USU student lands in Cairo amidst violence to topple Mubarak government

LOGAN—Imagine boarding a plane for a two-week vacation and touching down to find your destination in flames, protesters charging policemen and youth patrolling the city, machetes in hand. Porter Illi, a senior at Utah State University, found just that when he arrived in Cairo, Egypt, in late January 2011. Illi, who is studying this year in Morocco, landed in Cairo one day after political demonstrations turned violent, as civilians protesting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign were attacked by his supporters. “What I have seen and experienced today has been absolutely frightening,” he wrote in his journal Jan. 29. “The protests of yesterday were far more devastating than what I had seen on the news in Morocco. What were initially storms of people taking to the streets, quickly escalated to a violent force, targeting policemen and government buildings.” Since August, Illi, a political science and international studies major, has studied Arabic in Morocco on a prestigious year-long Boren Scholarship. He purchased his ticket to Egypt in early January as part of a two-week break. “In Morocco, we had been getting a lot of coverage of Tunisia on al Jeezera TV,” he said during a recent Skype interview with USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “It wasn’t dangerous in Egypt until Friday [when I was in the air.]” In early January, Tunisians took to the streets in protest of rising food costs, lack of political freedoms, and exorbitant levels of government corruption. Their efforts resulted in the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had governed under authoritarian rule since 1987. The Tunisian uprising has inspired similar protests throughout the Arab World, most visibly in Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan. From the airport, Illi boarded a bus to his hostel in Cairo. As he neared the city, evidence of the riots lay scattered along the roadside.

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