Although she’d only been in Egypt for five months, Morgan Smith knew about Police Day, a two-year-old national holiday celebrated on Jan. 25.
She understood the day honored policemen who resisted British demands in 1952. But she also realized that Police Day 2011 would not be cause for celebration.
“‘A day of Anger’ is what they were calling it,” she said.
Egyptian anger did not subside after one day, though. It escalated into 18-days of protests, some of which Smith witnessed from her apartment window in Alexandria, Egypt.
Smith, a recent Centre College graduate and Fulbright English teaching assistant, remained in Egypt until Feb. 4, when the U.S. Embassy ordered all citizens to evacuate. She is now home safely in Louisville while Egyptians celebrate the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak and the transfer of power to the military that occurred Friday.
“February 11, 2011, will be in history books for the rest of time, and that’s a really big deal,” Smith said Friday afternoon. “I just hope that the army will be protection for the people and help facilitate this democratic transition. You never know what will happen tomorrow when they wake up.”
Smith graduated from Centre in May with a double major in mathematics and Middle Eastern studies, a program she designed herself. She found out in May that’d she’d received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Egypt along with nine other American college grads.
“We were definitely very excited for her,” said Leslie Smith, Morgan’s mother. “She was going to be with other Americans, so it wasn’t like she was by herself navigating in that community.”
Morgan Smith arrived in Cairo in August for intensive Egyptian Arabic language training. While she quickly bonded with fellow English teaching assistants (ETAs), she said she felt mute in the crowded, polluted city.
But in September, she began teaching at Alexandria University and living in an apartment with a view of the Mediterranean Sea.
“The sea was literally a breath of fresh air,” she said. “It made me smile in an inside-out way.”
Smith entered into a routine in Alexandria, leading English conversation and listening classes by day and exchanging teacher tales at night with her roommate, a fellow ETA.
In December, she joined a semi-professional girls basketball team where she made more Egyptian friends and refined the hoops skills she used playing basketball for Centre her freshman year.
“(Alexandria) started to get the face of ‘This is home, this is my life right now,” Smith said. “I had an apartment that I loved. I had a fruit stand guy that I went to. I had a butcher that I went to.”
So on Police Day, Smith went about her routine as usual, excited about an evening trip to visit an ETA friend in the nearby town of El Mansoura. She had heard about potential protests that day, but didn’t notice anything unusual until she left her apartment that afternoon.
“I looked down the main street and it was covered with protesters, demonstrators,” Smith said. “I was like ‘Egyptians are protesting. Cool.’”
Demonstrators beat on the train while Smith traveled to El Mansoura. But, after arriving safely, she said she thought “Khlas” — an Arabic word meaning “end of story.”
The next day, Egyptian friends Muhamed Adly and Mahmoud Aziz told Smith that President Mubarak’s family had fled the county. Still, the streets of Alexandria seemed calm, rumors of more protests only whispers. Smith’s parents still planned on arriving in Egypt for a visit on Saturday, Jan. 29.
“I thought, ‘My parents are coming. Everything is going to be all right,’” she said.
But news of large-scale protests in Cairo quickly caught the ear of the American press, and Smith’s parents began to wonder whether they should travel to Egypt or Morgan Smith should travel home.