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University officials comment on chaotic situation in Middle Eastern metropolis

Laura McCrystal | Friday, February 4, 2011

Two weeks after traveling to Cairo with the intent of staying for a full semester, one week after losing Internet and cell phone connections and three days after their evacuation to Istanbul, several Notre Dame students left Turkey Thursday for either London or South Bend.

Seven of the 12 students will finish the semester at Notre Dame’s London Program, University spokesman Dennis Brown said. Two students flew to London Wednesday and five others arrived Thursday night.

At least three of the remaining five students will return to Notre Dame’s South Bend campus this semester, Brown said.

The 12 undergraduates arrived in Cairo Jan. 20 to study at the American University in Cairo (AUC), but were evacuated Monday due to the ongoing protests in Egypt.

“We are grateful for the assistance from the American University in Cairo (AUC) for the secure environment that they provided our students amidst the protests and violence in Cairo, and U.S. State Department for their help in transporting the students to Turkey,” said J. Nicholas Entrikin, Notre Dame’s vice president for Internationalization in a Monday press release announcing the students’ arrival in Istanbul.

Notre Dame’s study abroad program through AUC allows students to explore fields of study such as Middle Eastern studies, Egyptology and Islamic art and architecture, according to a University press release. While in Cairo, Notre Dame students also study alongside Egyptian and Arab students.

Due to the outbreak of violent protests in Egypt, this semester’s participants in Notre Dame’s Cairo program were evacuated before the semester began at AUC.

As the protests spread and grew, the students were instructed to remain in AUC’s student residence in Zamalek, a residential district of Cairo. The Egyptian government’s efforts to stop protestors caused the students to lose Internet and mobile phone connections on Jan. 27.

The students were able to make one-minute landline phone calls on Jan. 28, according to a website update from Notre Dame’s Office of International Studies (OIS).

Following a U.S. State Department recommendation that American citizens leave Egypt, Notre Dame announced in a Sunday press release the students would be evacuated from Cairo.

“We’re using every connection we have to try to expedite the process,” University spokesman Dennis Brown said Monday as the students awaited a U.S. State Department charter flight out of Cairo.

The University announced the students’ arrival in Istanbul Monday night.

“Communications were severely disrupted, but students, parents and OIS staff members were able to create an effective communications network that was invaluable in facilitating the evacuation,” Entrikin said in a press release.

Once in Istanbul, Notre Dame asked the students to choose between returning to South Bend for the semester or joining the University’s study abroad program in London. 

Meanwhile, AUC has not reopened for classes and is working to keep students who remain in the Zamalek residence safe. In a Wednesday website update, AUC President Lisa Anderson said the University anticipated beginning the semester on Feb. 13.

“While the New Cairo campus is in fine shape, we have consolidated the students currently in residence in Zamalek, so as to be able to better provide food, entertainment and security,” Anderson said in a Thursday update. “A number of the offices in our campus downtown did sustain some damage last Saturday — broken glass, stolen computers, vandalized art work in the Gallery — but there have been no subsequent problems.”