When Sandra Russo left her hotel in Egypt in the early hours of Jan. 26 for her flight, she couldn’t help but hear the sounds of laughter and upbeat music coming across the way. They were the sounds of an Egyptian engagement party, the kind that start a little before midnight and keep rolling all through the night. Typical Egypt, she thought.
Unbeknownst to those dancing and to the American, Egypt was erupting.
Having visited the country a handful of times, Russo, the director of program development and federal relations for the UF International Center, knew that Egypt didn’t specialize in standard of living. With poverty rampant, unemployment soaring among youth and a government seemingly deaf to cries of reform, it was only a matter of time, she thought, before it all came tumbling down.
“It was like a big tea kettle,” said Russo. “It just blew.”
But what happened on Jan. 25 took her completely by surprise.
“I guess I just wasn’t that savvy,” she said.
Russo did have suspicions that not all was well. The atmosphere in Middle Eastern countries had grown more edgy following the events in Tunisia. In the days leading up to the protests, Egyptian newspapers and televisions told of citizens walking up to large public places with a can of gasoline ready to turn their bodies into politically driven human barbecues.
The Egyptians she knew were not the ones that she was seeing on the televisions at the Amsterdam airport. The Egyptians she knew were kind, polite and always willing to help an American. The only time she said she was ever afraid for her safety was crossing the Cairo streets, where cars whipped through intersections without regard for anything resembling a traffic regulation.
But now Egypt has been thrust into the international spotlight as citizens flock to the streets demanding a change in government. Study abroad programs to Egypt have been put on indefinite hiatus.
One UF student who had been studying at the American University in Cairo has been evacuated from the country and was in Istanbul as of press time.
For Russo, what is unfolding before the world is not the result of fervent religious sentiment coming into fruition.
In a country where bribes get things done and university professors, according to Russo, make $250 a month, economics come into play.
“A person’s daily wages hinge on getting a piece of bread — that pivot is so fragile,” Russo said. “How do you bribe your way through the day when you don’t have anything to bribe with?”
Still, Russo remains confident that despite the uncertainty, Egypt has the capabilities to emerge as a stronger country thanks to a deep influx of educated youth.
For now, however, no music plays.