Following Revolution, Students Reflect on Experiences in Egypt
Monday, February 14, 2011
Following Friday's historic announcement that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned and handed control of the protest-embattled country over to the military, student members of the Augustana Band shared experiences from their recent Egyptian Tour during the “Rendezvous,” a weekly gathering organized by the International Programs Office.
The presentation featured Band members Thomas Alexander, Rachel Hurley, Meredith Reynolds and Maren Peterson.
What started out as the trip of a lifetime turned into a real-life history lesson for more than 70 Band members who were in Cairo when thousands of Egyptian demonstrators, angry at a lack of freedoms and long-standing economic hardships, took to the streets in a series of unprecedented anti-government protests.
Egyptian protesters – young and old – were demanding an end to Mubark's three-decade-long dictatorship. They are craving democracy and are desperate to end an age-old streak of bleak economic opportunities, the result of, many say, the accumulating wealth of country’s most elite groups. Following Mubarak's announcement, thousands of joyful protesters gathered in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square waving Egyptian flags.
Junior Meredith Reynolds, 20, a biology and French major and a saxophonist in the Band, understands the significance of the Egyptian protests and says, for her, being in Cairo provided the ultimate real-life lesson on democracy.
“It wasn’t a religious thing; it wasn’t a socio-economic thing; it wasn’t a political thing. It was a people thing. The [Egyptian] people wanted change. And, they stood up for themselves and for their freedoms.”
In the midst of the 18 days of protests, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet and blocked most cell phone signals in an effort to stop protesters from using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to organize additional demonstrations. As a result, Band members, and their parents and families back home, were forced to weather a tense weekend of little contact.
A group of 46 students and 20 Tour travelers returned home on Monday, Jan. 31. The remaining students returned on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
Prior to their departure, the students completed a course on Egyptian culture entitled, A Portrait of Egypt, led by Dr. John Pennington, professor of music and professor of percussion at Augustana.
The Band’s concerts were, in most cases, the first by a college band from the United States. Performances included:
- The tour’s opening concert was held at Cairo University, home to more than 200,000 students. At CU, the Band played in the same 3,500-seat hall where President Obama gave his "address to the Muslim world" in 2009.
- Stop No. 2 was Tanta University, located in the Nile delta and home to 150,000 students. Tanta is Egypt’s fifth largest city and is known as the agricultural heart of the country.
- The Band’s third stop was the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a major library and cultural center located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
- While on a four-day cruise of the Nile River, the students visited Egypt’s ancient sites and met fellow university students during their concert at Assiut University, a school with nearly 100,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
During their tour, the students saw a number of ancient Egyptian landmarks, including the Great Pyramids; the Sphinx; Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, also known as the Hanging Church; the world-famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new library of Alexandria; the Alabaster Mosque (also known as the Mosque of Muhammad Ali); the Temples of Philae; and the Aswan High Dam, just to name a few.
The Rendezvous is a weekly social gathering where American and international students gather for coffee or soda, listen to a weekly presentation by a student from another country, and make plans for the weekend.
"[The Rendezvous] is a great way to show support for our international students and a fun way to learn about the 20-plus countries represented on campus," said Donn Grinager, director of Augustana's International Programs Office.