UW-River Falls professor promotes awareness of crisis in Egypt
February 17, 2011
“People said, ‘Egypt is going to have a revolution’, and it ended up that way,” said trip participant and fine arts major, Liz Novak.
We all heard people say the president has it coming, Novak said.
Eleven UW-River Falls students traveled together, on Jan.10, to Egypt along with Steven Derfler, a professor in the art department. The trip has been run by Derfler and UWRF for nearly 10 years. The students returned home on Jan. 22, prior to the protests.
Egypt has been in a state of emergency law for the past 29 years because Hosni Mubarak has served as president this whole time, Derfler said.
“There have always been clues something like this would happen,” Derfler said. “Egypt is domestically repressive and unsettling. They have artificial price control and an artificial economy. People don’t earn the salaries they should. The protest came out of the blue in terms of speed and
After 18 days of protesting, Mubarak resigned from his position on Feb. 12.
While on the trip, other Middle Eastern countries were experiencing some turmoil, said trip participant and theater major, Abbi Bennett.
“While we were there, there were things going on in Tunisia. And in Egypt, people talked about how they didn’t like their president,” Bennett said.
However, the protests being experienced in north Africa and the Middle East have not started out in traditional ways, as youth have been using social media outlets, said Marwa Mohamed, a journalism major with family in Egypt.
“My friends have been hearing about it on Facebook,” Mohamed said. “It is not a normal revolution. They are creating event invitations to make everyone aware.”
The contacts that the students have developed in Egypt are all fine, just emotionally and physically strung out, said Derfler.
“The internet and mobile phones were shut down for four days,” Derfler said. “This was truly a social network revolution via Facebook and Twitter. The Egyptian people’s livelihoods and economic situation are in shambles, as least in Cairo.”
On Feb. 6, the banks reopened, shops and schools followed suit and slowly people are venturing out into the streets, Derfler said.
Although other Middle Eastern countries have attempted to create protests, none have been comparable to Egypt, Derfler said.
“There have been demonstrations and protests in Yemen. There have also been limited demonstrations in Jordan, but King Abdullah II is loved by his country, listens to his people, and disbanded his parliament to bring in new to address the concerns of the people. The Day of Rage in Syria didn’t materialize and was to a lesser degree elsewhere.”
Although the uprising in the Middle East was beginning during the UWRF trip, students never felt unsafe, Derfler said.
“This was my 42nd trip and it was at ease and as comfortable as any other trip I’ve directed,” Derfler said.
“I would say while we were there at no point in time did I not feel safe. Everything that was happening in Tunisia was going to be happening because people were expressing their opinions and everything they said was very serious,” Novak said.
The Egypt study abroad students are all hoping for the best for the Egyptian people and hoping something gets resolved soon, Bennett said.
“I hope they can have a democracy and not be so governmentally controlled. I hope it gets resolved, but it’s hard to say because people are so passionate about what they believe,” said Jenna Schultz, an art education major and trip participant.
“My Egyptian friends are just saying, ‘We want Egypt back for the people,’” Novak said.
The Egyptian population in the Twin Cities is doing their part to help the people in Egypt, Mohamed said.
“We’ve been protesting at Ramsey Courthouse to fight with the people in Egypt to get the word across. We are also trying to connect with people in Egypt to get them food, medical help, and organize blood drives,” Mohamed said.
What is next in Egypt is still unclear because a situation like this takes time. Egypt needs time to adjust to the changes ahead because they want to make Egypt better especially after being under the rule of Mubarak for nearly 30 years, Novak said.
“I personally feel things will have sorted themselves out in a few weeks for the better for the Egyptian people and the international community,” Derfler said.
Students truly enjoyed the experience and are hoping to go back in the future, Bennett said.
“Students shouldn’t be scared off by the situation because it is temporary,” Novak said.
“We need to keep the Egyptian people in our hearts and minds as they move towards their first truly democratic society in roughly 30 years. They need our support that will bring change as swiftly as possible, so we can go back next January,” Derfler said.