Utah State University student Porter Illi thought a quick jaunt to Egypt would be a nice distraction from his Arabic language study program in Morocco.
So on Jan. 28, Illi, 23, a Pleasant Grove native, caught a flight from Rabat, Morocco, and landed at Cairo International Airport. It was then he saw the grievousness of his timing.
"The peaceful protest had been going on a few days," Illi said in a phone interview this week. "It started to get violent the day before my flight, and my friends asked me if I was sure I wanted to go. I told them I didn't want to regret not going. I thought it would be an adventure."
Illi caught a bus to Tahrir Square, which was near his youth hostel. As the bus picked its way around road blocks, Illi saw burning government cars and police transport vehicles. Smoke billowed from government buildings. A 30-story building was fully engulfed.
"I got off the bus, the situation really hit me," Illi said. "When I thought to get back on the bus, it had left."
Illi had walked into a revolution that within two weeks would force unpopular President Hosni Mubarak to end his three-decade rule.
Back in Logan, USU graduate Hussein Batt, 32, had been reading news reports for days. Batt, an Egyptian citizen working on his doctorate in civil and environmental engineering, was worried about his father and brother, ages 72 and 27 respectively, who share an apartment in Cairo. Batt talked to them over Skype until the Egyptian government cut off Internet and cell phone service. Batt switched to land lines.
"Really, everyone in my country didn't feel the protest was going to be so strong," said Batt said, who plans to return to Egypt once he earns his degree. "Everyone thought it would be nothing."
Batt said on Jan. 25, Egyptian police planned an annual celebration. Protestors picked the same day for a peaceful demonstration against police corruption. The police reacted violently, and several protesters were killed.
To sabotage protests, Mubarak's government cut Web and cell phone service, and closed banks, Batt said. Next, most of the police withdrew, and not enough Army troops were sent in to keep the peace.
"People had to take security into their own hands," Batt said. "There was chaos everywhere, and thugs were riding in cars with machine guns, shooting randomly. The army was the only ones that could stop them, because it is illegal for Egyptians to have guns."
Batt said many of the violent "thugs" captured were revealed to be police.
"My brother spent 12 hours a day trying to protect our neighborhood," Batt said. "In Egypt, when the police run away, people go into the streets to protect their communities. My brother had a baseball bat and a Taser. Sometimes, people have knives from their kitchens."
Cairo residents began to get hungry, Batt said. Without banks and ATMs, there was no cash, and those who did have cash usually found stores and restaurants locked down and empty.
"For the first time ever, my dad told me he was worried," Batt said.
Back in Cairo, Illi spent the next day exploring urban ruins and shooting photos.
"Every Egyptian we came across was helpful and hospitable," Illi said. "What was going on was not about us, it was about their government."
By evening, Illi and others from the youth hostel decided they had to get out of Cairo. They broke the government curfew and made a run for the train station, passing residents wielding metal poles and shanks, trying to protect their homes, Illi said.
"We passed an entire passage of little cafes that had been looted," he said. "The road was paved with broken soda bottles, and there were old men sweeping up the glass."
One train left that night, heading south, and anyone with any ticket got on.
"We all felt very fortunate," said Illi, now back at school in Morocco.
Batt said for now -- nearly four weeks after the initial peaceful protest, and nine days after Mubarak's resignation -- his family is hopeful for the future, but still terrified that a change of government may change nothing.
"There are still powerful and corrupt people who may not face charges," Batt said. "If they don't get punished, there is no change."
Batt said he hopes the United States and the European Union will support change in Egypt.
"This country is famous for protecting human rights, and we really look for support in the human right aspect of our situation. When there is no support, things get desperate."