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PKU students in Egypt — "Riots around us"

In January, 2011, political protests burst out in Egypt.
On January 30, China issued a travel alert for Egypt.
At 11:30 on January 31, China sends planes to evacuate citizens from Egypt.



Peking University, Apr. 6, 2011:


Tension: Before the riots


"In fact, there were obvious signs of the riots a few months ago. At the time, some people gathered at the country’s subway exits and landmark buildings, and a variety of domestic media made reports of that bias, which aggravated the tension and increased our fears. We could not help worrying, although the gathering did not show violent tendencies," said Liu Yang, an exchange student in Egypt from Peking University (PKU), rather shocked by what he had seen during the riot. "The demonstration in Egypt is aimed mainly at the authorities, and there is no hostility to challenge the safety of us foreigners. Yet to me, it turns to be a precious chance to gain such experiences in spite of my strong fear at that time."



People surrounded the ambulance transporting Gharib Abdelaziz Abdellatif in Suez
(File photo)


"What I saw there was the firm conviction of these demonstrators that they would keep fighting until Hosni Mubarak’s abdicating. And the local people were very supportive. The demonstrations were carried on rather peacefully without any severe bloodshed." Looking back on his actions at that time, Liu was able to make a calm and objective analysis, "In fact, demonstration in Egypt was not too terrible, since most Egyptians could cope with it instead of totally feeling panic and scared."



Joy: The coming return


"Actually, the riots in Egypt were not so terrible as imagined, and the evacuation there differed from that in Libya. Except those without permanent accommodation, most of the students were free to choose whether to stay or return home. As for us volunteer teachers, we were usually the last to consider withdrawal because of our greater flexibility and closer links with the embassy. Once back in China, it would be much more difficult for us to return (to Egypt)," said Lei Ming, a PKU postgraduate teaching Chinese at the Confucius Institute in Cairo.



 Protesters cheered for the soldiers in central Cairo on January 29, 2011 (File photo)


Liu Yang shared a similar view, although he had returned to China during the evacuation, "The situation was not so horrible as to threaten foreigners’ safety, and most of us volunteered to return home. However, looking back upon that time, we could have learned more if we stayed."


Yet "returning home" was easier said than done.


"When I went to the airport, the situation inside was a total mess, overcrowded with scared people. Panic filled the airport when the management was out of control with services and facilities out of work. Soon stranded passengers at the airport were attended to by the embassy and provided with food and water," Liu recalled, "Embassy staff concluded that the final step would be evacuation in case of emergency. Because some Chinese travelers had stayed at the airport for several days, China decided to send more planes to evacuate."


Liu returned to his motherland, while Lei still lives with his teacher in Cairo and witnessed the whole situation.

For Lei life was never easy, although he did not have to attend class, "Our buildings were strictly protected by the embassy. We were afraid to go out and get outside information from TV." Though not directly endangered by the riots, he witnessed the chaos: "At that time, the situation in Cairo was still tense. One morning, we saw large demonstrations quite near us; later we heard a batch of gunfire. At that very moment, we felt very frightened and hesitated over whether to stay or return to China."



Hope: Peace Restored


As time went on, the Egyptian military began to compromise step by step with the protesters, with some consensus reached. With "political reform" on the agenda, the parliamentary election in September and the presidential election in November are now real plans, easing the present situation in Egypt.


It is superficial, however.


"More small-scale demonstrations are being organized after the big shock of the riots in order to achieve alternative goals. Some of my students are also parade participants. Although the impact is not so serious, it does make a difference for other students. Most Egyptians I have met are college students, who appear more rational and self-controlled with regards to this matter. So there must be strong organization behind this kind of large-scale demonstration. Whatever the attitude of the government or the way protesters organize, it is obvious that Egypt is quietly engaged in a moderate political evolution," Lei added.


"In any case, it is gratifying that no massive bloodshed has happened in Egypt. I will return to China at the end of the semester. It is my sincere hope that the situation in Egypt will soon take a turn for the better," Lei said.



Translated by: Wang Shiqin
Edited by: Arthars
PKU Youth