Students, athletes grapple with Egypt crisis
Michigan residents struggle to get home as squash team worries about its homeland
Oralandar Brand-Williams / The Detroit News
Detroit— Metro Detroiters stuck in Egypt are frantically trying to flee the chaos, while visitors from the troubled country are praying for peace and scrambling for news from their homeland.
On Monday, several Michigan universities were making arrangements for the return of students whose study programs were canceled in Egypt amid widespread civil unrest and demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak.
That same day, professional squash players from Egypt were struggling to focus on the Motor City Open tournament in Bloomfield Hills. Mohamed Ali Anwar Reda may be in Michigan, but his mind is on his family in Cairo. Ranked as one of the best players in the world, the 21-year-old lost Friday.
“It’s a bit tough,” Reda said Monday. “It’s been really tough. You just can’t focus on the match.”
On the other side of the world, Michigan students were struggling to find their way back home from Egypt as protests and demonstrations increased. University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said six of the seven undergraduates studying language in Cairo and Alexandria “should be out of the country by today.”
U-M had four students studying Arabic in a language program in Alexandria, Egypt, operated by the American Councils for International Education and three studying in a program U-M co-sponsored with the American University in Cairo.
Two of the students at the American University program left Cairo on Monday on a charter flight, Fitzgerald said. He said he did not know exactly when all of them would return. One of the American University students has family in the Cairo area and chose to remain in Egypt with them, Fitzgerald said.
“They were safe at all times,” said Fitzgerald. “The students in Cairo were on the American University campus at all times.”
U-M and Michigan State University officials canceled their study abroad programs in Egypt on Sunday after the U.S. State Department issued a warning against travel there.
Three of five MSU students studying language in Alexandria had left the country Friday for spring break, said MSU spokeswoman Kristen Parker. Two others are on their way back home and one, who was studying at American University in Cairo, has “chosen not to return to the United States,” said Parker.
A student from Western Michigan University studying at American University is expected to be back in Michigan soon after her program was canceled. The student, from northern Michigan, will have to make her way back to the United States through Greece as some flight arrangements out of Egypt become sketchy due to the instability in the country.
“Her parents have talked to her and she is OK,” said Western Michigan University spokeswoman Cheryl Roland.
While Michigan students are trying to get back home, a group of young Egyptian athletes wrapping up their participation in a squash tournament are hoping to get back to their home, too.
Reda and four other squash players from Egypt are touring the United States and planned to play in New York City until Wednesday, when they were to travel back to Cairo. Their tournament at the Birmingham Athletic Club in Bloomfield Hills concluded Monday.
“Our families told us to wait in New York for a couple of days to see how it goes,” said Reda, who hasn’t spoken to his parents since Saturday. He said he is worried about his family’s safety and his father’s furniture stores, which are located in some of Egypt’s biggest cities, the scenes of most of the massive protests.
“I heard some things got trashed,” Reda said.
Reda’s teammate, Tarek Momen, has been in daily contact with his family but remains worried.
“It looks like it could get worse,” Momen said. “People feel like there is no change whatsoever.”
Momen, a 22-year-old who recently earned a degree in electrical engineering from American University, said he’s been advised by his father to stay in the United States until things calm down.
“He said if you come back home you will have to stay home all day,” said Momen. “It will be like a prison.”
Both young men said they are hoping for the best for their country and its future.
The mother of a Pontiac man said she is expecting her son to leave Egypt by Wednesday.
Rochester Hills resident Marsha Harris said her son, 40-year-old Craig Alfafara, was told by tour group operators he will be flown out of Cairo on Wednesday.
“Craigwas also told that there will be Embassy representative to meet him atthe airport,” wrote Harris on Monday in an e-mail to update friends, family and others about his situation in Egypt.
Egyptian-Americans in Metro Detroit, meanwhile, continue to call on Mubarak to resign and plan a series of rallies at 2 p.m. Saturday. The events will occur simultaneously in Dearborn, Royal Oak, Lansing and Ann Arbor, says organizer Dr. Ola Elsaid, a Rochester resident.