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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

UC to evacuate students from Egypt amid political unrest

The University of California has suspended its study abroad program in Egypt and announced yesterday that it will evacuate students from Cairo.

Inspired by revolution in Tunisia, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to Cairo streets over the past week to protest the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Anti-government protesters are planning a “march of millions” today in a continued effort to force Mubarak’s resignation, according to the Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera.

It is UC policy to suspend study abroad programs in countries affected by U.S. State Department travel warnings, said Andrea Delap, a senior analyst for the UC Education Abroad Program.

“Egypt is a fluid situation and we are monitoring it closely,” Delap said. “We are working through appropriate channels to keep any University of California students who might be traveling in the region at this time informed and secure.”

Delap refused to disclose the number of UC students in Egypt or whether any of them were from UC Davis.

The uprising hits close to home for Egyptians studying and teaching in Davis.

Telephone and Internet blackouts have made it nearly impossible for junior Chantal Boctor to keep in touch with her family in Cairo. She moved to the U.S. three years ago to study political science at UCD.

“The bank on my street was burglarized Friday night,” said Boctor, whose family lives just a few blocks from Tahrir Square, ground zero for demonstrations in Cairo. “People are breaking into other people’s homes and trying to steal stuff.”

Seven students and one scholar from Egypt are currently studying at UC Davis, said Wes Young, director of the campus’ Services for International Students and Scholars.

Karim Mahfouz, a 20-year-old economics major from Cairo who arrived in Davis since September, said dozens of his friends and cousins planned to participate in today’s march.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I know at least 30 or 40 people going,” he said. “The army has promised not to use force, so it should be peaceful.”

With 80 million people, Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country. Egyptians have taken to the streets in protest before, but never to this degree or for this long. Al Jazeera reported that at least 150 have died in protests across the country since last Monday.

UCD history professor Omnia El Shakry said via e-mail that the demonstrators are doing what needs to be done.

“They are resisting a violently oppressive regime that has exploited and tortured its citizens for decades,” said El Shakry, who was born in Egypt, lived there for a decade and studied at the American University in Cairo. “On a political and historical level I think this is a momentous event, a revolutionary transformation from below, long in the making.”

El Shakry believes the U.S. now has a critical opportunity to show that it is committed to democratic reform.

“Egyptians and others in the Middle East will be watching the U.S. response very closely to see if long-standing calls for democratization are simply doublespeak,” she said.

But those hoping for a true democratic republic to blossom in Egypt shouldn’t hold their breath, said Elias Tuma, an emeritus professor of economics at UC Davis.

Only 58 percent of Egyptians can read and write, according to U.S. State Department figures. That’s one of the biggest obstacles to positive change, Tuma said.

“They don’t know about democracy – they probably don’t even know how to spell the word in Arabic,” he said.

Tuma, who grew up in the Arab village of Kafr Yasif in northern Israel and lived in Egypt when Mubarak became president in 1981, said democracy must become part of the culture practiced in homes, schools and businesses.

“Democracy cannot be installed like you push a button,” he said.

Hossein Farzin, an agricultural and resource economics professor, agreed that illiteracy is a major problem, but for a different reason.

“Illiteracy is a good field for the fundamentalist Islamists to sow their seeds,” he said. “They basically brainwash the illiterate and use their emotion rather than their rational thinking.”

Farzin, who has worked as an economist for the World Bank and advised the governments of Kuwait, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, said there is a serious risk that if Mubarak’s government is deposed, radical Islamists could turn back the clock on any democratic progress Egypt has made.

“They are just waiting, waiting to hijack this movement,” Farzin said.

Shayma Hassouna, an Egyptian citizen who is lecturer in Arabic at UC Davis, said via e-mail that Americans can learn a lot from what is happening in Egypt.

In America, Hassouna said, we take for granted that our votes are counted, that we will not be arrested for no reason, that we can fire our leaders if they are not meeting our needs, that torture is unacceptable and that human life is worth something.

“Some people live and die without getting a taste of any of this,” she said. “Young Egyptians have decided that it is time for them to try a little bit of this delicious thing called dignity and freedom.”

JEREMY OGUL can be reached at jsogul@ucdavis.edu.


