Northwestern suspends study abroad programs in Egypt indefinitely

Ally Mutnick, Development Editor

Northwestern has suspended its Egypt study abroad programs in Cairo and Alexandria due to the increase in political unrest this summer.

NU’s study abroad office made the call in mid-July after the death of an American student in Alexandria and violence  surrounding the July 3 ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, said Julie Friend, NU associate director for international safety and security.

The decision affects two NU students who had plans to study in Egypt during Fall Quarter. One would have attended The American University in Cairo, and the other was enrolled in a Middlebury College program at Alexandria University. Both students are now spending the quarter in Amman, Jordan.

Friend said the office observed the situation in Egypt for 10 days before suspending the programs. In the past, disturbances in the country have been resolved quickly, Friend said, but the outbursts of random violence and breakdown of Egyptian civil society indicated this conflict would not end soon.

“The idea of being in a study abroad program is being able to go out and interact with the community and engage with the society,” Friend said. “If the security circumstances don’t allow students to do that safely, then it doesn’t seem reasonable to keep them there.”

The Middle East is not a popular location for NU students compared to programs in Europe, Friend said. Nine students are currently studying in the region — five in Jordan, three in Israel and one in Turkey, Friend said.

The Study Abroad Office is not currently accepting applications for future Egypt programs. The country will likely be suspended until the State Department Travel Warning has been lifted. The Study Abroad Office will then conduct its own review and make a recommendation to the provost.

Friend said if the warning were to be lifted by next summer, the earliest the program could resume would be the following Winter Quarter, as it would be too late to submit applications for Fall Quarter 2014.

“My prediction is that it’s going to be a long time,” Friend said. “Egypt is an important place to be a student. I think that’s the hard thing.”

Weinberg senior Keisha James was supposed to spend the fall in Cairo but is now studying in Amman. James chose Cairo because she liked Egypt’s dialect of Arabic and was interested in the faculty and gender studies classes at AUC.

Though she likes studying in Amman, James said she has fewer course options in her program.

“I just wanted to live in Cairo,” she said. “It’s such a unique city and such an interesting place.”

NU also suspended the Egypt program in February 2011. One student was evacuated from Cairo after spending Winter Quarter at AUC. Eight students who had planned to go to Egypt for Spring Quarter were forced to make alternative plans.

No students were enrolled in Egypt study abroad programs this summer, but Communication senior Colette Ghunim was working on an undergraduate research grant in Cairo after studying at AUC for the 2012-13 academic year.

Ghunim, who was filming a documentary on Egyptian orphans, was evacuated in late July at the request of the Study Abroad Office. She was on the subway under Tahrir Square when news spread that Morsi was ousted. Ghunim said there were widespread celebrations.

Ghunim said she chose Egypt in part to see what the country was like after the 2011 revolution that ended former President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. She said she did not want to leave when NU asked her to.

“Egypt is amazing,” she said. “It was worth it to be there. I didn’t feel in danger.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @allymutnick