Walk like an Egyptian

St. John’s students were on the frontlines of history this past week when their trip to Cairo, Egypt coincided with an uprising by the country’s people against the reigning government.

A small group of students who have been studying at the University’s Rome campus planned a weekend excursion to see the Pyramids when they got caught up in the latest of several recent revolutions in the Middle East.

Protesters have been demonstrating in the streets for over a week, calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and his allegedly corrupt government. Mubarak has been in power for almost 30 years and announced yesterday that he would not seek re-election.

Ancy Skaria, a sophomore who was a part of the student group in Egypt, said that the students planned the trip themselves and arrived in Cairo the night of Jan. 27, two days after the protests started. The group stayed in a hostel in the city, where on the relatively calm first night they sat and spoke with

the locals gathered there.

“They were telling us how this has been organized for months by the lawyers in Egypt,” said Skaria.

Many of the people Skaria and her fellow students encountered stated that they were tired of Mubarak’s presence and believed that he did not care about the people. The protestors told them of the corruption in the government and how the people were suffering from high rates of poverty and unemployment.

On their third day in the country, Mubarak dismissed the government and began appointing a transitional government, despite continuing protests. Skaria said that at that point, the city descended into a state of chaos.

“There was no government, no police officers, no banks, all the prisons were free, all the prisoners were looting all the stores and everything,” she said. “All of a sudden everyone was panicking and all the stores were closed.”

She said that the students were instructed by people in the streets to return to their hostel and remain there. Instead, she and a friend took a risk and stayed to watch some of the protesters in action.

“The air was really intense because the protest of the day was brewing so you could just feel the tension,” she said. “And everyone had a weapon in their hand.”

On their way home, Skaria and her friend encountered a man who got a little too close. When he tried to grab them, a group of men came from nearby and stepped to protect the two American girls.

“All the men protected us because the Islamic faith teaches that women are sacred and should be cared for like that,” she said. “It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Skaria said that throughout her time in Cairo, the Egyptian people were hospitable and respectful, apologizing for what was happening and ensuring their safety.

At the end of the trip, Skaria and the other St. John’s students went to the airport, where she says their American citizenship helped get them out of the country quickly and efficiently.

Despite the drama of the trip, Skaria said that she and her friends came away with a positive view of Egypt and the Egyptian people.

“I know people that were completely terrified and sat in their rooms all day,” she said. “But I would have never traded the experience even though it was dangerous.”

“It was truly amazing.”