Americans staying put in Egypt despite violence

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CAIRO — When American Drew Brammer accidentally stayed out after the 7 p.m. curfew here Saturday, he became a little worried.
"I'm afraid if I walk out they'll be like, 'Where's your passport? We need to go to your house,' " the English teacher from Oregon said via phone from a Cairo gym — where he got caught up in a political chat — not far from a security checkpoint.
Some Americans have fled the country amid the ongoing unrest this summer in Egypt, where 800 were killed this week alone in clashes between security forces and protesters. Others have changed their plans to arrive, but some, like Brammer, are choosing to stay in a nation where residents are living under a constant state of emergency.
"Part of me kind of thinks that this will pass and I can just ride it out," said Brammer, 28, who teaches English in Egypt and also studies Arabic.
On Thursday, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer travel or leave the country because of ongoing political and social unrest. The agency urged Americans to follow local regulations, including the 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. government-imposed curfew.
Fresh turmoil began at the end of June when millions took to the streets to protest against then-president Mohammed Morsi. After the leader was ousted in early July, the State Department ordered all non-emergency embassy staff and their families to depart. A travel warning was also issued.
Some have heeded the caution. A group of American interns on scholarship here were told to leave, said Jessica Smelser, who recently graduated from George Washington University with a master's degree.
Smelser, scheduled to arrive in Cairo in mid-July herself, never made it to Egypt's capital.
"A week before I was about to leave, my university told me, 'You can't go there, and all the other students there are being evacuated.' "
At first, Smelser was upset at the decision as she was forced to choose a different city in the Middle East for her internship, but after hearing about the increasing violence in Egypt and growing rage directed at the U.S., she says, "I'm really glad they didn't let me go."
"I stick out. I'm very pale, red hair," Smelser said, referring to potential threats against Americans. "I don't look like I belong there."
Anger against the U.S. government has increased in recent weeks as one political camp accused Washington of backing the Muslim Brotherhood while others said President Obama did little to stop the ouster of Morsi, an Islamist propelled to power by the group.
In late June, Andrew Pochter, 21, a student at Ohio's Kenyon College was killed in mob violence in Alexandria.
Days later, the Washington-based American Councils for International Education evacuated 18 students from the northern coastal city, according to the Associated Press. Fulbright program participants and Center for Arabic Study Abroad fellows were also evacuated, ABC News reported.
But some Americans who have deep roots in Egypt aren't so quick to leave. One of them, Abigail Toner, is almost six months' pregnant.
The 34-year-old, Long Island-born American has lived here for 2½ years. She works for an Egyptian company, is married to an Egyptian man and just moved with her husband across town into a new apartment.
"All these different things … have me here for now," Toner said. "That doesn't mean my husband and I haven't been saying: What's the breaking point?"
Toner said she doesn't feel she is in personal danger, even as a woman in a country where reports of sexual harassment are high and there is widespread anger toward Americans.
"I'm not near any of the things that are going on," she said, referring to clashes and protests. "Because I feel safe, I feel I can keep the baby safe."
Yosra Brander can't say the same. "I guess my worry is: It hasn't come into our neighborhood. But is it going to?" she said.
A Muslim American from the Midwest, Brander moved to Egypt four years ago as a single mom with a job contract, no place to live and $2,000 in her pocket. Now she has an apartment, a husband and "one of the best jobs you can get" as a teacher at an international school.
"I've built a life here," she said. But in recent weeks, familiar places have turned into sites of violence.
A neighborhood Brander knows as a good place for buying school supplies became the scene of a shooting Friday. An appliance store she just shopped at was looted. And familiar sites have turned into killing zones, like the squares outside Cairo University and Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque, where security forces crushed sit-ins Wednesday.
"Everything is becoming ruined, and I don't want Egypt to get ruined," she said. "I'm worried about what could happen, and nobody knows right now what could happen."
On Saturday night, as the hours ticked on and security forces patrolled some of the streets, Brammer finally left the safety of the gym, even in light of the curfew. He made it home without any problems.
"The army checkpoint was way chill," he wrote in a text message just after midnight local time. "There were kids playing soccer and riding bikes around it. … They just said hi to me, and I walked by."
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