As friends and family of Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13), who was detained in Cairo Tuesday, received details regarding his arrest, many expressed surprise and disbelief at the accusations leveled against him.
Sweeney was one of three American students studying abroad at the American University in Cairo arrested for allegedly participating in violent protests in the city’s Tahrir Square. The three have been accused of throwing Molotov cocktails and clashing with police.
Bruce Thomas (SFS ’13), one of Sweeney’s suite mates last year, said he was taken aback by the news.
“You don’t expect to see your roommate to be mentioned on the front page of The Washington Post website, much less CNN and The New York Times,” he wrote in an email. “You definitely do not expect him to be arrested for alleged participation in revolutionary protests, either. He’s a passionate friend, and a good kid; it’s upsetting that he’s been dragged into this mess.”
Paulina Sosa (COL ’13), who is studying abroad at AUC, said she saw Sweeney the afternoon before he joined the protesters and thought the media must have reported the wrong name when she first heard of Sweeney’s arrest.
“The situation still seems surreal,” she said.
Amin Bonnah, a visiting assistant professor of Arabic and Islamic studies who taught Sweeney in an intermediate Arabic class, said that he would not expect Sweeney to get involved in violent demonstrations.
“He’s a nice, all-American guy,” Bonnah said. “He’s really not the kind of guy I would have thought for a second would be arrested in Cairo with these kinds of accusations.”
Sweeney’s mother said she was almost certain her son would not have thrown Molotov cocktails, as he has been accused of doing. A segment aired on Egyptian state television showed the students lined up against a wall with what appear to be bottles of liquid.
“He’s always been a very peaceful person,” Sweeney said.
Bonnah also said he doubted the accusation that Sweeney had intended to use a bomb and that even if the accusation is true, he does not believe Sweeney was trying to hurt anyone.
“My guess is like many American kids who go abroad at this age, [the protests] are a cultural experience,” he said. “It’s a point of history for the city he was in, and he wanted probably to be part of it, to share with those Egyptians who are suffering through the police crackdown. Its probably something innocent and stupid at the same time … if what they are saying is even true.”
Hanaa Kilany, also a visiting assistant professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, taught Sweeney in an intensive Arabic course last summer. Kilany said she could understand why the three students joined the crowds in Tahrir Square.
“I imagine that anyone in Egypt or visiting Egypt would take part in the protests right now,” she said.
Sosa said that many international students have joined in the protests but that the arrests have made many think twice about participating. She said some were also concerned that if students were harmed, others studying abroad might be sent home.
“We are naturally worried about Derrik and the other students, but we are also worried about the repercussions of their actions or non-actions,” she said.
Sweeney is a member of the Georgetown University Running Club and works at The Midnight MUG, a coffeehouse in Lauinger Library owned and operated by The Corp.
Andrea Wallach (NHS ’13), one of his co-workers at The Midnight MUG, said she was concerned for Sweeney’s safety.
“We hope that the university is doing all that they can to mediate the situation,” she said. “The sentiment at Midnight MUG and among all his friends is we just want him home safe.”
Alex Mark (MSB ’12), Director of The Midnight MUG, echoed Wallach’s thoughts.
“He was a good friend to a lot of us here,” he said. “We just want to see him come back safe.”
Kilany added that she thought it was likely that Sweeney would be able to return soon.
“I don’t think it’s going to go as far as trial in court, no,” she said. “I don’t think Derrik deserves that.”