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Texas Hillel cooks prepare food for the organization’s annual Passover celebration Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Five cooks chopped carrots. Forty-five pounds of brisket sat in the refigerator, waiting to be cooked. Among the piles of ingredients lining the kitchen counters, bread — in fact, all products that contain yeast — were conspicuously absent.

This was the scene inside the kitchen at Texas Hillel, the Jewish student organization, Thursday afternoon. Community members prepared for one of the biggest holidays of the Jewish calendar, Passover.

Passover, which commemorates the liberation of Israelite slaves from Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus, is an eight-day holiday during which Jews around the world celebrate freedom and renewal.

As part of the holiday, which begins Friday, Texas Hillel is hosting a seder, a ceremonial Passover dinner where scripture readings will take place, and traditional Jewish food will be served. Margo Sack, Texas Hillel director of Jewish student life, said anyone is welcome to come to the seder.

“We welcome all students to this ceremony,” Sack said. “It’s especially incumbent of us at a place like UT to understand and learn about each other to promote dialogue and understanding. These seder nights will do that.”

Sack said one of the most iconic Passover foods, matzah, demonstrates the meaning behind all aspects of the seder. Matzah is a flat, cracker-like version of bread, made under specific regulations and without any yeast. Sack said its significance derives from the commandments found in the Hebrew Bible and from the legendary story of Israelites not having enough time to let their bread rise when they were fleeing Egypt.

Less than 600 feet from Texas Hillel at the Chabad House, another Jewish student organization, students and staff were preparing for a crowd of about 100 people for the first of two seders Chabad will host, according to Rabbi Zev Johnson.  

Johnson said Passover is a holiday from which everyone can draw meaning.

“This holiday is all about freedom,” Johnson said. “Freedom not just for the Jewish community, but freedom that we try to find for every community, as we remember not only our suffering but the suffering that still happens all over the world.”

Attendance at this year’s Texas Hillel and Chabad House seders will likely be half of what it usually is because the holiday falls on a weekend, which means many students will travel home instead of staying on campus, Johnson said.

Even if turnout is low, the two Passover events give those who do attend a chance to learn about culture and religion, said undeclared freshman Rachel Wright.

“Passover is a community holiday that brings everyone together,” Wright, who is Jewish, said. “Even if you’re not Jewish, I think it’s a good opportunity to explore and learn.”

Daniel Ritter, assistant professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, discusses his upcoming book, “The Iron Cage of Liberalism,” in the College of Liberal Arts Building on Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

In a talk hosted by the Department of Sociology, a visiting politics and international relations assistant professor said revolutions were associated with violent actions for many centuries. But a shift occurred in the 1970s when nonviolence became the popular course of action.

In a lecture in the College of Liberal Arts Building on Monday, Daniel Ritter, a UT alumnus and University of Nottingham assistant professor, talked about changes in revolutions and previewed his upcoming book, “The Iron Cage of Liberalism: International Politics and Unarmed Revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.”   

Ritter addressed two theories of revolution: The first focused on domestic and international politics, and the second was nonviolent action, which focused on voluntarist actions and strategies. 

However, when friendly interactions and unarmed violence occur, Ritter said the underlying concept is sociologist Max Weber’s “iron cage of rationality.”

“This relationship between dictators and democrats inadvertently traps both these authoritarian and democratic states by holding them accountable to the shared liberal discourse of democracy and human rights,” Ritter said.    

Ritter said he shows in his book the positive side of the movements in Iran in 1979, Tunisia and Egypt. He said the countries where the movements failed were Libya, Syria, and Iran in 2009. 

Ritter discussed the movement’s implication in Egypt. As Egypt began to shift from a socialist government to a capitalist system, President Hosni Mubarak used the term democracy as a catch phrase. According to Ritter, it was not until after September 11, 2001, when the U.S. became engaged in the Middle East, that the Egyptian government was forced to behave more democratically.

Sociology associate professor Mounira Charrad, who worked with Ritter when he was a doctorate student, attended the event. 

“[Ritter] is my friend and former student,” Charrad said. “I had the privilege to serve as his advisor during his dissertation, which is a small piece of what is now a fascinating book. I am immensely proud of what he has accomplished. You make us proud, and you make me proud.”        

