Jordan Bellquist, a senior in Arabic Language and Literature studies and a Radio-Television-Film major, was in Alexandria, Egypt as part of the university’s Arabic Flagship Program when the riots broke out.
Before the riots, day-to-day life passed by as it always does. Everyone got up, went to work or school, and returned home to be with their families. Then the next day, did it all over again. We were free to move about wherever we wanted without restrictions. I was always in a safe environment because I lived with an Egyptian woman and she understood all of the cultural nuances it took me months to pick up on. I was surrounded by an amazing group of people: my host family, my teachers at the university (several of which have taught at UT for a semester), my language and academic partners, my friends, those I worked with at my internships, and simply those people I saw every day in my neighborhood who would always stop to talk to me and ask me how I was doing.
Then the protests began and the government shut off all cell phone and Internet connection. The only way we could contact each other was from a land line phone. Then Al Jazeera was pulled off the air and the only news station left was one that acted as if nothing at all was going on and that the police had been peaceful in their actions.
The protestors were always peaceful. In the early stages any violence that took place stemmed from the police. During the protests on the “day of wrath” the police began to beat the protestors and throw tear gas into the crowds. All the areas along the coast in Alexandria were covered in a toxic fog.
Following the protests a curfew was put into place. I remember when I was walking with my host mom to buy food that she said she hadn’t heard the term “curfew” in the past twenty years or so. Everyone around us was rushing to buy food since no one knew what the next day would bring. That was when I realized the significance of what was going on and that this was not just a few protests, but truly the beginning of a revolution.
After that Mubarak let all of the thugs and criminals out in order to scare the protesters into submission. It was as if he wanted all of them to call on him for help. Of course they didn’t do that and never would have. These were the scariest times because once the sun set the city turned into a completely different place from what we had known and all of the worst people came out to take advantage of the situation. Every street formed a neighborhood watch committee with the heads of each house and any young men willing to stand in the street throughout night in order to defend their families. All carried swords, knives, and clubs. At this point the students from my program had been moved to our resident director’s apartment and we watched as the army descended the streets in tanks. But before the army could gain control of the situation the thugs and criminals had committed countless random acts of violence such as burning down houses, stealing guns from the local police stations, beating people, etc. Every day after that while I was there, the hours we were allowed to be out of our houses decreased. On the final day, when we were evacuated, we had to fly out before 3 o’clock when the curfew would begin and before the airport shut down.
I want to return to Egypt. That’s what I think about the most. I never wanted to leave and never thought we would actually be evacuated. I also never had to opportunity to say proper good-byes to everyone I cared about and those who had help me so much throughout the year. I had a life there and incredible people in it and I wasn’t ready to leave.
Read the rest of the essays in this series on perspectives on Egypt.