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Fireworks burst as opponents of Egypt's Islamist ousted president Mohammed Morsi rally in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday. A Health Ministry official says several people have been killed in clashes around the country involving opponents and backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as security forces

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

After a military coup in Egypt, college students participating in the Arabic Flagship program in Alexandria are being relocated to Meknes, Morocco for the remainder of their year abroad. 

The program has 18 students, including six from UT. The other students are from The University of Okalhoma, The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and The University of Maryland. 

The move is a safety mesaure in response to civic unrest and the Egyptian military’s annoucement Wednesday to oust President Mohammed Morsi from power. The decision to relocate was made by the Language Flagship, the American Councils for International Education and the directors of the five universities. The plan to move the students to Morocco has been a possibility ever since students were evacuated from Syria and Egypt in spring 2011.

“In 2011, Flagship students evacuated from Egypt and Syria were brought directly back to the United States, preventing them from continuing their Arabic-immersive experience,” said Christian Glakas, a senior program coordinator for the department of Middle Eastern studies.  “As a result, the directors of the five stateside Arabic Flagship Programs began discussing with the American Councils and the Language Flagship contingency plans for continuing the program in an alternative location in the event of a future evacuation.”

Students were informed of the relocation Tuesday morning before their classes. Initially, English senior Adam Amrani, a student in the program, was dissapointed by the move.

“The Flagship program runs a summer-long program in Meknes, so there is an established program in the city. The logistics are still being worked out,” Amrani said. “One of the major differences that we can expect is the language difference. The Moroccan dialect is vastly different from the Egyptian dialect.”

Amrani said he feels safe. He said students are prohibited from leaving their dorms and participating in the protests, but still witness the events taking place around them.

“It’s very exciting, inspiring and very confusing all at once,” Amrani said. “Watching the presidential speeches and the Egyptian army’s official statement live with Egyptian students has been great. Being witness to the power of peaceful protest is moving.”

Amarni said before students can participate in the program, they must receive an avdanced score on a government language exam, along with studying Arabic intensively for three years and participating in outside activities throughout their time in the program.

Although the students are being relocated this year and will not return to Egypt during their time abroad, administrators do not think this will affect the future of the flagship program.

“It is difficult to predict how current events may affect the Arabic Overseas Flagship program in the future,” Glakas said. “The Arabic Flagship Program at UT Austin will continue to work with all of its partners to ensure that our students have a safe and beneficial immersive experience while studying abroad.”

While the program will continue, Dr. Mahmound Al-Batal, director of the Arabic Flagship Program, said Egypt does need change. 

“What happened in Egypt reflects the failure of the Muslim Brothers’ government in building national consensus and improving the quality of life of people in Egypt,” Al-Batal said. “As a results, millions of people felt that a change was needed and the army has responded to this sentiment among millions of Egyptians. What Egypt needs now is to build stability through wide political representation in the government, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt needs a strong president who can bring all the various political factions together.”

Follow Wynne Davis on Twitter @wynneellyn.

Laila Familiar is the director of the Arabic Summer Institute for the Arabic Oversees Flagship Program.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

When Laura Chen goes to class in Alexandria, Egypt, she sees firsthand the aftermath of the Arab Spring, a two-year citizen-led revolution and battle for change in Egypt’s political leadership. Chen is one of the first UT students allowed to study abroad in Egypt since the revolution and the election of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

For the past two years, UT students have been somewhat restricted from studying abroad in Egypt because of the violence and changing political structure within the nation. Chen is a member of the Arabic Overseas Flagship Program, a national program led by UT and four other universities. The program aims to bring together students from across the nation to participate in an intensive year-long Arabic language and culture study program at Alexandria University. Fifty-four students in the program are currently studying there, 23 of whom go to UT.

The U.S. Embassy in Egypt urges U.S. citizens to monitor local news and plan activities accordingly, it said in a July 6 statement.

Chen said while studying in Egypt she has seen many major political events unfold, including the election of President Mohammed Morsi, which she said has brought hope to the people of Egypt.

“There was support for his win, but I would say it’s mostly responsive relief that the other candidate did not win,” Chen said, referring to former prime minister Ahmed Shafik. “I can’t say if it’s getting better or worse, but at least now, people feel it’s getting better.”

Since the Arab Spring began in 2010, UT students have faced restrictions on their studies in Egypt through increased safety measures, including a partial government ban which forced four UT students to return from Egypt in January 2011. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt Saturday to meet with Morsi in an effort to strengthen U.S. and Egyptians relations, BBC News reported.

Laila Familiar, director of the Arabic Summer Institute for the Arabic Overseas Flagship Program, said she sees the recent election as the most important current event in Egyptian politics for multiple reasons.

“The result of the election, of course,” she said. “And the fact that Egypt has, for the first time in modern history, a president that has been elected by the people.”

Familiar said she is not sure how exactly the new president will affect Egyptian politics in the future, as there is currently tension between Morsi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the governing body that took control of Egypt in 2011 when former dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign.

