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Augustana Travelers Witness Riots In Egypt

January 29, 2011, 10:00 PM by Kealey Bultena

Augustana Travelers Witness Riots In Egypt

Some visitors from KELOLAND will soon be on their way out of Egypt. After moving to a safer hotel and grappling with flight changes, 70 Augustana band students and 20 alumni are now scheduled on flights home. All are set to leave Egypt within the next few days. The first group will board a plane tomorrow morning, and the rest will leave on a flight Tuesday.

The government shut down phones and computers yesterday, but some communication into Egypt has been restored. 

Despite reports of chaos in Egypt, Augustana travelers say they're safe. Brad Heegel is the Director of Special Projects for Augustana, and he's in Cairo with students.

"There are lots of people sleeping in the hallways and in the main areas of the hotel, but the Augie kids all got together and gave up rooms and jumped together so that all the adults got a place to sleep as well," Heegel said. 

Students moved to a hotel near the airport before violence erupted, but alumni were caught in the middle of demonstrations.

"But they were perfectly civil, and they were marching. They didn't touch a car. They didn't do anything. They just came marching through and shouting chants," Heegel said. "People came out of their homes and their apartments and were waving flags and cheering them on, and it was almost like an army had returned from a victorious war or something."

Everyone moved to safety as the protests turned dangerous.

"Just out our windows was the building of the former ruling party, which is about a twenty story building, and it was still burning. The place is completely smoked," Heegel said. 

The South Dakotans' first encounter with protestors happened days earlier. Heegel says alumni drove straight toward the demonstrations, where they saw lines of police cars and riot gear. That was before the military took over.

"The police have gone away; nobody knows where the police are. The military's out," Heegel said. "On our way to the airport, we had a couple of stops, a couple of checks by the military, which was fine. There were some tanks on the streets just parked as a kind of show of force."

Despite a rising death toll, Heegel says all Augustana travelers are safe.

"We've not been afraid. There's no one that's come towards us with any hostility. This entire display and this protest is being geared at their government and their desire for change. It has absolutely nothing to do with us as foreigners or any of us, our politics, or anything like that," Heegel said.

That gives the group peace of mind, as they await their planes out of Egypt.

 

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