Sociology graduate student Adrian Popan was intrigued by how Ritter pieced it all together. 

“It is interesting how [Ritter] has taken these different variables of structure, cultural and individual variables to describe this situation,” Popan said.  “This can be liberating but also dogmatic and frightening.”    

Ayman Mohyeldin talks about his experience as a foreign correspondent in Egypt and Ukraine. Mohyeldin has worked for Al-Jazeera and NBC news. 

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Ayman Mohyeldin said he was a bored NBC news intern in the summer of 2001, questioning his career choice, until the attacks of 9/11 occurred. His life changed when a producer handed the Egyptian-born, American-raised intern a stack of tapes of Osama bin Laden and asked him to translate them. 

This was the beginning of a journalism career that has since taken him to the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Iraq, South Africa and Ukraine. Mohyeldin spoke about his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Egypt in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014 in an event sponsored by the University’s Institute for Communication on Media in the Middle East on Thursday.

According to Mohyeldin, who covered the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 for Al-Jazeera English, the Arab Spring has helped inspire the organization of protests in Ukraine. When Ukrainian protestors at a rally discovered he was Egyptian, Mohyeldin said, organizers even tried to get him to come on stage and tell them how Egyptians had done it in Tahrir Square. Mohyeldin declined.

“There are incredible amounts of similarities [between the uprisings in Ukraine and Egypt] because so many of the grievances are the same,” Mohyeldin said. “Young people, very passionate about their ideals and values, disenfranchised, ignored by the state which had grown to be much more corrupt and abusive, and not meeting the basic services for the people.”

Through his talk, Mohyeldin stressed the importance of context in foreign correspondence. Because so many current events, especially in the Middle East, are caused by tens and even hundreds of years of cultural factors and history, each situation requires in-depth research and immersion into local culture.

“The other thing I’ve learned about the Middle East is definitely don’t try to make sense of the Middle East,” Mohyeldin admitted. “It’s almost impossible to understand purely by just jumping into it and trying to learn little bit by little bit.”

Karin Wilkins, middle eastern studies and radio-television-film professor and director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, said the institute tries to invite media professionals who emphasize giving their audience a complete context for current events in the Middle East. Wilkins said Mohyeldin’s cultural background as both an Egyptian and American have helped him to better understand both his audience and his stories.

“Because the Middle East is such a complicated and important region of the world and most people in this country know so little, we really depend on media professionals to feed us information,” Wilkins said. 

Claire Cooley, a Middle Eastern languages and cultures graduate student who lived in Egypt for over two years, agreed that it is crucial for foreign correspondents to know the history of their stories instead of just jumping to where the latest story is happening. 

“It was good he talked about context because there’s so many aspects of context people here might not understand,” Cooley said.

Fireworks burst as opponents of Egypt's Islamist ousted president Mohammed Morsi rally in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday. A Health Ministry official says several people have been killed in clashes around the country involving opponents and backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as security forces

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

After a military coup in Egypt, college students participating in the Arabic Flagship program in Alexandria are being relocated to Meknes, Morocco for the remainder of their year abroad. 

The program has 18 students, including six from UT. The other students are from The University of Okalhoma, The University of Michigan, Michigan State University and The University of Maryland. 

The move is a safety mesaure in response to civic unrest and the Egyptian military’s annoucement Wednesday to oust President Mohammed Morsi from power. The decision to relocate was made by the Language Flagship, the American Councils for International Education and the directors of the five universities. The plan to move the students to Morocco has been a possibility ever since students were evacuated from Syria and Egypt in spring 2011.

“In 2011, Flagship students evacuated from Egypt and Syria were brought directly back to the United States, preventing them from continuing their Arabic-immersive experience,” said Christian Glakas, a senior program coordinator for the department of Middle Eastern studies.  “As a result, the directors of the five stateside Arabic Flagship Programs began discussing with the American Councils and the Language Flagship contingency plans for continuing the program in an alternative location in the event of a future evacuation.”

Students were informed of the relocation Tuesday morning before their classes. Initially, English senior Adam Amrani, a student in the program, was dissapointed by the move.

