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Hundreds of American college students leaving Egypt as uprising intensifies

Protesters staged a rally against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year autocratic rule at the Egyptian embassy in Washington.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 31, 2011; 7:51 PM

Hundreds of U.S. college students - including dozens from Washington area schools - have joined the mass departure from Egypt in recent days as a popular study-abroad spot turned potentially dangerous.

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Many of the students were participating in programs at the American University in Cairo, an English-language school that was supposed to start classes on Sunday. Instead, it pushed back its start date to Feb. 13, arranged flights home for some students and advised those who stayed behind to remain in their dorms, which are about 40 miles from the heart of the pro-democracy demonstrations.

"There are some students who wanted to be on the first plane out . . . and there was a surprising number of students who wanted to fly somewhere in Europe and hunker down" until classes begin, said Morgan Roth, the university's director of communications in North America. "Then we have students who are refusing to leave at all."

Roth said the university transported about 100 students to the airport on Monday, the first day the U.S. government offered "voluntary departure" from Egypt on chartered flights. Officials fielded hundreds of phone calls from parents and posted updates on a Facebook page, where students' families can swap details and share concerns. The last time the campus faced such a closure was during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when Egypt was considered a potential target of missile attacks from Iraq.

The students who remain in Cairo are mostly stuck indoors, without Facebook, Google Chat or other forms of Internet access because the Egyptian government has blocked them.

"It was a pretty boring and uneventful few days for our students," Roth said, "which I think was a relief for parents to hear."

More than 50,000 Americans are living in Egypt and about 2,600 have requested evacuation. On Monday, the State Department planned to fly more than 1,200 to Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.

Georgetown University decided on Sunday to remove the 15 students it had in Cairo after days in which street protests grew more violent and communication links more tenuous. On Monday, the students flew to the safety of Doha, Qatar, where Georgetown has a satellite campus.

American University in Washington, which has no relationship to the one in Cairo, decided to remove all 11 of its undergraduates studying in Cairo. Three of the students are there with the international studies program America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (AMIDEAST) and relocated to Greece on Monday. The eight others are studying at the Cairo university and are awaiting U.S. government flights.

George Washington University has 14 students participating in three study-abroad programs in Egypt this semester. Most of the students are studying in Cairo, but two students are in Alexandria with a program affiliated with Middlebury College in Vermont. Late Monday, five of the students had arrived in Athens and several others were en route to Europe. The handful of students still in Egypt have flight arrangements.

The University of Virginia has four undergraduates studying at the Cairo university, one of whom went to catch a flight home on Monday, a spokeswoman said. George Mason University, Washington College and the College of William and Mary each have one student in Cairo, all of whom plan to leave, school officials said.

The University of Maryland at College Park has seven students who planned to study in Egypt this semester. One is in Cairo, where he remains. The six others are part of an international study program in Alexandria that does not start until mid-February; most of the students were traveling elsewhere when the protests began.

Mae McIver, a senior at the university, had already arranged to return home to Salisbury during a break in her year-long stay in Alexandria. She flew out of Cairo on Thursday morning, when the protests were still isolated to the square and her worried mother could still reach her by cellphone.

McIver has kept in touch with students in Alexandria, who gathered in the director's apartment for several days while they waited for flights to Dubai on Monday.

"They were just stuck in that apartment, not knowing what was going on," said McIver, 23. "They didn't have a TV. They didn't have any source of news. All they could do was look outside."

Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.


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