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SAFETI Clearinghouse
Special Issue: Egypt Travel Safety

Special Issue: U.S. Department of State Travel Alert for Egypt
Updated: November 22, 2011

Information and Resources to Help U.S. Colleges and Universities
Respond to Safety Challenges for Academic Programs in Egypt

by Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

While many U.S. citizens have safely visited Egypt in the past and will surely continue to study and travel there when the situation becomes more stable, continuing protests in Egypt raise concerns about the safety of students currently in Egypt and others that may be planning to travel there in the future. On November 7, 2011, the U.S. Department of State updated their Travel Alert from April 28, 2011.

The U.S. Department of State Egypt Travel Alert update on November 7, 2011 alerts to continuing unrest in Egypt, including the following information:

"The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to the continuing possibility of sporadic unrest. A series of elections for the lower and upper houses of parliament is scheduled to take place from November 2011 through March 2012. Political rallies and demonstrations are likely to occur in the period leading up to and following the elections. In the past nine months, demonstrations have degenerated on occasion into violent clashes between police and protesters, in some instances resulting in deaths, injuries, and extensive property damage. U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security."

It continues...

"The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse. Should security forces block off the area around the U.S. Embassy during demonstrations, U.S. citizens should not attempt to come to the U.S. Embassy during that time. U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to carry identification and, if moving about alone, a cell phone or other means of communication that works in Egypt."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of State had supported departure of U.S. Embassy staff and citizens from Egypt.

As the current clashes started, many institutions instructed their students about personal security measures to follow, including staying away from all protests/demonstrations. However, over the past week, there have been three (3) U.S. study abroad students who allegedly were apprehended for taking part in the civil unrest and are being held by Egyptian authorities.

The students, from Drexel University, Georgetown University, and Indiana University were all studying at the American University of Cairo (AUC). In a press release, Indiana University confirmed that one of their study abroad students was being held by the Egyptian government. The Washington Post confirmed the arrest of the Georgetown University student in communication with his father. NBC Philadelphia noted that Drexel University administrators are in communication with their student's parents and authorities at AUC. Following are additional news stories about the incident:

  • CNN:3 Americans arrested in Egypt as clashes continue

    According to the CNN article:

    "A spokesman for the Justice Ministry, Adel Saeed, said the men were arrested by police “for throwing Molotov cocktails from atop the A.U.C. building” near Tahrir Square. The university has a campus near the square with several low buildings; the main campus building had been used by government forces during the revolutionary battles in the square in February."
  • New York Times:3 Americans Arrested in Cairo

    The New York Times story highlighted tweets from someone they guess was one of the students arrested:

    • Nov. 21: "reports of tear gas being fired from AUC campus on Tahrir, university official have started investigating"
    • Nov. 20: "we were throwing rocks and one guy accidentally threw his phone =("
    • Nov. 20: "yes live bullets and we have the shells, i was here!!"
    • Nov. 20: "back to Tahrir tonight, as police set fires to everything, no doubt they will blame it on protesters"

On November 22nd, one of the regular updates from the U.S. Embassy in Egypt included the following concerns about continuing unrest, protests, and concerns about U.S. citizens avoiding areas where demonstrations take place:

"This emergency message is being issued to alert U.S. citizens of ongoing unrest in Tahrir Square. U.S. Embassy staff will be permitted to depart early on November 22 due to the call for a large gathering around Tahrir Square. All U.S. citizens should avoid Tahrir Square and the immediate surrounding area. We also alert US citizens that there are restrictions on photographing military personnel and sites, bridges, and canals, including the Suez Canal. Egyptian authorities may broadly interpret these restrictions to include other potentially sensitive structures, such as embassies, public buildings with international associations, and some religious edifices. The Embassy has received reports of foreigners detained for photographing security forces and unfolding events in Cairo and other cities. U.S. citizens in Egypt are subject to Egyptian law. Foreign laws and legal systems may be vastly different from U.S. laws and legal systems, and criminal penalties may vary. U.S. citizens are reminded that a U.S. passport does not prevent arrest or prosecution of those who violate Egyptian law."

The current political unrest in Egypt raises a number of programmatic issues and challenges for institutions and their students, faculty, and staff and heightened anxiety for the parents of the students in Egypt. There is a significant amount of uncertainty at this time: Will these events transition to peaceful protest and calm in the country or will things get worse?

Home campus and on-site staff should plan for "best-case" and "worst-case" scenarios. It is critical to work with campus and on-site staff as well as emergency assistance/insurance providers to safely bring students from Egypt back to the U.S.

