Familiar with Egypt visits, Duke program monitored conditions

Jul. 14, 2013 @ 05:43 PM

Duke students and faculty have been traveling to Egypt for more than 10 years, and the DukeEngage program launched in 2009, according to Christy Michels, senior manager of Duke Global Administrative Policies and Procedures.

Duke also has a federally funded Middle East Studies Center, and the Duke Islamic Studies Center has funded student travel to Egypt for the past four years, Michels said in an email.

Eleven undergraduates and two staff comprised the recent DukeEngage Cairo trip.

Faculty, staff and graduate students could remain in-country after the university restricted travel. A Ph.D. cultural anthropology student conducting independent research in Egypt remained, as did Duke professor Mbaye Lo, who ran the DukeEngage trip to Cairo. He stayed behind to complete research and give talks at Egyptian academic institutions.

Lo established a Duke travel program to Yemen in 2007, but due to political violence in Sanaa, he moved it to Cairo in 2008, Lo said in an email from Egypt.

About 56 students have gone through the DukeEngage Cairo program since then. 

He said the success of the Tamarod, the revolutionary youth movement that organized the massive protests against Morsi, surprised experts.

“We anticipated some localized violence, which we have successfully navigated since the revolution of 2011,” Lo said.

Duke students were told to stay away from troubled areas and ones prone to protests, such as Tahrir Square. He said a moment that stood out to him was when his Duke students taught more than 85 Egyptians at night during sporadic electricity outages.

“I said to them the world is a better place when we got out of our comfort zone and make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

Duke’s administrators and the Corporate Risk Management team located all the travelers in country with their International Travel Registry. Undergraduates are required to register their travel plans with the university, and employees and graduate students are encouraged to register, Michels said.

“We strongly encourage its use for instances such as what occurred in Egypt,” she said.

The Duke International Travel Oversight Committee restricted travel to Egypt on July 3. Michels said the decision was based on governmental advisories that recommended deferring all but essential travel and advice from International SOS, Duke’s travel assistance provider that would evacuate Duke students and faculty if situations were dire.

“This restriction was the trigger for us to locate travelers and ensure that they were safe and, if they are undergraduates, leaving the country,” Michels said.