Eric Trager, a Ph.D. candidate in Penn’s Political Science Department, was in Cairo when demonstrations against the Mubarak regime erupted and turned violent.
He arrived in Egypt on Jan. 3 for a three-month research trip to study the relationship between Egyptian opposition parties and the regime. Trager lived in Egypt from 2006 to 2007 while studying at the American University in Cairo as an Islamic Civilizations Fulbright Fellow.
Trager has interviewed more than 100 leaders from the Ghad, Wafd, and Tagammu Egyptian opposition parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood movement for his dissertation research. When the protests in Cairo began on Jan. 25, some of the individuals he wanted to meet were involved in the demonstrations. In Tahrir Square, thousands were tear-gassed, and hundreds arrested, including Trager’s Egyptian roommate.
“He was beaten, arrested and detained overnight for shooting video of police beating a woman,” Trager says. “Then, government-hired thugs confiscated my camera.”
As the city fell under police occupation, basic government ceased to function. Schools closed, people didn’t go to work and Trager could no longer use Skype to communicate with his wife Alyssa, back home in Philadelphia.
He wrote about his experiences in a "Letter From Cairo" for The Forward, a national Jewish weekly newspaper based in New York.
“After navigating side streets to avoid the suffocating clouds of tear gas that riot police shot into the sky with reckless abandon, I arrived at a key bridge over the Nile, only to find that protesters had blocked it with burning tires,” the article reported. “I ran back along a side street, passing a hospital where doctors were tossing face masks from the windows to protect pedestrians from the gas. But I was unable to snatch one, so I kept winding my way through side streets, avoiding the tear gas’s full effect, only thanks to the fact that an activist had wiped my face with Coke only an hour earlier.”
Trager told the Penn Current that the speed with which Cairo descended into anarchy was frightening and swift.
“Friday (Jan. 28) was a very violent day. My neighborhood was guarded by organized band of youths, with pistols and swords. I heard the sound of gunshots all through the night. I was finally able to reach my family by cell phone and realized that I might lose contact with them altogether. The regime was just shutting everything down.”
On Jan. 31 Trager boarded a flight arranged by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt from the Cairo International Airport with other American students, tourists and visitors evacuating the country.
On Wednesday, Feb. 9, Trager will present a talk titled “Egypt: An Eyewitness Report” in the Foreign Policy Research Institute Library, 1528 Walnut St., Suite 610. Admission is free for FPRI members, educators, and students; $20 for non-members. Reservations are required. For more information, contact 215-732-3774, ext. 303.
Originally published on February 4, 2011