egypt. Chloe Bordewich '12, a recent graduate who completed a fellowship at CASA in May, is currently working as a freelance translator. Despite the State Department's warning, she chose to remain in Egypt.
Bordewich said she chose to stay because she sees the current moment as historic and feels that by remaining, she is gaining a better understanding of Egypt. She explained that Cairo is a very large city and that the protests and violence depicted on broadcast news are not representative of the city's safety situation as a whole. Although she has been aware of the military presence throughout the city, she said that life continues as normal for her and for most others in Cairo. Nevertheless, she has not been moving throughout the city on her own since last Wednesday, the day of the ouster.
Bordewich added that she has experienced a noticeable escalation in anti-Western and particularly anti-American sentiment over the past week. Following the advice of her Egyptian friends, she has avoided large gatherings and has lied about her nationality. Both her roommates, who had been studying with American programs, have evacuated.
Both Bordewich and Casey expressed skepticism with the way the protests have been presented in the media. Both said they were very hesitant to describe the ouster as a military coup despite how they see it being reported by foreign media.
"The army would not have moved to overthrow the president had not 17 million people been on the streets in Cairo," Casey said. For most of the Egyptians who support the protests, he said, the overthrow represented "a genuine popular democratic moment of protest."
"Egypt has been in a state of slow-motion collapse since the Muslim Brotherhood took control in 2012," Casey said. He described the popular movement against Morsi's government as a reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood's inability to govern the country and keep even basic utilities functioning.
"It's less politics than it is popular frustration at a government that's much more interested in consolidating power for the party itself than for governing. So I would say this is much more important than the kind of hand-wringing you see in a lot of commentary about politics," Casey explained.
Sammy Schatz '13 was taking a one-month Arabic course at CASA. After he had been in Cairo for two weeks, Schatz said he became concerned about remaining in Egypt on July 1, when the Egyptian army issued its 48-hour ultimatum to Morsi. The previous weekend, he and his roommates had remained inside their apartment as much as possible to stay safe while protests for and against Morsi's regime continued within the city.
Nasr City, where Schatz had been living, has been reported as a site of pro-Morsi gatherings. However, because the gatherings were a few miles away from his home, Schatz said he never feared for his safety.
Schatz said he emailed Daniel Kurtzer, a Wilson School professor who had been his thesis adviser, to ask his advice about the political climate in Egypt. Kurtzer recommended that Schatz leave the country. Schatz then flew from Cairo on July 2 to his home in Los Angeles via London and Toronto. After he arrived home, he received an email from the U.S. embassy in Egypt advising Americans to evacuate.
He added that his experience in Egypt gave him a much more informed perspective of the political turmoil in the country. Schatz explained that he has come to understand that the popular movement is the result of the people's concerns about day-to-day issues, such as the price of food and gasoline and assignment of blame to the government in power.
"I think that they're just blaming the person who's in charge now, and I'm concerned that that will happen again, no matter who it is," Schatz said. "I think they'll constantly restart this revolution until they recognize that for there to be any kind of real change, they're going to have to kind of be slightly more patient than a year."
Gavi Barnhard '13 is currently in a one-year fellowship with CASA and said he had planned to be in Cairo through May 2014. He was there for just more than a month before he evacuated on July 6.
At the beginning of his stay, Barnhard said he was living in an apartment in Tahrir Square, which has been the epicenter of recent protests, and recalled being able to hear anti-Morsi chants from his apartment. On June 28, CASA had Barnhard and some other students moved into dormitories in Zamalek, an area farther away from the center of the protests.
Barnhard was evacuated by CASA through the program's insurance. On July 4, the insurance company contacted each student and offered to either fly him to the United States or to an alternate location outside of Egypt. Barnhard said he chose to fly to Israel, where he has been staying with family. Like Casey, he is currently completing his CASA coursework remotely and said he hopes to return to Cairo to complete his fellowship.
University authorities advised students to stay away from protests in Cairo. As far as is known, Day said, the students did so and were not in harm's way at any time.
Whether the University students will return to Egypt this summer, and whether University students will study abroad in Egypt during the fall, will be determined by the course of events in Cairo, Day said.