“The Flagship program runs a summer-long program in Meknes, so there is an established program in the city. The logistics are still being worked out,” Amrani said. “One of the major differences that we can expect is the language difference. The Moroccan dialect is vastly different from the Egyptian dialect.”

Amrani said he feels safe. He said students are prohibited from leaving their dorms and participating in the protests, but still witness the events taking place around them.

“It’s very exciting, inspiring and very confusing all at once,” Amrani said. “Watching the presidential speeches and the Egyptian army’s official statement live with Egyptian students has been great. Being witness to the power of peaceful protest is moving.”

Amarni said before students can participate in the program, they must receive an avdanced score on a government language exam, along with studying Arabic intensively for three years and participating in outside activities throughout their time in the program.

Although the students are being relocated this year and will not return to Egypt during their time abroad, administrators do not think this will affect the future of the flagship program.

“It is difficult to predict how current events may affect the Arabic Overseas Flagship program in the future,” Glakas said. “The Arabic Flagship Program at UT Austin will continue to work with all of its partners to ensure that our students have a safe and beneficial immersive experience while studying abroad.”

While the program will continue, Dr. Mahmound Al-Batal, director of the Arabic Flagship Program, said Egypt does need change. 

“What happened in Egypt reflects the failure of the Muslim Brothers’ government in building national consensus and improving the quality of life of people in Egypt,” Al-Batal said. “As a results, millions of people felt that a change was needed and the army has responded to this sentiment among millions of Egyptians. What Egypt needs now is to build stability through wide political representation in the government, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt needs a strong president who can bring all the various political factions together.”

Follow Wynne Davis on Twitter @wynneellyn.

CAIRO  — A statement on the Egyptian presidental office's Twitter account has quoted Mohammed Morsi as calling military measures "a full coup."

The denouncement was posted shortly after the Egyptian military announced it was ousting Morsi, who was Egypt's first freely elected leader though he drew ire with his Islamist leanings. The military says it has replaced him with the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, called for early presidential election and suspended the Islamist-backed constitution.

Morsi was quoted as saying those measures "represent a full coup categorically rejected by all the free men of our nation."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Egypt's military has ousted the nation's Islamist president, replacing him with the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, calling for early presidential election and suspending the Islamist-backed constitution.

Army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, said a government of technocrats will be appointed to run the country during a transition period he did not specify.

An aide of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Ayman Ali, said the former leader has been moved to an undisclosed location. He gave no details.

Cheers erupted among millions of protesters nationwide who were demanding Morsi's ouster. Fireworks lit the Cairo night sky. Morsi supporters elsewhere in the city shouted "No to military rule."

CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist government is “strongly committed” to freedom of expression, a presidential spokesman insisted Wednesday, distancing the administration from legal proceedings against a popular comedian.

The London-based Amnesty International, however, warned in a statement of an “alarming new escalation of politically-motivated judicial harassment and arrests” in Egypt.

Presidential spokesman Omar Amer said, “The presidency did not submit any complaints” to the prosecutor’s office.

The case of the comedian, questioned this week over accusations he insulted the president and Islam on his weekly TV show, has set off a wave of criticism from as far away as Washington.

Amer said President Mohammed Morsi’s office was not involved in the investigation.

“Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution, and there is a strong commitment toward it and there will be no deviation from that,” he said.

Amer’s comments echoed a statement issued by Morsi’s office late Tuesday. It said it recognizes the “importance of freedom of expression and fully respects press freedom.”

The complaints against satirist Bassem Youssef, the statement pointed out, were filed by “citizens.” Youssef was released on bail
after questioning.

Youssef’s interrogation, as well as arrest warrants against five anti-government activists on charges of inciting unrest, have prompted Morsi’s opponents to warn of a campaign to intimidate critics.

In its statement, Amnesty said the crackdown on freedom of expression has affected 33 people in the last two weeks.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist president has been significantly weakened by a week of violent protests across much of the country, with his popularity eroding, the powerful military implicitly criticizing him and some of his ultraconservative Islamist backers distancing themselves from him.

