Assistant Professor of Politics Mahmoud Hamad and 34 Drake students intending to travel to Egypt this spring are left wondering if the birth of an Egyptian revolution will have an effect on the Cradle of Civilization 2011.
The Cradle of Civilization is a three-week study abroad opportunity for Drake University students. In the past Hamad, a professor of international relations and political science, and Drake students have traveled throughout Egypt embracing the learning experience associated with immersion in a new culture. The week after spring semester finals, Hamad and a new group of students hope to enjoy the same experience.
Hamad said the trip is meant to “engage students firsthand in the rich history of Egypt as an example of the Middle East, which is a vastly different area than what we have here in the United States.”
“I feel like I took away more than I could say,” said Anna Limberick, who participated in last year’s trip. “I not only learned through unique once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but also was able to experience my learning firsthand. I didn’t just learn about Islam — I saw it, heard it, felt it and experienced it.”
Pre-travel requirements include reading informational books and attending discussions every other Friday. In addition, the students must obtain visas and have already provided a $500 security payment to Drake.
The main concern of many students planning to go is the logistics of refunds for security payments and plane tickets if the trip is cancelled due to the revolution and ensuing events.
“They’d miss out on the trip of a lifetime,” Limberick said of the pending trip cancellation. “Sure, they can visit on their own, but they won’t have Dr. Hamad’s help to gain access to people and places unknown to tourists and travel guides.”
“It is too early to tell the effect of these protests on this year’s trip,” Hamad said. “When we decide on a course of action in the future, safety will be the main concern.”
The final decision will include input from the Drake Administration as well as the State Department.
Although the students are apprehensive about the prospects of their trip, many have taken an unselfish point of view upon hearing of the protests.
“I’ve been anticipating this trip since August, so I will be disappointed if we can’t go,” said junior Hannah Reichert. “However, Egypt’s freedom and a chance at a true democracy is the bigger issue at hand.”
Paige Hulsey is another student eagerly waiting to see how the current events will affect the trip.
“Honestly, I wish I was there now,” she said. “History is being made as we speak and I hope when we look back in a few years, we will be able to say that the U.S. administration supported a call for freedom and democracy abroad.”
Hamad, who is a native of Egypt, is also hopeful that democracy will prevail once the revolution reaches an end.
The revolution’s impact on Drake goes beyond the faculty and students planning to travel.
“This is one of the few issues that it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or conservative,” Hamad said. “I think that most Americans share the belief in commitment to liberty, freedom and democracy.”
The protests are comprised of people from all walks of life – Muslim and Christian – asking for the opportunity to rule themselves and decide the future of their country.
From an international relations standpoint, Hamad stresses the importance of Americans siding with the people of Egypt.
“Sooner or later the peoples’ will will prevail and we don’t want the U.S. to be a source or target of hatred because we supported the Mubarak regime for 30 years,” Hamad said.
Hulsey also expressed her concern about how the revolution will affect Egyptian-American relations.
“I think that depending on how the U.S. continues to respond to this situation will affect how U.S. tourists are treated abroad,” she said.
The future of the Cradle of Civilization experience and American relations with Egypt may remain in question, but the support for a democracy remains strong with the group.
“I hope that in May, I will be one of the first tourists in a democratic Egypt,” Hulsey said.