With the expansion of protest actions around the world, including the "Occupy" movement, the "Arab Spring", and budget challenges abroad, it is particularly important to review the information provided to students about avoiding areas where protests take place abroad. Although U.S. students may be interested in the protest movements and the locations where protests take place may be interesting, there are dangers involved. Some countries have laws against protests and consider the involvement of foreign nationals illegal, with potential legal ramifications. Areas where protests take place can quickly change from "peaceful" to areas where getting between protesters can police can result in personal injury to students. Institutions should consider including the avoidance of protest actions in the pre-departure and on-site orientation programs as well as student conduct policies.

It is crucial that faculty, staff, students, and parents put appropriate perspective on the possibility of the spread of political unrest in Egypt. While there have been no reported cases of study abroad participants getting injured because of the current political unrest, it is critical for institutions to analyze the issues and risks for their faculty, staff, and students.

It is important that faculty and staff get advice from many experts, including the U.S. Department of State through Embassy and Consular Officials in Egypt to American Citizens Services Consular Affairs Staff and Overseas Security Advisory Council RISC Staff in the U.S. Department of State in Washington DC. In addition, it is important to maintain constant communication with partners in the U.S. and abroad.

For programs located in areas where current safety conditions strongly suggest a temporary suspension of study abroad programs, we suggest working with partners to identify creative solutions to continue with the international collaboration. For example, the use of technology could help students accomplish some of their intended goals, and sustain collaborative activities, while at the same time limiting possible financial and academic impacts. Creative solutions can help sustain existing relationships with international partners.

The communication challenge is particularly heightened in Egypt as cell phone and internet access is inconsistent. Communication through land-based phone lines and satellite phones may be the best form of communication when internet and cell phones are not available. The Travel Alert provides the following suggestion to support effective communication:

"U.S. citizens in Egypt are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) at the following website:  U.S. citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the U.S. Embassy.  By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.

Updated information on travel and security in Egypt may be obtained from the Department of State by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. For further information, please consult the Country Specific Information for Egypt, as well as the Worldwide Caution."

Institutions should take time to identify the locations in Egypt where the safety and security of students/faculty/staff is of heightened concern. Clear guidance should be provided as to where study abroad, research, and other activities can continue to safely take place, and specific warnings should be provided regarding areas of the country and situations to avoid during program related activities and independent travel.

Developing an appropriate response at an institution may require better resources for the study abroad staff, better analysis of the health and safety challenges abroad, and enhanced collaboration to include input from legal counsel, risk management, student affairs, others across campus, external experts, as well as international partners. All international programs should be reviewed so that policies supporting study abroad are also considered for service learning, athletics, campus ministry, research, special projects, and other programs that send students, faculty, or staff abroad. The units on campus with international programs should be working with the campus Public Relations office to develop a statement on how the institution is responding to Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts to provide a consistent message to faculty, staff, students, and parents.

It is important to incorporate the perspective of risk management in the discussion to confirm that the health, emergency assistance, and liability insurance will properly cover faculty, staff, students, and institutions in countries for which Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings have been issued. We also recommend that you check with emergency assistance providers to see what the terms of their coverage are for students, faculty, and staff who return to the U.S. from a country or region that an institution deems "unsafe", but is not mentioned in a Travel Warning or Travel Alert.

This is a good time to bring an institutional campus crisis management team together to review institutional policies and procedures and to ensure that there are plans in place for a coordinated effort among the various units involved in the planning and implementation of programs abroad. With proper support, this can become an opportunity for international learning and understanding on campus.

At the same time, it is important for all institutions to follow due diligence protocols that support a comprehensive analysis of the program locations, participant demographics, program focus and health and safety concerns, as well as issues of where faculty, staff, and students travel during their independent time while abroad. Providing clear information and resources for faculty, staff, students, and parents is necessary to support educated decisions about participation in and the continued implementation of programs with components which take place abroad. Appropriate and measured analysis of and response to U.S. Department of State Travel Alerts and Warnings are necessary to support the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff participating in international programs, while maintaining appropriate levels of international engagement and providing these irreplaceable learning opportunities.

The SAFETI Clearinghouse resources, along with other available resources, can contribute to the work of institutions while they enhance their planning and response efforts and support international learning through the movement of students, faculty, and staff between the U.S. and Egypt.

Preparing for the worst-case scenario requires a broad-ranging review of issues, from medical care abroad, emergency evacuation policies and options, refund policies, separation of faculty, staff, and students if on-site administrators are the ones who are injured or arrested, having 24-hour support in the U.S. and abroad, maintaining updated information about the current state of political unrest in any place where a program takes place, where excursions go, and where students go during independent travel.

