Panel examines Egyptian protests

In a panel discussion on Wednesday, Edward Drachman and Darrell Norris joined junior Elizabeth Barber to provide discussion of the current state of affairs in Egypt.

Barber was studying abroad in Cairo when the attacks began. Drachman is an international relations professor and Norris is a professor in the geology department.

On Jan. 25, protestors in Cairo came together to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, whose regime has lasted 30 years. On Jan. 28, tensions rose when Internet access and cell phone services were cut off. Barber experienced this technology block firsthand.

"We really had no information while we were at [American University at Cairo] … There was no Internet, no text messaging," she said. "That was a really strange experience; that these things were happening 15 minutes from your dorm, and you hear the fighter jets … the gunfire and you don't know what's going on and how the rest of the world is receiving this."

Although President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not asked Mubarak to step down, the U.S. is cautiously working toward taking a stance on the issue. Countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have urged the United States to proceed with caution so as to keep the region stable.

"It's a very, very tough diplomatic stance to take, mainly because of our long standing ties to Mubarak personally and to his regime," Drachman said.

Barber had planned to spend the spring semester in Cairo through a SUNY Cortland study abroad program. She arrived two days before the protests began and said that at first, even with the unrest, "things were going very normally." By Friday morning, however, mobile and Internet services were shut down. Later that weekend, she learned that her classes would be cancelled for at least a week.

Throughout the week, Barber took advantage of opportunities to see the protestors first hand.

"From Cairo Tower, for about five hours at the very top, all the staff came out and everyone was watching what was going on down in the city," she said. From the tower, Barber witnessed police meeting protesters with tear gas.

Throughout the rest of Barber's stay, Egypt was under curfew from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m. and all male staff and students were stationed outside the dormitory to act as security.

One morning, Barber and her fellow classmates traveled to the outskirts of Tahrir Square, the site of major rioting, to discuss the political situation with protesters.

"I never met anyone who was pro-Mubarak, but I did meet people who were anti-protest," she said, citing Egyptians who worried about the damage the riots had caused.

Although Barber and her classmates never felt that they were in immediate danger, Cortland cancelled the study abroad program and Barber was forced to come home.

"It was disappointing, but I understand that SUNY made its decision in the best interest of my safety," she said.

The panel was hosted by the International Relations Club.