Thursday, February 3, 2011

The weeks events in Egypt

This is going to be a hard piece to write as the situation in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt mainly Cairo are still fluid and tense and any hope of resolution remains in the distant future. Ana and I are deeply saddened by the situation because we love where we work, our peers and students, the community, and Alex. Below I will attempt a summary of the events, reflections, and our experience up to our evacuation.

As you are aware the catalyst for the pro-democracy movement was directly influenced by the recent events in Tunisia including the act of self-immolation (people who set themselves on fire as an act of protest). At least a dozen copycats throughout Egypt sacrificing themselves setting the momentum for the ensuing weeks. However social networking websites Facebook and Twitter were the major players during the first wave of protest commencing on January 25, Egypt’s National Police Holiday also dubbed “Day of Wrath”. The overall goal of this non-leader movement is for President Mubarak to step down after 30 years of being in power. 

The police are widely known for corruption and brutality. We have heard numerous accounts of people going to jail for pity acts such as not being able to pay a simple fine/bribe, unlawful building, and political opposition. Even the police outside our school took bribes so people could park their cars along our school’s wall. We have been in a couple of situations where our driver was shaken down. You feel bad when you witness these kinds of acts because you can’t do or say anything without the fear of repercussion. In short, the people have a solid case for hating the police.

Wednesday, January 26-Protests continued defying President Mubarak’s anti-government protest ban as the police continued clashing with demonstrators. In our neighborhood things were clam as most of the action was far away from the school. The situation remained tense as I headed out to Doha, Qatar for a professional development conference and was under the false illusion that the situation was going to calm down. But with the manner in which the police reacted towards the protesters and the sacrifices people had made in standing up to the power structure there wasn’t going to be any backing down. A collective conscious was made to move forward. 

Thursday, January 27-Spent a good part of the day glued to the TV anxiously following the events. Campaign reformer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mohamed ElBaradei was due to return back to Cairo to support the protest. The media regarded this as a huge deal in adding a spark for Friday. I called Ana and everything seemed calm. Several of my students were posting messages on FB stating that Twitter was gone and that FB would be next. Messages were desperately being passed around calling for support of Friday’s demonstration. Strangely school was open in the calm before the storm. 

Friday, January 28-Intenet and mobile phone service in Egypt is cut off. I meet up with three of my colleagues on the way to our conference. We were worried about the day to come. The three are locals and had a firsthand understanding of the events about to unfold. The sentiment was that the shit was going to hit the fan after Friday’s afternoon prayer. At this time I would like to mention that in response to the Coptic Church bombing on December 31 the Muslim community was saddened and showed their support by acting as human shields to protect the Copts during Christmas. In return members from the Coptic community volunteered to surround and protect the Muslims during Friday’s prayer. The protests turned violent in Cairo, Suez, and Alexandria as opportunists and criminals seized the moment to destroy their cities and country. Citizens on the bottom rung socially and economically literally have no future in Egypt’s classist society  and thus have nothing to lose. Looting and violence is widespread. The police jump ship. Army troops and tanks arrive to cheering crowds. While the police are hated, the military is loved. Curfew 7am-7pm

Saturday, January 29-Internet and cell phones still down, I do reach the school via landline. Ana and the rest of the country feel uneasy and scared. Several of us that are due to fly home are uncertain if we are able to get back in. Sat night is hell on the residents back on campus as there are no police or military. It is simply anarchy. No one knows what is happening. The mosque across the street makes an announcement on the loudspeaker, some of the teachers can make out the word Schutz  (the name of our school and community) and minutes later 100’s of men with knives, homemade weapons (think knife taped to stick, sticks with nails), clubs, and guns gather around and in front of the school. The workers on campus and the residents gather empty beer and wine bottles and siphon gasoline out of cars to make Molotov cocktails. PE equipment such as baseball bats, weightlifting bars, and golf clubs are distributed. Constant gunshots were fired, as voices grew louder. The concern was that the people outside were waging an attack. The reality was that the mosque asked people to come out and defend the neighborhood and school. That was exactly what they did. There was no threat to the school. It was a sleepless night for all. The military tells people to defend their homes and property in short “kill the criminals, there is no jail for them” Curfew is 8am-4pm.

Sunday, January 30-The four of us teachers board our flight back to Alex. In total there are less than 20 people on the plane. The flight attendant looks at us with pity because they know what we’re headed into insanity. One tells me that they are just dropping us off then flying right back. The city looked eerie and quiet as we flew over it. There was hardly a car on the street, a group of boys playing soccer in the mud did jump and wave at the plane prior to landing. Once on the ground, our principal-turned head of school and a driver met us. Outside the door was chaos of people trying to find a flight out. Tanks were parked in front of the airport. A group of people brought a looter to the army…since all the police stations and jails have been burned down most criminals were shot or beaten on the spot. We load the van and drove through the war zone. The people now run the streets with makeshift checkpoints trying to protect their neighborhoods. We see some army personnel scattered along the way and several acts of street justice. We arrived back to school after curfew. Ana and our friends say that the evening is much calmer even though we hear an occasional shot and constant murmur outside the walls. Several of us male teachers went outside the school to mingle and show support for the locals and spent hours chatting with them. They are good people! I think they appreciate our presence considering we are sort of a mystery to the working class neighborhood. We are definitely thankful and owe them. Our hope is we can buy a cow or a couple of sheep for a neighborhood cookout when we return. 