In his seven months since becoming Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi has weathered a series of crises. But the liberal opposition is now betting the backlash against him is so severe that he and his Muslim Brotherhood will be forced to change their ways, breaking what critics say is their monopolizing of power.

Critics claim that Morsi’s woes are mostly self-inflicted, calling him overconfident and out of sync with the public. Now the relatively high death toll — around 60 — the spread of protests and the use of excessive force by the police are feeding a wave of anger at the Egyptian leader and the Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which he hails and which is the foundation of his administration.

Morsi did not help matters when he addressed the nation Sunday night in a brief but angry address in which he at times screamed and wagged his finger. In that speech, he slapped a 30-day state of emergency and curfew on three Suez Canal provinces hit the hardest by the violence and vowed to take even harsher measures if peace is not restored.

In response, the three cities defied the president in a rare open rebellion that handed him an embarrassing loss of face.

Thousands in the cities of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez took to the streets on Monday and Tuesday just as the 9 p.m. curfew went into force. Underlining their contempt for him, they played soccer games, stores stayed open and there were even firework displays — all while troops deployed in Port Said and Suez stood by and watched.

Morsi was forced to back down somewhat and authorized the local governors to ease the measures. All three quickly did on Wednesday, reducing the hours of curfew from nine hours to as short as three.

The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, demands Morsi create a national unity government and rewrite controversial parts of the constitution that the Brotherhood and other Islamists rammed through to approval last month. A broader government, they insist, is the only way to ease the violence and start dealing with Egypt’s mounting woes — particularly, an economy many fear is collapsing.

The liberals gained an unusual ally on Wednesday: one of the main political parties of the ultraconservative Islamist movement known as Salafis, the al-Nour Party, which has usually supported Morsi.

Morsi appears to see no need for concessions. On a quick visit to Germany on Wednesday, he downplayed the significance of the week’s violence.

“What is happening now in Egypt is natural in nations experiencing a shift to democracy,” Morsi told reporters in Berlin.

There is no need to form a unity government, he added, because a new government will be formed after parliament elections — expected in April at the earliest.

Morsi’s reply to critics who demand he widen the circle of decision-making has been to invite opponents to a national dialogue conference to discuss key issues. Almost all opposition parties have refused, calling the conference window-dressing for Brotherhood domination. The conference has held multiple sessions, mainly attended by Morsi’s Islamist allies.

Morsi’s supporters — and some of his aides — accuse the opposition of condoning violence and trying to overturn the democratic results of elections that brought Morsi and the Brotherhood to power.

Meanwhile, anger on the streets is mounting. Politicians may call for a unity government, but a growing bloc of the protesters say Morsi must go outright. 

A member part of the Black Bloc holds the Egyptian national flag during clashes with riot police near Tahrir Square, in Cairo, on Monday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CAIRO — Protesters battled police for hours in Cairo on Monday and thousands marched through Egypt’s three Suez Canal cities in direct defiance of a nighttime curfew and state of emergency, handing a blow to the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s attempts to contain five days of spiraling political violence.

Nearly 60 people have been killed in the wave of unrest, clashes, rioting and protests that have touched cities across the country but have hit the hardest in the canal cities, where residents have virtually risen up in outright revolt.

The latest death came on Monday in Cairo, where a protester died of gunshot wounds as youths hurling stones battled all day and into the night with police firing tear gas near Qasr el-Nil Bridge, a landmark over the Nile next to major hotels. In nearby Tahrir Square, protesters set fire to a police armored personnel carrier, celebrating as it burned in scenes reminiscent of the 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

“I will be coming back here every day until the blood of our martyrs is avenged,” said 19-year-old carpenter Islam Nasser, who wore a Guy Fawkes mask as he battled police near Tahrir square.

Angry and at times screaming and wagging his finger, Morsi on Sunday declared a 30-day state of emergency and a nighttime curfew on the three Suez Canal cities of Suez, Ismailiya and Port Said and their provinces of the same names. He said he had instructed the police to deal “firmly and forcefully” with the unrest and threatened to do more if security was not restored.

