Students involved in Duke University’s summer program in Cairo, Egypt came home early. They left as large protests and a changing political climate shook the country.
Eleven Duke undergraduates were in Cairo working with different NGOs and taking Arabic classes through a summer program called DukeEngage. They planned to stay through June and July, but instead they came home halfway through the program.
From the start, the program’s leaders were aware of the planned June 30th protests in Egypt. But the violence of the protest and the ensuing military intervention were unexpected.
James Spencer, the site coordinator for DukeEngage in Cairo said in an interview on The State of Things, “Nobody really expected it to be much more than just a peaceful demonstration.”
The tension in Cairo rose quickly, as many disparate groups flooded Tahrir Square.
“We all felt completely safe for the most part... It wasn’t until… in the weeks leading up to the protest that you could see that things were coming,” said Julia Janco, a student in the program.
On June 28, American student Andrew Pochter of Kenyon College was killed in a protest in Alexandria. The following night, Duke pulled their students out of Cairo, into a resort town called Sharm El-Sheikh, about 300 miles away.
How did the students feel about leaving Egypt halfway through the program?
“We were so upset…We got to Sharm, things were getting bad, things were getting worsse,” Janco said. “So we knew that things weren’t looking so good but I don’t think it was until we actually received word, and they said, ‘You’re going home,’ that kind of reality hit that we weren’t actually going back [to Cairo].”
Julia Janco, Nali Gillespie and Stephen Arena, three of the students on the trip, and their site coordinator, James Spencer, spoke to host Frank Stasio to talk about their experience in Egypt.
The students wrote about their experiences in a blog you can read here.