|Examining team caught up in Egypt unrest|
|Friday, 01 April 2011|
Mass protests force the cancellation of the January MFDS examination in Cairo and an early exit for the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh examining team
Pictured: Military protection for a Cairo building during the protests
At the end of January, with the first sitting of the MFDS Part 2 exam in Croydon under our belts, the examiners’ thoughts turned to our next venue: Cairo. Little did we know that in less than a week, we would need an escape committee.
With a ‘minor public demonstration’ in Cairo on Tuesday 25 January, the British Council, who were hosting the exam, reassured us on Thursday 27 that Cairo was still a ‘safe’ venue so I and the other examiners (Pauline Maillou, Liz Connor, Jeremy Rees, Grant Mathieson, Andrew Baldwin) and administrator (Claire McGregor), flew out to Cairo that day.
Upon arrival however our ‘welcome letter’ from the British Council left us all slightly un-nerved with its advice to remain in the hotel on Friday, with a possibility of civil unrest that day following prayers. Sure enough, at 11am on Friday 28 January, with tens of thousands of people clashing with the police outside our hotel, exchange of tear-gas and gun-fire left the term ‘civil unrest’ a bit lame.
"With tanks on the street, the eerie lack of a police force, low-flying air force patrols, and massing crowds of protesters, it was decided that the risk to candidates was unacceptable"
With the exam due to begin on Saturday and the British Council shut because of the risk to staff, we were advised to relocate the exam to our hotel, the Marriott. Under normal circumstances this central location would have worked. Built around the old palace of the previous monarchy of Egypt, with the Throne Room at our disposal, it couldn’t have been better. However, with tanks on the street, the eerie lack of a police force, low-flying air force patrols, and massing crowds of protesters, it was decided that the risk to candidates trying to get to our hotel was unacceptable and the exam was cancelled. As the CNN and BBC war correspondents checked-in we decided it was time to checkout.
With internet connections switched off and limited mobile phone coverage under government control, we contacted our escape committee who thankfully swung into action and co-ordinated a massive effort to arrange our passage out of the country. Vice Dean of the Dental Faculty Dr Ann Shearer and Donald Thompson, MFDS Examiner, along with RCSEd staff, worked all-day to secure hotel accommodation away from the city centre and early return flights to the UK.
On Saturday 29 January, with a deep breath, we made a hectic and terrifying taxi transit from the Marriott to an airport Novotel. We passed burning government buildings, streets littered with burnt-out vehicles, patrols of army tanks and police stations being looted. Our taxi driver was wonderful, a genuine ambassador for Egypt, and we were all deeply moved by his concern for his country.
We were so relieved to board our plane on Sunday 30 January after major delays the previous day. Even sitting on the runway for four hours didn’t frustrate us as we taxied back and forth to the terminal to pick up fleeing diplomats and their terrified children. Finally, 10 hours later than scheduled, we took off over a city in curfew.
Alan Gowans, MFDS part 2 lead, RCSEd