The DukeEngage Cairo program has been indefinitely suspended due to the current civil unrest in Egypt.
The program's 11 students were informed of the suspension July 2 and returned to the United States July 6, nearly a month before their originally scheduled departure. The decision was made due both to safety concerns—including an increased state department travel warning and feedback from University experts—and expected logistic complications with the program's work, said DukeEngage executive director Eric Mlyn.
"We've obviously been monitoring the situation in Egypt very closely, given the political unrest there," Mlyn said. "We were ready for this and had been thinking about this for some time."
Students who participated in the program said that they were made aware of a possibility that they would be sent home, especially as scheduled mass protests of June 30 drew nearer.
"There was a lot of tension, but also a lot of optimism," said sophomore program participant Jake Weiner. "Everyone had a sense of nervous excitement, for the most part."
Students did not report feeling particularly unsafe but noted a shift in the city's atmosphere, as well as power outages and a gas shortage that complicated routes to their volunteer locations. On June 29, the students were moved from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh, a city on the Red Sea, where they stayed until their return home. The program's leader, Mbaye Lo, assistant professor of the practice of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, told them on the evening of July 2 that they would be leaving the country.
"In the few days before we left Cairo, the energy in the city was so charged with emotion," sophomore program participant Safiya Driskell wrote in an email July 4. "We could really feel frustration building day by day."
This marks the first time that DukeEngage has cancelled a program due to safety concerns, Mlyn said. The University has operated DukeEngage since 2007 and the Cairo program since 2008.
Another group of Duke students in Egypt—those participating in the Duke in the Arab World GEO-U Program, which is based in Egypt and Morocco—left the country on June 26 as originally scheduled, according to a University press release. Additionally, there are undergraduates in Egypt working on independent study projects or doing research, and Duke is communicating with them to determine how best to end their activity.
The future of DukeEngage Cairo is currently uncertain—the program office will continue to monitor Egypt's political situation in the coming months and will make an official decision regarding the 2014 program by October 1, Mlyn said. Students who participated in this year's program are guaranteed a spot in next year's, if the University decides to host it.
"Although I was heartbroken to find out that we were leaving Egypt early, and it's been such an amazing experience, I do agree with the decision to pull us," Driskell wrote. "There are too many factors that are uncontrollable in Cairo right now."