Egypt still 'safe place for Americans': Attacked US scholar

Deya Abaza, Wednesday 22 May 2013

Christopher Stone says his recent stabbing by lone attacker outside US embassy in Cairo was 'random act,' asserts that Egyptian resentment of US government policy is justified

Stabbed American Scholar
Chris Stone(centre)stabbed on Thursday in Cairo (Photo courtsey of the American Research Centre in Egypt)

Egyptian resentment toward US government policies may be justified – but this doesn't make Egypt a dangerous place for Americans, Christopher Stone, the American scholar stabbed outside the US embassy in Cairo earlier this month, told Ahram Online.

His attacker, Mahmoud Badr, a 30-year-old man from the Nile Delta's Kafr El-Sheikh, told police that he had come to Cairo – motivated by hatred for the United States – in search of an American to kill.

"I fully realise that this was a random act," said Stone, 13 days after the attempt on his life. "I still feel that Egypt is a safe place for Americans to live."

Stone is an associate professor of Arabic and head of the Arabic Programme at Hunter College of New York's City University.

"Many Egyptians are upset with US government policies in the region, as they should be," said the lifelong Arabic-language scholar and defender of the Palestinian cause.

"But I believe, and have always said, that Egyptians are better than most at differentiating between the American government and people," Stone explained, citing numerous examples of warm receptions by Egyptians he had met who admitted to varying degrees of hostility to US policy.

As to his assailant, Stone said: "He's obviously mentally ill to do what he did."

Stone, who has been to Egypt countless times since 1988 as a student and researcher, had come to Cairo in January – with his wife and two children – on a six-month long fellowship with the American Research Centre in Egypt to do research on late Egyptian singer/songwriter El-Sheikh Emam.

Stone, who was admitted to Cairo's Qasr Al-Aini Hospital for three days after the attack, is travelling back to New York on Friday for medical treatment. He is nevertheless determined to come back to Egypt as soon as his health allows to complete his research.

"I'm starting to feel better physically, but it depends on how I feel when I get home and what the doctors say," he said. "If I can come back in a week to complete my research, I will."

Stone was recently appointed by the American University in Cairo (AUC) as the US-based director of the Centre for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA), a posting that will require frequent trips to Egypt over the course of the next five years.

"I will definitely be coming back, and regularly, unless the political situation in Egypt changes drastically," he said.

Stone was, however, critical of the lack of security around the embassy. The attack took place at noon right in front of the consulate entrance, where he had been waiting to hear about procedures regarding his wife's travel documentation.

A man standing nearby, outside the visa line, had politely asked him if he was American, to which Stone had confirmed – in Arabic – that he was. Less than one minute later, Badr had snuck up behind him and stabbed him in the neck before security guards could react.

"It felt like an electric shock. I didn't even understand what had happened," Stone recalled, visibly shaken.

"Though I am utterly thankful for their swift response and the quality of the medical care I was given immediately after the incident, I strongly believe that the embassy needs to review its security protocol," he added.

"That area should be the safest place in Cairo for Americans, not the most dangerous," asserted Stone, who had heard from prosecutors that his assailant had also had a Molotov cocktail in his possession, and no passport to justify his loitering outside the consulate.

In a security alert released the day after the attack, the embassy announced that it had stepped up security in and around its parameters.

"The embassy has requested police to elevate their presence in and around all embassy access control points," the statement read.

Badr is currently in police custody pending investigation on charges of attempted murder.

Stone, for his part, insists that his experience is not to be taken as a precautionary tale by Americans considering a visit to Egypt.

"It would be a shame if this incident prevented others from coming to Cairo for work or study," the Arabophile said via Facebook in the wake of the attack. "What happened to me was an exceptional event, and even now I feel very safe – both me and my family – in the country."

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