  1. I was amused by Shayma Hassouna’s comments: I was, until recently, a student in her Arabic courses, and was frequently amused at her racist comments with regard to Western civilization: “English is only half a language”, “Arabs were doing thus-and-so while Europeans were swinging from trees”, etc., as well as her attempts to isolate me (I am a white man)from Arab women in the class (to “protect” them) and to try and trap me into making (or seeming to make)racist comments.Apparently, in addition to being ignorant of America on purely racist grounds, she is also ignorant of it on the basis of having virtually no contact with it outside of the Davis community, and that mostly with other Davis Muslims. If she knew any Americans outside of the necessarily rather privileged ones found in a college town, she would realize that many Americans do not take for granted that human life is valued, that torture is unacceptable, that their leaders will represent them, and that they will not be arrested without cause. In short, her pre-existing bigotry toward Americans (particularly white Americans) is rationalized by her isolation from Americans of lesser means who would not fulfill her pre-conceptions. She, like many bigots, lives in a bubble filled with other, similar bigots, like many people associated with the Davis Arabic program. We can only hope that those leading the revolution in Egypt are a better class of human beings, or there is nothing to celebrate.

  2. This is just ridiculous. The word “dictatorship” is not mentioned even once in this article (Does anyone really believe Mubarak was president for 31 years?) and the FACTS about torture and repression imposed by the Mubarak regime gets far less attention than OPINION that Egyptians are too “uneducated” for liberation. This isn’t objectivity, it’s whitewashing.

    In solidarity with the Egyptian revolution,

    Guan Hanqiang

  3. I cannot believe this article. In the naive attempt to be balanced the author has included individuals who perpetuate the most racist and offensive conceptualization of democracy. Perhaps they are the ones suffering from a form of illiteracy. Not only are the figures cited inaccurate. There have been numerous articles circulating regarding the spontaneous poetry and prosody of the Egyptian revolution. One need only know Arabic to realize the literary and political sophistication of the Egyptian protestors. Rather than patronize them and assume “we” in a two-party system can teach them about democracy, we should all watch and learn.

    Further, crucial aspects of my comments were eliminated, most tellingly, that the revolution aims for a radical redistribution of wealth. Beyond that, the entire conceptualization of the revolution as only significant to the EAP program or to those who are from or have lived in Egypt, completely misses the mark. We should expect more from our media.

    In solidarity with the Egyptian revolution,

    Omnia El Shakry

  4. As to Professor Tuma’s personal beliefs, one can only speculate. But it is quite shocking that, as a former resident and supposed expert, he would repeat poor and misleading information, much less in such prodigiously patronizing terms. In point of fact, the clearest studies indicate that the literacy rate in Egypt is just over 70%; Tunisia stands at 75% (see the work of Professor Vijay Prashad, e.g.).

    But what if it were not? What if the literacy rate in Egypt were as low as it was among, say, certain impoverished communities in the United States? Would that mean that, like the Egyptians, these Americans too should not hurry toward

    freedom from tyranny, toward self-determination and autonomy? What if they could not spell “food” — should they not hurry to eat when they are starving?

    The colonial rhetoric of 1955 and the slavery rhetoric of 1855 are one; apparently we are still speaking it today. But we must admit we are a backward country. This must be our excuse for propping up anti-democratic regimes.

    In solidarity with the Egyptian revolution,

    Joshua Clover

  5. It is shameful that UC Davis has ever been associated with individuals like Professors Elias Tuma and Hossein Farzin. Their comments are motivated it seems by an extreme hatred for those who seek to live with a sense of dignity and liberty. It is, perhaps, due to the way that they have themselves sold out their own dignity in servitude to institutions like the IMF.

  6. Being one of the seven Egyptian students at UC Davis i would like to express my shock that such a piece was published in the Aggie. While the people of Egypt are fighting for their freedom, dignity and life, professor Elias Tuma and professor Hossein Farzin want to tell us who deserves democracy and who doesn’t, repeating ignorant and racist arguments i’m sick of hearing.

    Professor Farzin who according to the article worked for the World Bank should be ashamed of himself, if he’s arguing that many Egyptians are illiterates, it’s to a big extent because of the institution he worked for. An institution which for years impoverished the Egyptian people, leaving many of them living in poverty and illiteracy.

    It’s also a shame for professor Farzin to say that the Egyptian government have made any democratic progress, few days after the Egyptian police killed more than a hundred and fifty Egyptian protesters.

    I’m all in solidarity with the revolution of the Egyptian people,

    Lobna Darwish

  7. I read somewhere that using the word democracy and Islam in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

    In any case Mohammed is considered a perfect example in Islam. I wonder what sort of example he set for subsequent Muslim rulers? Well, Mohammed was a despot, a theocrat and a megalomaniac. Hmmm…sounds an awful lot like the House of Saud, Sudan’s leader, and Yemen’s, Iran’s, Somalia’s Pakistan’s, Syria’s, Algeria’s, Mauritania’s, Niger’s, Kyrgistan’s, etc…

    A coincidence? Yeah, right.

    By the way, was it Jesus or Mohammed who said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s”? LOL.


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