SVSU student experiences Egyptian revolution firsthand
February 28, 2011 —
While many watched the Egyptian protests unfold in the news, SVSU student Zachary Brissette watched it from his window.
Brissette, an accounting major, was first drawn to Egypt in 2009 when he took interest in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. He took an Arabic class at SVSU and considered the possibility of studying abroad. By the winter semester of 2009, he was studying at the American University of Cairo (AUC).
Brissette said that his study abroad trip gave him a deep appreciation of Egyptian culture, and he decided to study abroad for another semester in 2010.
However, this semester offered some radical changes.
Brissette said that he and his classmates were on a trip to Old Cairo when he was told by student leaders that those living in the Zamalek district would be taken straight to AUC and not the district.
“When we asked why, they told us there we protests in Tahrir Square and Tahrir must be traversed to get to Zamalek,” Brissette said. “Little did we know that in one day that Tahrir would become the epicenter of a nationwide revolution.”
The next day of protests, “The Day of Rage,” included violence and the death of one police officer. That night, Brissette gathered large steel poles to give to men on the streets defending against looters. He said that his efforts to help those men did not go unnoticed and that the men were “grateful” and treated him “like a friend.”
He also said that he felt the Egyptian people would protect him if there was any danger around him.
“Since I have been to Egypt before, I knew that I had no reason to be afraid because the Egyptians fight for each other and will help a foreigner in need,” he said.
Brissette said that he was amazed at the way Egyptians banded together, creating check-points on every street corner. He explained that citizens in the protests handed out different colored armbands to others to avoid friendly fire.
Brissette avoided the protests to keep himself and his girlfriend safe for the next few days. During this time, he said that he noticed people trying to go about business as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“But, that’s Egypt for you,” he said.
Soon after, the Mubarak regime attempted to thwart the progress of protestors by cutting off Internet and phone access. Brissette said those actions played a role in increasing protesters’ efforts.
“I think that the only result that this hard-line action had was to embolden the protesters even more,” he said.
Brissette said that his main fear during the protests were the looters and the police forces. He said that during the riots, prisoners outside of Cairo escaped and began looting in their newfound freedom.
During the protests, Brissette learned that many citizens don’t trust police that are controlled by the Interior Ministry. A friend told him that many officers can’t read or write, and that police officers often instigate brutality because “they will carry out any order given to them.”
However, Brissette also learned that the Egyptian people held their country’s army in high regard.
“By contrast, the Egyptian military is loved by the people and the army was ensuring the protesters could continue protesting,” he said. “The army was also responsible for capturing escaped prisoners and looters.”
Because of his previous experiences in Egypt, Brissette said that he never felt a need to evacuate Egypt. He wanted to finish studying at AUC and was willing to wait out the revolution.
“I knew that eventually the protesters’ demands would be met and Hosni Mubarak would step down, but it was only a matter of timing,” he said.
Despite his faith in the Egyptian people and government, Brissette’s stay was cut short when the U.S. State Department issued an evacuation order for all American citizens. Soon after the order, Brissette was on a plane to Istanbul, Turkey.
He said that he was upset and disappointed when he realized he wouldn’t be able to return to Egypt, but he “fully understood” the liability issues SVSU would have to deal with had he stayed.
After arriving in Turkey, Brissette called the Study Abroad office and asked if he could continue traveling. Once he had permission, he said that his decision to travel to Athens, Rome, Munich and Paris was “easy to make.”
Brissette said that he hopes to return to Egypt and encourages others to visit as well.
“Egypt is a great place to study abroad as the people are friendly, the exchange rate is awesome, and there is so much to do there,” ha said.
He added that the experience helped him realize how thankful he was to be an American citizen and that the trip taught him that he “wouldn’t give that up for anything on the planet.”