This summer, UC Berkeley student Samantha Iyer traveled to Cairo, Egypt, looking for a unique academic experience. But a month after her arrival, the nation fell into political turmoil — some of which began to escalate into violent encounters.
Iyer, a doctoral student in the campus department of history, traveled to Egypt in late May to conduct research for her dissertation. On July 2, she received an email from UC Berkeley risk manager Andrew Goldblatt offering to evacuate her immediately. Despite recommendations from both the university and the government to leave because of rising political tension, Iyer decided to remain in Egypt until late August to continue her research.
While the demonstrations may appear dangerous to some, Iyer is familiar with the political climate in Egypt because she was there from 2010 to 2012.
"I decided to stay because outside of Tahrir Square and a few other hot spots, everything is pretty much the same as always," Iyer said. "There are violent incidents happening here and there, which have been very depressing, but this is how it was before and during the period of transitional military rule from February 2011 to June 2012."
The UC evacuation order and suspension of the fall study abroad program in Cairo come amid the removal of Mohamed Morsi as president and the creation of a military-led interim government in Egypt. During a demonstration in Alexandria on June 28, a protester allegedly killed Kenyon College student Andrew Pochter. Both anti-Morsi and pro-Morsi Egyptians continue to engage in both peaceful protests and violent outbreaks.
The political instability in Egypt heightened on June 30 when Egyptians marched to Tahrir Square to participate in demonstrations to remove Morsi from office.
From her apartment in the district of Dokki, Iyer observed demonstrators as they marched down Tahrir Street on their way to the Tahrir Square protests.
"They're definitely loud," Iyer said. "At the anti-Morsi demonstrations, the most common sign said 'irhal,' or 'leave.' After the military intervention, there were signs in English saying things like 'CNN, it's a revolution, not a military coup.'"
Fifth-year UC Berkeley student Angelica Hernandez witnessed the June 30 protests from a safe vantage point before being required to evacuate Egypt with her UC Davis study abroad program.
"It was frustrating because I know that I had boundaries with the study abroad group, but I wanted to interact with the Egyptian people," Hernandez said. "I didn't want to be stuck in my dorm room. I could have been at home if I didn't want to do something new."
Students are given 10 days after the UC trip insurance office begins a political evacuation to receive financial support for their evacuations, according to Goldblatt. Students who decided to stay in Egypt are still covered by UC trip insurance.
The June 30 and subsequent demonstrations began to interrupt Iyer's research when the Egyptian National Library and Archives were closed for a week in early July. While the research institutions were closed, Iyer stayed in her apartment for the majority of the day working on her dissertation and reading the news.
Iyer will be staying in Egypt until the end of August and says she is taking normal precautions to stay safe.
"I wouldn't want to go through Tahrir at night, for example, when the problems tend to arise," Iyer said.
She has no immediate plans to return to Egypt after she leaves at the end of summer but said that her future projects could bring her back to complete more research.
"My parents are obviously worried, but like I said, everything around here is pretty much the same as always, except the occasional march passing to Tahrir Square," Iyer said. "For most people, there's just the same traffic, the same pollution, the same everyday problems, and then recent events are creating worries and uncertainty."
Contact Elise Aliotti at email@example.com.