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Political science major recounts ‘vacation’ in Cairo revolution

February 10th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Landon Hemsley
Utah Public Radio

LOGAN—USU political science student Porter Illi is spending he year in Morocco studying Arabic. Last week, on a planned vacation break to Cairo, Illi landed literally in the middle of the violence that threatens to topple the government of 30-year Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Illi arrived in Cairo and book a bus from the airport to his hostel, which was near Tahrir Square, the focal point of the violence. Despite the violence, Illi spent five days in Cairo and Luxor, Egypt, before getting out.

See story on Porter Illi’s experiences.

Landon Hemsley, a broadcast journalism major and intern at Utah Public Radio, caught up with Illi by Skpye in Greece this week for a conversation about his impressions on the biggest story in international news—the struggle for the future of Egypt.

Listen to Landon Hemsley’s interview with Porter Illi on Utah Public Radio.

Landon Hemsley, Utah Public Radio: What were your first impressions—this is real and perhaps a bit more serious than I was thinking?

Porter Illi: Well when they called the military onto the streets I was still in Morocco and then that night I took the train down to Casablanca and flew out from there. I got to Cairo at like 6:40 in the morning. From there, the hostel was just off Tahrir Square. The information to get there was just to take the bus; you know the city bus to Tahrir Square and then walk from there. I did that, I got a city bus and so as we were going down that road the first thing I saw were just basically ashen skeletons of police cars just in the middle of the road; dozens and dozens of them just every where in the middle of the road, lots pushed off to the side.

They were not just police cars but also altercation vehicles that they move their forces around in, and they were just completely burnt out—just, you know, charcoal black and white. And right when I got off at Tahrir Square that’s when I kind was starting to doubt my decision to be in Cairo at the time because the edge of Tahrir Square there is a 20- or 30-story federal government building that was billowing with fire. It was pretty intimidating. And so I was tempted for a second to jump back on the bus, but I didn’t.

Hemsley: What prompted you to stay? Why did you stay and not get back on that bus?

Illi: Well the bus had left and so I decided to just walk to my hostel.

Hemsley: And what were some of the other things that you saw there?  Obviously when you got there, that building was burning I’m assuming eventually somebody showed up to put it out. What all happened you being right there next to Tahrir Square?

Illi: Well, I went to my hostel, and there were only a few people left and they were all trying to leave Cairo. The problem that was going on was that there was no Internet; there were no phone lines at that time, so there was just uncertainty about everything. But the rest of that day that I was in Cairo, we tried to get to the train station. We crossed the main plazas, trying to get across the plazas was really hard because you had to go across them to get to any part of the city. And they were just surrounded by tanks, protestors everywhere and the tension was just so thick.

Hemsley: And so you stayed there for five days and tried to enjoy yourself in the middle of all that?

Illi: I eventually did get a train out of Cairo that was just my main focus—to get out of Cairo. I took a train about 11 hours out of Cairo and made it to Luxor, and I was there for a few days before coming back to Cairo.

Hemsley: And what did you while you were down at Luxor?

Illi: Well it was really enjoyable. We stayed at this charming hostel that was run by an Australian lady, a boomerang hostel. We were the only people left there—she kicked everyone out and told them to go home, but we stayed. I was with a group of three other students about my age. … We did everything a tourist would do—I mean we went to Valley of the Kings and took a faluka, a sailboat, out onto the Nile. Towards my last day in Luxor the attention had spread to Luxor and there were people gathering at the plaza right in front of the Luxor temple, and there were fights breaking out and whatnot.

Hemsley: Did you see any violence by the police or by anyone else while you were there? Or did you try to keep yourself pretty insulated from that?

Illi: I did see a lot of violence, and that happened a lot as this went on.

Hemsley: Why do you think that is? Why would people fight against others when it’s not the police?

Illi: Initially the biggest tension was between the police and the protestors. After a couple of days, the pro-Mubarak protestors came out and that’s when the issues happened. The police are pretty violent, but for the most part they are holding back. The military is not using any force whatsoever. But people against people I mean people have no boundary they really want and so that is a real problem.

Hemsley: Porter Illi, a USU student who speaks to us today via Skype joining us from Greece. He was in Egypt last week when the worst of the protests against President Mubarak thanks very much for your time Porter.

Illi: Okay I appreciate it.

JCOM major Whitney Mendivil assisted with this story.


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