UT students studying abroad in Egypt relocated

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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.