UM suggests Egypt not safe for studying abroad

By Sarah Fonder


A growing interest in Egyptian politics has coincided with a fear that post-revolutionary Egypt may not be safe for travel.

According to Director of Education Abroad at the International Programs Office [IPO] Dr. Erika L. Schluntz, the office recommends students do not study abroad in Egypt at this time, though students are not forbidden from traveling there.  With such unrest, Schluntz said students should not be studying in Egypt.

“There’s no sense really from our point of view that the government really knows exactly what it’s doing at all times and can ensure the safety of our citizens,” said Schluntz.

She cited the recent arrest of American students and holding of non-government organization [NGO] workers as reasons for concern.

“This is a very important time for Americans and others to watch events in Egypt,” said University of Massachusetts professor of social thought and political economy David Mednicoff in an email interview Tuesday. “[There] is a growing concern that the Egyptian military, through its interim government, is trying to use the new constitutional-drafting process to reserve excessive powers for itself.”

IPO has developed a risk-management committee just this year to assess the safety of traveling to certain areas.

“We know the schools, we know the situation,” said Schluntz. “We’re the ones who obsess about the travel warnings and travel alerts on the state department’s website. So we keep our fingers most closely on the pulse of what’s going on overseas.”

According to Mednicoff, the Egyptian “political situation is just too unsettled.” He added that American citizens in Egypt are not safe, also referencing students arrested while traveling to Egypt. Mednicoff agreed that the current political situation in Egypt makes it a problematic location to study abroad.

“A second concern is how much political polarization is likely to occur around religious lines, and how the country’s Christians and Muslims can maintain the common political purpose that they showed in uniting against the Murabak regime last year,” Mednicoff added.

According to Schluntz, there is currently no reason for UMass students to study abroad in Egypt anyway. However, according to the IPO website, there is currently one study abroad program taking place in Egypt this semester. Schluntz said that other study abroad locations in the Middle East are safer.

“In general, Egypt is a great place for American students,” said Mednicoff. “However, as events are in a great deal of flux, and the next Egyptian government or Constitution are not yet in place, [it is important to] watch the situation on a daily basis.”

“There’s no absolutely compelling reason for one of our students to be studying in Egypt as opposed to, say, Jordan [or] Morocco,” said Schluntz. “There are other options. Most of our students who study in Egypt want to gain expertise in the Arab language, which is great, but there are plenty of other places where one can do that.”

While Schluntz has noticed a growing interest in the Middle East, she does not necessarily attribute it to the Arab Spring.

“We have in the last four or five years seen an increase of interest in students studying in the Middle East and learning Arabic,” Schluntz said. “I think students are wise and they don’t really want to put themselves in harm’s way, and it’s our job to make sure that they don’t. So we drew the line for Egypt this year, and possibly next spring.”

Sarah Fonder can be reached at [email protected].