Two St Andrews students found themselves watching history unfold in Egypt over recent weeks.
Ben Dunant, a fourth year Social Anthropology and English student, and Philipp Sorgenfrei, a third year student on a year abroad in Cairo, were both in Egypt as the political crisis took place.
Dunant had planned a trip to Egypt with some friends for the inter-semester break. However, his first night coincided with the beginning of the anti-government protests on 25 January.
Dunant described the mood in Tahrir Square as being “overall positive, even festive.” Despite witnessing a tear gas barrage and a stampede from riot police to disperse the crowds, he argues that in general the crowd was “good-natured” and in fact he felt “lucky to be in Egypt at what could prove a historic juncture.”
After leaving Cairo, Dunant and his group were affected by the repressive measures of the Egyptian governement as the internet was shut down, banks were closed after looting occured and train service was suspended. Despite this, Dunant says it was fascinating to speak to locals and learn about Egyptian politics and their frustrations with the government.
Sorgenfrei had just begun the second half of his year abroad at the American University in Cairo when the riots began. Living in a flat near Tahrir Square gave Sorgenfrei an opportunity to be close to the main events.
He says that people were generally uncertain of what was happening as the days wore on. Daytime hours were quiet as people wandered around to see what had been happening the night before, but after curfew in the afternoon people returned home as the crowds became more volatile in the evening and returned to “protest mode.”
Many neighborhoods, including Sorgenfrei’s, organised community groups to set up barricades for protection against looters.
After telephone lines were functioning again, Sorgenfrei received a call from the University advising him to return to St Andrews for the remainder of the academic year.
He says that based on his conversations with Egyptians, the events have been seen as generally positive through many layers of society.