Monday, January 31-It is certain that several of us will be evacuating. Nacho, the head of school and a handful of others will stay back. Most people spent the day packing unsure if we will be gone short or long term. The plan is to keep on working through this via on-line. Several people were optimistic that everything was going to be back to normal within a week. Being aware of social unrest to this degree I suspect that we won’t be back for a while. The evening ends with more conversations with the locals. Ironically, the school has been trying to build a relationship with the local community and I think our interaction the past couple of nights has helped tremendously.  

Tuesday and Wednesday, February 1-2- The head of our school board works for the consulting firm Booz-Allen and chartered a flight for us  and their employees. Two vans are filled with luggage and teachers leave campus as we go through a series of local checkpoints. We drove past burnt police stations and trucks, army tanks, and neighborhood watch groups. We meet up at City Center Mall with the other expats awaiting evacuation and were escorted to the airport by the Egyptian Navy. As we drove out of the looted mall’s parking lot we pass several beaten prisoners at the military checkpoint.

Dropping off the luggage and boarding the plane was very unconventional but it worked. The Czech Republic airline flew us into Prague where we had to get off the plane collect our luggage, go though customs then re-check in our bags, get boarding passes, go through security only to board the same airplane?! After our passports received enter and exit stamps we had a few minutes for a braut and beer. Next stop was Iceland for a quick refueling. We landed in Washington DC at 4am and were at the hotel by 5am. Our 2 flights back to San Diego were cancelled as they both had stops in Chicago. We rebooked tickets out of Baltimore and $120 cab ride later we were on a flight home. 

I will be posting more pix as we share with friends, please excuse the quality of the photos as most of the street ones were taken in a moving car. 

ps. We do hope to return soon, all the workers and the neighborhood really took care of us, it just made us feel more committed. We pray that our friends back there are safe and for things calm down and return to functioning soon. We love and miss you.  

A typical neighborhood watch group.

A citizen directing traffic

A local fave

Tex and Hab (A big thanks to Hab and his crew to really taking care of us)

Some of our workers

Tex and Pickell

A young man defending our school.


Looters keep out!

The sign in the background calls for Christian and Muslim unity. 

The tank just sort of went thru the parking lot of the mall.

A Mubarak poster with bullet holes. 

Boyz n the Hood


  1. Bob and Ana ~ I'm so glad you're home safe, although I know it is bittersweet. Thank you for posting this. You've been on my mind as I'm sure with so many others. Your images and stories are amazing and appreciated. It is saddening with the looting, extremism, and police / military brutality. Yet there is also much unity and goodwill, like the heartwarming mutual reaction among Copts and Muslims to the church bombing. I'm holding out hope that Mubarak may step aside, and allow some flowering of democracy while also maintaining relative stability in the region. Amidst the turmoil it does seem like mere wishful thinking for a somewhat peaceful transition process, but surely the good people of Egypt will eventually prevail. May the city and country you have grown to love maintain that basic nature, and emerge from the discord to a brighter day upon your return, whenever that may be. Love to you and may your friends all remain safe and well, Sylvan

  2. Loved your blog and the interaction with the Schutz neighbors - great photos. Your trip home sounded like hell. Our neighborhood has been calm for the most part - same thing with some looters and shots fired but our nightly watch has kept the street safe. We're hopeful that the sides can reach a peaceful agreement soon. Take care and safe return to Alex!

  3. Hey bud... this is... uh... Tex. You know, I really hate that nickname. I purged my Texas accent years ago so that I would never be called Tex.

    Anyways, it was good to read your blog. You were spot-on with your observations. Following our evac, I am now sitting in my sister's house in Fort Worth. I really want to get back to Egypt.

    See ya later.

  4. Hi Bob and Anna, Glad you are both safe and thankyou for your on the scene posts. I am sure all of your friends and family were thinking of you when the bomb went off in Alex, I know I certainly was. Hope things will get back to calm but it looks as if it might take awhile. WAs lovely to have you in Porto although short. Lots of love, Paul

  5. Hello there! I am one of Dr. Chad Wiener's students. He passed along your blog because I was planning to study abroad in Cairo this Spring. After being there for 11 days, I was also evacuated. Just wanted to say thanks for a great and informative post, and mention (I hope you don't mind) that I am sharing a link to it with my facebook friends. I hope you made it home safely-- and of course hope for the best for the Egyptian people.

  6. Hi Bob and Ana - thanks so much for sharing these pictures and commentary. I hope your travels back and forth are safe ones.

  7. From your old San Diego neighbor Janice (across C Street) -- was thinking of you and hoping you were safe, wherever you were!