“There is a lot of political tension, as everyone wants to do things their own way,” she said. “I think ultimately the SCAF has the real power, epecially since they dissolved the parliament. Egypt doesn’t have a parliament right now and without it, the president can’t really do anything.”

Jason Brownlee, associate professor of Middle Eastern studies, has written two books and more than a dozen articles on topics related to Egyptian politics. Brownlee has also been taking research-related trips to Egypt since 1995. Brownlee said no one is sure how long the new president will remain in power and what the effects of his rule will be.

“People should visit,” he said. “It’s safe.”

Muna Rehman, an Arabic language and literature senior who has been studying in Alexandria since September, said while the revolution has made her stay difficult at times, she is happy to have had the experience.

“It’s been great, and I’m actually sad to be leaving in a month,” she said.

Rehman said by keeping up with news from the U.S. Embassy, students in the program are able to avoid most public dangers, and no members have been injured.

On the first day of the protests in Egypt, Jordan Bellquist spent an ordinary day at home with Mama, her Egyptian host parent.

Bellquist, a radio-television-film and Arabic senior and Arabic Flagship Program participant, knew there were protests in Alexandria, but everyone expected them to be peaceful.

On Jan. 28, or the “Day of Wrath,” police turned violent and started using tear gas against the protesters in Egypt. The next day, Mama called Bellquist and told her not to go outside because then President Hosni Mubarak had released Egypt’s criminals to scare the protesters into submission. The criminals set fire to the police stations, Bellquist said.

The situation changed drastically two weeks after the “Day of Wrath.” On Friday, Mubarak announced he would step down from his 30-year reign, relinquishing power to the military until Egypt’s elections six months from now.

Mahmoud Al-Batal, the director of the flagship program and Middle Eastern studies professor, said Egypt had long suffered from Mubarak’s regime, which included using martial law, rigging elections, stealing the wealth of the country and limiting power to a small group of cronies.

“[The government] lost the trust of the people,” Al-Batal said. “And no one challenged them, including the U.S. [In 30 years,] anyone who ran against him was thrown in jail; that is why he was disliked.”

After the “Day of Wrath,” Bellquist received a call from her program officials who informed her she had to move to the U.S. resident director’s apartment with other flagship students. Not all of the students had landlines, the primary method of communication because of the lack of Internet and cell phone service.

At the director’s apartment, the students had no access to any news sources. The director did not have a television set, and the government cut off Al Jazeera — one of the only stations broadcasting the protests — the day before.

Despite Bellquist’s lack of communication, one thing was clear from all of the Egyptian people she talked to: It wasn’t because of the curfew or the protesters that she couldn’t go out at night. It was that Mubarak had let out all of the worst people in Egpyt, she said.

“It’s hard for Americans to believe that,” Bellquist said. “But that’s what it was. He was the one that was destroying the country, and he did it because he wanted to scare the protesters into submission.”

The accusation did not come as a surprise to Middle Eastern studies senior Jasmine Bogard.
Bogard studied abroad in Cairo for six weeks last year. During her short time in Egypt, Bogard said that it was obvious the Egyptian people did not want Mubarak in power even before the protests started.

“He was a dictator. It was the huge elephant in the room that people avoided talking about,” Bogard said. “He’s been sick. It’s been the unvoiced question: What’s going to happen when Mubarak dies?”

In addition to an unpopular president and national government, Egypt also was home to a corrupt police force, reviled by most of the Egyptian population.

The police worried about U.S. citizens’ safety in Egypt. Nothing dangerous could happen to someone from the U.S. because it would affect Egypt’s livelihood, Bogard said. To prevent anything from happening, her group had Egyptian police as bodyguards. For Bellquist, however, the experience with Egyptian police ran much deeper.

She encountered Egyptian police while out one night with a male friend. While there is no law in Egypt banning public affection, Bellquist said the police could put people in jail if they demonstrated a public display of affection. Although they did not show any affection, Egyptian police stopped Bellquist and her friend and harassed them, asking Bellquist for her passport and her friend for a bribe.

In light of the corruption and authoritarian rule, Bogard, who followed the situation on Al Jazeera, BBC and Twitter, said the protests against Mubarak and the police’s totalitarianism unified the Egyptian people.

“It wasn’t, ‘I’m a Muslim, I’m a Christian, I’m this, I’m upper class or I’m lower class,’” Bogard said. “One chant that was being said a lot on the Internet and on Twitter was, ‘Muslim, Christian, we’re all Egyptian.’”

To Al-Batal, the youth protests, in particular, signify a new understanding in Egypt.
“These protests indicate that there is a new generation in Egypt, the young people, and they are sending the world a message that they are not willing to live under the oppression and dictatorship of the Hosni Mubarak regime,” Al-Batal said.

On Friday, Egyptians and their allies all over the world rejoiced, optimistic that one day soon, they would have the democratic elections and official representation many had dreamed of for 30 years. For Bellquist, the announcement meant she was one step closer to going back to Alexandria, back home.