Students warned to stay away from protests while abroad

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Sweeney, 19, of Jefferson City, Mo., was arrested along with Luke Gates, 21, who attends Indiana University and is from Bloomington, Ind., and Gregory Porter, 19, who studies at Drexel University and is from Glenside, Pa.

Sweeney, a Georgetown student, and two others were arrested in Egypt last week. (Photo: Egypt Ministry of the Interior)

Egyptian officials said they arrested the students on the roof of a university building and accused them of throwing firebombs at security forces fighting with protesters. Sweeney said it didn't happen that way; he said he and the other Americans were with a group of protesters on the street near the Interior Ministry and fled when police dispersed the crowd.

Sweeney said he thought he could recognize danger and leave. He acknowledged it "seems kind of silly" now that he didn't stay away, but he said he doesn't regret it.

"I would have regretted it if I had gone to Egypt and never had gone to a protest," he said.

Georgetown hasn't pulled its other students out of Cairo because the U.S. State Department hasn't recommended it, spokeswoman Stacy Kerr said, but it has reminded them of policies against getting involved in demonstrations.

Drexel University also isn't telling its students to return to the U.S., said Daniela Ascarelli, director of the university's study abroad program. She said the university has spoken with the three students still in Egypt and all of them feel safe and want to stay.

Indiana University urged its two remaining students in Egypt to return to the U.S. One complied, but the other didn't, telling school officials he felt safe and wanted to finish the semester.

Last January, most schools followed a State Department recommendation to bring the students home as protests first broke out in Egypt.

Alex Hanna, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was in Egypt in February after the unrest began. Hanna did attend protests, saying he was able to fit in because he's of Egyptian descent.

Hanna said American students who want to lend their support to what they see as a Democratic movement can unwittingly play into the government's hands, allowing it to use reports of foreign protesters to argue the dissent is being stirred up by outsiders.

"U.S. students going over there can actually hurt the efforts," he said. "They need to be cognizant of that."

Katrina Gray, 22, of Madison, Wis., was finishing a year of study in Alexandria, Egypt, when she was evacuated in January. Gray was disappointed to miss "a huge part of history" but said she never considered defying the University of Wisconsin's order to come home.

"My mother would have killed me," she said.

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