By Aria Walfrand
Mike Clarke ‘11 was doing his independent study abroad in Egypt the day the revolution broke out. Clarke had designed his own term there and was the first student from Union to ever go to Egypt on a full term abroad. He has always had an interest in foreign relations and politics, and going to Egypt and experiencing the revolution solidified his passions.
Clarke was studying the Nile River at the American University in Cairo (ACU). When that course ended, Clarke had to leave the dorms and find his own apartment. He also had internship in a development company.
While trying to find an apartment, Clarke was staying with his friend Garem, a member of ACU’s rugby team, and his family in Mokattam, a suburb of Cairo.
On Jan. 24, Clarke, Garem, and a bunch of their friends were out until 4 a.m., just five minutes from Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The morning of Jan. 25, the first day of the revolution, Clarke woke up excited for the evening. He had met a girl in Egypt and they were supposed to go on a date. Garem woke Clarke up using his nickname Mickey Sadiqi (meaning “Mickey my friend”) and they put on the BBC news broadcast of the protests going on in Cairo. Up until then, Clarke did not have any idea that this was actually going to happen. A classmate of Clarke’s had shown him an event via Facebook, but said that Egypt had no hope and that nothing would be going on.
That classmate was wrong.
Clarke notes that the first few days of the revolution were “awesome,” that the protests were truly inspiring and that the future of Egypt looked promising.
But things soon changed.
Clarke notes that the protestors did not have the best relationship with the police, and burned down everything that had to do with the police (stations, vehicles, etc). Mubarak, the former dictator of Egypt, had to figure out how to keep control. Clarke explained that although the connection was never officially made, 17,000 prisoners were released from jail in Egypt. Mubarak promised security to the land of Egypt, but this was not one of the protestor’s demands. Then the suburbs exploded with waves of the revolution. The banks closed, there was no cell phone service, and a 4PM curfew was enacted.
Clarke notes one very vivid memory regarding his time in Egypt during the revolution. He and Garem were sent to the market to stock up on food and supplies, and when they got there, it seemed hundreds of people had the same idea. While they waited in the 2 plus hour long line, joking with other people in the market, they heard gunshots and shattering glass. Looters, comrised of police and others taking advantage of the situation by stealing from from burning buildings, were attacking the market. Clarke was told to run, which he did, to the back of the market, only to find a steel cage, that he and Garem tried to break using fire extinguishers. They hid in a basement for 30 minutes until they were told it was safe to come up.
When they got back to their house, Clarke and Garem recounted the events to Garem’s father, who stated that Mubarak was the cause. They then formed a civilian militia group to protect their street. Each person in the militia took shifts guarding the street and would blow a whistle if there was trouble, but Clarke notes that he “never slept” because they were constantly listening for trouble. Clarke and Garem’s shift was from 12-6AM every day. They were armed with machetes and shotguns, at the ready for any looters who crossed their path. Clarke notes that their street was pretty well protected, but neighboring streets were not as lucky; he could hear gunshots and whistles on streets very close to him. He described the situation as “nervewracking” but knew that he “wasn’t going to die in Egypt.”
This went on for five days, after which the Egyptian army sent a tank to his street and things got much better. This is when Union made him come back to the States. Clarke was not thrilled in the slightest to return, especially when things were just getting better. But he did, and arrived back in the States just a few days before Mubarak resigned from power. “I didn’t even get to celebrate,” he says. He also notes that today, most protests have died down. The suburbs are completely calm, and the few protests that are still going on are in the city of Cairo.
Clarke still talks to his friends from Egypt everyday and is distraught that he never got to have a proper goodbye and give his thanks, especially to Garem and his family, for all that they did for him.
He never even got to go on his date.
Clarke pledges to go back there, hopefully over the summer in order to continue work on his internship.
“It was a great experience,” he says. “I got to walk like an Egyptian.”