Student sees Egypt revolt firsthand

Feb. 14, 2011, 2:35 a.m.

University not tracking non-BOSP students in Egypt and elsewhere

Egypt’s political revolution has impacted the Stanford community directly and indirectly as events continue to unfold overseas.

According to University Registrar Tom Black, there are no Stanford students “in active statuses or in sponsored programs in Egypt.” Students who wish to study overseas outside of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) are required to take a leave of absence, and the University does not keep track of the whereabouts of these students.

“On the one hand, technically, the student is not a Stanford student,” said BOSP director Robert Sinclair. “If we know how to contact the student, we would be, of course, interested in doing so, but the primary responsibility lies with those organizations that students are studying with.”

BOSP has dealt with crises in the past at several of its campuses, such as the earthquake in Santiago, Chile and the wildfires that threatened Moscow last year. According to Sinclair, the program has “procedures that are executed immediately” in the event of a crisis, but no such contingency plans exist for those who participate in non-BOSP programs.

Currently, there is at least one Stanford student who is getting a close look as events unfold in Egypt. Rachel Antonsen ‘12 took a leave of absence between her junior and senior year and studied at the American University in Cairo through the Center for Arabic Study Abroad, which is run by the University of Texas at Austin. Her program began in June 2010 and will continue through May, under the condition that classes remain in session. There is a possibility that these courses will be canceled.

On Feb. 1, when a million protestors packed into Tahrir Square in Cairo, Antonsen ventured into the square.

“I found a peaceful, cooperative and celebratory atmosphere with all social strata of Egyptians present,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

She spoke with various protesters, who asked her to communicate certain messages to the American people.

“Tell people in America nobody wants an Islamic government,” Antonsen said, relating her conversations with numerous Egyptians. “Tell people in America Muslims and Christians are out here together. Tell people in America how civilized we are being; we are not violent people.”

“We know the difference between American people and the American government…ask them to speak out against their government and support what we are doing,” she continued.

Antonsen added her own perspective as well. In a subsequent Skype interview with The Daily, she said, “For me, these [conversations] are much more important than my daily life and decision to evacuate from Cairo.”

“My whole attitude toward political participation is going to change,” she added. Antonsen evacuated to Jordan on the evening of Feb. 5.

“I would say this was not as a result of the protests which, as I mentioned, I found safe, peaceful and thrilling,” she said. “Rather, it was because state-sponsored media was circulating the idea that foreign agitators were responsible for the protests, and some ordinary folks who are tired of disruption of daily life believed these ideas and vented anger on foreigners.”

Antonsen’s decision was prompted by a friend’s experience at a checkpoint.

“There was a kid, about fifteen, who was super angry at [my friend] because he’d gotten this impression from the state media that foreigners has instigated the protests,” she said. “He was convinced that my friend was an Israeli, even though he showed him his American passport. He tried to run off with his passport, and then he tried to stab him.”

Antonsen said that Arcadio Morales, the residence dean for Stern, Toyon, BOSP and off-campus undergraduates, contacted her on Feb. 4. He checked to make sure she was safe, encouraged her to register with the American embassy and asked about her plans for the near future. Apart from Morales, Antonsen has not been in contact with any other University official.

Antonsen and her fellow students in Egypt struggle with the reliability of news reports, as media in the region is often politically biased.

Antonsen speculated that there was “a power struggle” occurring in Egypt because information was “so inconsistent.” She also said she was unsure about Egypt’s future.

“The thing that everybody has always been wondering this whole time is that this movement is incredibly remarkable for the fact that it doesn’t seem to have a leadership, and it seems to be relatively disorganized, except also very effective somehow,” Antonsen said. “That works well if you’re opposing something, but how is it going to work?”

In an earlier version of this article, The Daily incorrectly stated that Rachel Antonsen had not been contacted by any Stanford official outside of Arcadio Morales, the residence dean for BOSP and off-campus undergraduates. In fact, Antonsen was also contacted by her thesis advisor in the History Department, professor Joel Beinin, during the protests in Cairo.

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