Jack Dodson/The Pendulum
Shanna Van Beek’s transition back to Elon University life was different from most following a semester abroad as she watched the country she just spent four months in become the leading story of every major news organization for the last two weeks.
For the fall semester, Van Beek was studying at the American University in Cairo and teaching Egyptian students her own age through a nonprofit affiliated with the university. In late January, about a month after Van Beek came back the the United States, Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak came under fire from his own constituency.
Van Beek spoke about her experiences at a bagels-and-coffee discussion hosted by the English department, put together by Kevin Boyle, the department chair. Four English professors and two students came to hear about Van Beek’s experiences, asking her questions about her time in Egypt and what she thought of the country’s protests.
She told the audience while she was in the country, the Egyptians weren’t acting like they were on the verge of protest. In general, she said, there was a sense of disempowerment, as people generally didn’t like Mubarak.
“They were not able to actually stand up and do anything,” Van Beek said.
Rather, it was the uprising in Tunisia in January that prompted the protests in Cairo and surrounding cities. And in this opposition to Mubarak’s regime, Van Beek said, youth played a key role. It was Facebook and Internet where the protesters’ message spread, setting up for a strong and rallied protest.
While she was there, she did see a smaller protest on the AUC’s campus held for the janitors at the school, who were being paid 300 pounds every month, the equivalent of $55 or $60.
“So they had a strike, they weren’t being paid what they’d been promised by the American University,” Van Beek said. “All the students rallied around them. They didn’t care that the campus was being trashed.”
Boyle said the discussion was developed from a spur of the moment idea as he was reading the news on protests in Egypt.
“When things were happening in Egypt this week, I thought, ‘What a great chance for English majors to hear a fellow English major speak about studying abroad in Egypt.'”
The idea got Boyle thinking about a broader idea to hold discussions with English majors a few times a semester to showcase some of the work they’re doing, whether it’s related to English or not. But it’s only an idea at this point, he said, and he hasn’t been able to put it into action yet.
Overall, though, he said while he would have liked to see more students come out, he was happy with the way the talk went.
“She did a great job — she was very articulate,” Boyle said. “She knows a lot about politics.”