Middle East studies in the News
UCLA Research Team and Other UC Members Evacuated from Egypt by Police
by Sean Greene
In the rural site of Tel el-Amarna, Egypt, the team of UCLA archaeologists felt safe in their seclusion.
Eleven researchers and three Egyptians were mapping the ruins of a stone village and cemetery in preparation for further excavation.
Without a television or Internet access, the team could only hear a few tidbits of news from an Arabic broadcast and many rumors about the protests in Cairo.
But it was hard to separate the rumors from fact, said UCLA student and team member Layesanna Rivera.
"They were saying the president fired everybody," the fourth-year anthropology student said in a phone interview Wednesday. "He was going to assign people to offices."
Just under 200 miles from Cairo, Rivera could form only an incomplete picture of the growing unrest, but the team was confident the area was secure.
"In terms of being there, we really felt safe," Rivera said. "We had guards 24 hours a day.
Dr. Hans Barnard, the lead researcher of the project and a UCLA assistant adjunct professor of archaeology, is well-regarded in the area, which also contributed to their feeling of safety, Rivera said.
"Hans is very positive. … He just took care of everybody," she said. "I don't think any of us were really scared. We were nervous."
On Saturday, however, the team had just returned from the field for lunch when the dig director told them that the local chief of police wanted them out.
By this time, travel into Egypt had been halted and evacuations of non-citizens were underway.
Normally the drive to the Egyptian capital takes five to six hours, Rivera said. This time, with heavy traffic of evacuees and road checkpoints, the trip took what felt like more than a day, although Rivera somewhat lost track of time. When they reached Cairo, the researchers weren't allowed to enter because of a city-wide curfew. Instead, they spent the night at a hotel in a neighboring city.
To avoid the protests the next day, the group took a road that led around the city.
One million people were to demonstrate in Cairo's Tahrir Square that day calling for President Hosni Mubarak's resignation from office. After dissolving government earlier in the week, the Egyptian president on Wednesday refused protesters' calls for his ousting and said he would die on Egyptian soil, the Associated Press reported. He did, however, say he would not seek re-election at the end of his term.
The official death toll is 97, but witnesses around the country report a much higher estimate, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
"There were a lot of tanks around the area, … the road and the highways," Rivera said. "They tried to keep us as safe as they could by doing everything possible to avoid the conflict areas."
Two of the Egyptian workers from the research site traveled with the researchers, helping the team translate until parting ways once in Cairo. After being flown out of the capital by a company that coordinates emergency evacuations, Rivera and the other researchers arrived in Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday evening.
There, Rivera met up with two other UC students who are awaiting their flights back to the United States.
The archaeology team as well as 19 other UC students, faculty and a parent, who were evacuated from Egypt, are expected to fly home from Barcelona later this week, according to a statement from the UC Office of the President.
Rivera said she is waiting for word on when her flight leaves, but said two of the researchers in her group will fly home today.
Whenever there is political unrest in the region, there is concern, according to a statement from Hadyn Dick, executive director of the UCLA International Education Office. So when the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory last week, the UC's study abroad program at the American University in Cairo was cancelled, and the students were evacuated.
Rivera's group was not part of the same program, and police – not the UC – forced them to evacuate.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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