Husband of Kent State staff member stuck in center of Egypt’s unrest

Julie Sickel

One Kent State faculty member is getting more of an inside scoop on the current political unrest in Egypt than she might have wanted.

Mary Anne Saunders, Executive Director of International Affairs, spent Monday morning and afternoon getting telephone updates from her husband, Ronald Saunders, who is living in the Cairo suburb of Maadi.

Saunders lost contact with her husband Friday when the Egyptian government terminated Internet and cell phone service across the country in an attempt to silence protesters and media outlets.

“He could get in touch with us if he was at a landline, but those are few and far between these days,” Saunders said. “Every number he gave me, when I tried to reach it, (the call) wouldn’t go through.”

Saunders finally got through to her husband on a landline this morning.

Saunders said her husband told her the story of how he and a colleague set out for re-opened stores yesterday to replenish a dwindling food and water supply.

“There were huge lines and when they got there they couldn’t buy anything because they had credit cards, and they wouldn’t accept credit cards,” Saunders said. “They didn’t have money on them, so they were in a tight spot. But their company was able to get them cash to at least get food and water for (my husband’s colleague’s) kids.”

Ronald Saunders works for a company called Chemonics, which has a contract with the United States Agency for International Development. The goal of the company, as part of a three-year contract that began in September, is to increase the number of small businesses in Egypt.

“This morning (Monday) he said the company was discussing an exit strategy,” Saunders said. “This afternoon he told me that they will be evacuated tomorrow morning.”

Ronald Saunders is to take a chartered flight to Amsterdam, where he will stay for an unknown period of time. Saunders said the most difficult part of her husband’s evacuation would be ensuring a safe and swift exit from the country.

“It’s going to be tough because they’re going to have to wait at the airport to see if they’ll get clearance, and they’re not sure if the airport’s safe,” Saunders said. “They’re still not out of the water, but we’re hopeful now.”

Because the Chemonics contract is between the United States and the current Egyptian government, Ronald Saunders is unsure if his company’s work will be continued.

“He said, ‘I can’t imagine that the new government would continue with Mubarak’s contract.’ So he may be back in the U.S. instead,” she said.

Her husband told her that an interesting thing about the protest in Egypt is the lack of violence between protesters, with the exception of the looters, which are “going to be seen with any riot activity.”

He also told her that there is no sectarian violence among the protestors.

“The Muslims and the Christians, everybody seems to be just out there as Egyptians,” she said.

Contact Julie Sickel at [email protected].