But when the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew began Monday evening, crowds marched through the streets of Port Said, beating drums and chanting, “Erhal, erhal,” or “Leave, leave” — a chant that first rang out during the 18-day uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but is now directed at Morsi.

An Egyptian Army tank deploys outside the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt. The Egyptian army sealed off the presidential palace Thursday as protesters defied a deadline to vacate the area, pressing forward with demands that Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi rescind decrees giving himself near-absolute power and withdraw a disputed draft constitution.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CAIRO — An angry Mohammed Morsi refused Thursday to call off a referendum on a disputed constitution that has sparked Egypt’s worst political crisis in two years, drawing chants of “topple the regime!” from protesters who waved their shoes in contempt.

The Egyptian president’s uncompromising stand came a night after thousands of his supporters and opponents fought pitched battles outside his Cairo palace, leaving at least six dead and 700 injured.

Speaking in a nationally televised address, Morsi accused some in the opposition of serving remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime and vowed he would never tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his “legitimate” government.

That brought shouts of “the people want to topple the regime!” from the crowd of 30,000 Morsi opponents — the same chant used in the protests that brought down Mubarak.

Morsi also invited the opposition to a “comprehensive and productive” dialogue starting Saturday at his presidential palace, but gave no sign that he might offer any meaningful concessions.

The opposition has already refused to engage Morsi unless he first rescinds decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelves the draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his Islamist allies in a marathon session last week.

Morsi said the referendum on the disputed charter would go ahead as scheduled on Dec. 15. He also refused to rescind the Nov. 22 decrees.

Reading from prepared notes, Morsi frequently broke off to improvise. He wore a black tie in mourning for the six people killed in Wednesday’s clashes.

Earlier Thursday, Morsi’s troubles grew when another of his advisers quit to protest his handling of the crisis, raising the number of those in his 17-person inner circle who have abandoned him to seven. The only Christian in a group of four presidential assistants has also quit.

Violence persisted into the night, with a group of protesters attacking the Cairo headquarters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, ransacking the ground floor. Another group of protesters attacked the Brotherhood’s offices in the Cairo district of Maadi. Outside the president’s house in his hometown of Zagazig, 50 miles north of Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, security officials said.

During his speech, Morsi repeated earlier assertions that a conspiracy against the state was behind his move to assume near unrestricted powers, but he did not reveal any details of the plot.

“It is my duty ... to protect institutions of the nation,” he said. “I will always fulfill this role, no matter how much pressure or what the situation.”

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters, background, and opponents, foreground, clash outside the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Wednesday’s clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt descended into political turmoil Wednesday over the constitution drafted by Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi. At least 211 people were wounded as supporters and opponents battled each other with firebombs, rocks and sticks outside the presidential palace.

Wednesday’s clashes began when thousands of Morsi’s Islamist supporters descended on an area near the presidential palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. The Islamists, members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, chased the protesters away from their base outside the palace’s main gate and tore down their tents. The Islamists portrayed their attack on opposition protesters as defense of the revolution.

The clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis district marked an escalation in the deepening crisis. It was the first time supporters of rival camps fought each other since last year’s anti-Mubarak uprising, when the authoritarian leader’s loyalists sent sword-wielding supporters on horses and camels into Cairo’s Tahrir square in what became one of the uprising’s bloodiest days.

The large scale and intensity of the fighting marked a milestone in Egypt’s rapidly entrenched schism, pitting Morsi’s Brotherhood and ultra-conservative Islamists in one camp, against liberals, leftists and Christians in the other. The violence spread to other parts of the country later Wednesday.

Compounding Morsi’s woes, four of his advisers resigned, joining two other members of his 17-member advisory panel who have abandoned him since the crisis began.

The opposition is demanding that Morsi rescind the decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelve the controversial draft constitution the president’s Islamist allies rushed through last week in a marathon, all-night session shown live on state TV.

The huge scale of the opposition protests has dealt a blow to the legitimacy of the new charter, which opponents contend allows religious authorities too much influence over legislation, threatens to restrict freedom of expression and opens the door to Islamist control over day-to-day life.

If the referendum goes ahead as scheduled and the draft constitution is adopted, elections for parliament’s lawmaking lower chamber will be held in February.