If an institution integrates this into their crisis management planning, this can become an opportunity to be prepared for other crises unforeseen by faculty and staff. This is also an opportunity for study abroad administrators to take an active role in on-campus crisis management planning as this is a problem that could just as easily affect the city where your campus is in the U.S. This is an opportunity to prepare on campus and prepare abroad in an integrated fashion.

Key personnel to involve in planning, for a comprehensive university, could include:

  • U.S. college or university/Study abroad program support team
    • Student affairs administrators
    • Study abroad administrators
    • Campus security/police officer
    • Risk manager/insurance coordinator
    • Legal counsel
    • Health center
    • Counseling center
    • Public relations
    • President or chancellor's office
    • Other on-site staff
    • Student representatives
  • Support Abroad
    • On-site program administrator
    • Other on-site staff
    • On-site health provider
    • On-site counseling provider
    • Insurance representative
    • 24-hour assistance company
    • U.S. government representative (Embassy or Consular official)
    • Local police
    • Local emergency assistance provider

Colleges and universities with study abroad programs should be prepared to respond to this or any other possible crisis abroad. Support should include a Crisis Management Team in the U.S. and abroad, a Crisis Management Plan, and policies and procedures which have been tested in cooperation with staff in the U.S. and abroad.

Crisis Management
As you consider the current state of political turmoil and put it into the perspective of preparing for and responding to the continually escalating situation in Egypt, the following ten steps may assist with your planning:

  • Ten Steps for Effective Crisis Response Planning
    • Centralized Support and Planning: Include Cross-Campus Planning for All International Programs (Study Abroad, Research, Internships, Service-Learning, Athletic Teams, etc.) and Decision-Making
    • Develop a Balanced Campus-wide Response - Don't Over- or Under- React; Leadership Needs to Be Organized, Consistent, On Message, Calm, and Appropriate to the Incident
    • Keep Campus Response Team Current With Relevant Data
    • Monitor Broad Ranging Data/Situation Regularly Using Resources Including:
      • U.S. Government (State Department);
      • International Institutions (United Nations);
      • Country(ies) Impacted (Egyptian Government, U.S. Embassy, Egypt);
      • Field-based (NAFSA, URMIA, Forum on Education Abroad); and
      • Regional - other study abroad programs based near your U.S. or International Campus
    • Provide Information for Faculty, Staff, Students, and Parents with Perspectives, Links, and Advice on Response
    • Have Emergency Communication Plans in Place
    • Maintain Quality Insurance and 24 Hour Emergency Assistance Coverage
    • Have a Contingency Fund for Special Support and Extra Costs Associated With Emergencies, Including Program Cancellation
    • Have Emergency Cards and Other Emergency Information Readily Available in Multiple Locations for Faculty, U.S. and International Staff, and Students
    • Develop Emergency Action Plan, Practice Your Plan (with All Partners - Faculty, Staff, Students, etc.), Update Your Plan, Practice Again

Following are links to several resources that may help your institution develop its Crisis Management Team, Crisis Management Plan, and policies and procedures.

Impact on Students
The Center strongly suggests that institutions provide information to parents and students, including travel and country-specific warnings provided by the U.S. Department of State. The Center also suggests you seek alternative information from international sources in the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and from the United Nations. (Please see below for links to these resources).

As program support varies from institution to institution, it is recommended that you develop a method for monitoring the situation daily, reviewing the possible impact of heightened political unrest on students and programs, and updating emergency plans accordingly. Develop a process for deciding whether or not to cancel programs in affected areas, reviewing transportation plans, or postponing pending study abroad programs in certain areas due to a potential threat of physical violence and bodily harm. For students returning from affected regions, inquire as to whether your institution encourages students, faculty, and staff to receive a check-up at your campus health center or with a private counselor for psychological issues resulting from the stress of responding to a crisis abroad.

Other Information Resources

U.S. Government Resources:

U.S. Department of State

Canadian Government-Travel Report Provides updated information on current political situation in Egypt.

United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office Provides travel advice and fact sheet on current political situation in Egypt.

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel bulletin for Egypt, with specific information regarding the need to travel to Egypt.

Center for Global Education's Resources:

Other Resources:

We look forward to hearing from you if you have any additional suggestions on ways to respond effectively to this and other situations abroad.


Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
8907 Math Sciences Building
Box 951521
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521
Tel: (310) 206-5376