DukeEngage Students Return From Egypt

Political unrest leads administrators to cut program short.

Duke students with the DukeEngage Cairo 2013 program arrived safely back to the U.S. this weekend, after their eight-week program was suspended last week.

University and program administrators made the decision to end the program before its Aug. 3 conclusion out of concern for student safety, said DukeEngage executive director Eric Mlyn.

"From the time we decided to continue DukeEngage in Cairo after the 2011 revolution, we have monitored the program with particular vigilance due to the changing political landscape in the country and region. So the end of this program, while of course disappointing at so many levels, is not a total surprise," said Mlyn in an email to parents.

Mlyn praised program leader professor Mbaye Lo, who managed the logistics and emotions of the 11-member student group through the cancellation process.

Lo is an assistant professor of the practice of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and is an affiliated faculty of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. He has been leading the DukeEngage Cairo program since its inception six years ago.

"His perspective on current events and his desire to share this perspective with others is the deepest reflection of why we do these kinds of programs," Mlyn wrote of Lo.

During the protests that began last weekend and through most of this past week, Lo and the students stayed in Sharm el Sheikh, on the sea 300 miles from Cairo.

While in Egypt, the students kept a blog about their program and experiences.

On July 3, when the Egyptian Army had issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Egyptian President Morsi, student Maura Guyler wrote in the DukeEngage Cairo blog about her mixed feelings on possibly having to go back home early:

"While I still miss and love Cairo and I realize that in the short four weeks we've been here we’ve seen so much, this country is embarking on its second revolution, and we saw the lead-up to it."

"We've experienced things that no one else ever will."

By Thursday, July 5, Guyler noted that many Egyptians had taken to the streets in support of Morsi because he was "elected democratically and must remain in power for his term."

"Ideologically, that makes sense," she wrote in an email. "But when I see the poverty, the gas shortages, the electricity shortages, and am constantly hearing about how freedoms are limited under Morsi, I realize that the military intervention is not a black-and-white action. I don't know the answer to this situation; however, I know what I want. I want what is best for the Egyptian people. I want safety and security for all the people living here. I hope that this turmoil is resolved, that the Egyptian people continue to be strong, and that the country of Egypt can get back on its feet. Egypt deserves better."

Guyler wrote that the Duke students have been good ambassadors for America, much like the Egyptians she has met have been for Egypt.

"For many Egyptians, we are the only Americans they have ever met. I've had many students say to me, 'I didn't think I would like America, but then I met you.'"