Late Saturday night, Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13) (far right), arrived at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and was greeted by his waiting family. Sweeney, who had been studying abroad at the American University in Cairo, was detained last week with two other American students for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails at Egyptian security officials during anti-government protests in Tahrir Square.
After several uncertain days of interrogation, the three students were ordered released Thursday by an Egyptian judge. The three students left Egypt to return to the United States Friday night and Saturday morning.
Speaking at a press conference at the airport, Sweeney thanked “the Universe for being so beautiful and good.” He also described in detail the circumstances surrounding his arrest. “Some people claimed they were taking us to a safe place,” Sweeney said. “And then that was that.”
The first night of his detainment, Sweeney believed that he and the other American students “were kinda outside the legal process.” In later interviews with Today and Good Morning America, he said the students were struck repeatedly by their captors in the head. At the airport, Sweeney said, “I don’t think I have any lasting scars fortunately.”
According to Sweeney, his treatment improved greatly after the first night. He recalls his experience with the Egyptian judicial system as fair. “They were questioning me in a fair manner,” Sweeney said. When he was asked why he thought the judge ordered his release, he said “I think that they didn’t have any sort of evidence connecting us to any crime.”
Asked to comment on the picture (above) in which he is seen holding bottles of an unknown liquid, Sweeney said Egyptian authorities put the bottles in his hands and starting taking pictures. “That was the scariest moment of my life, when I was in that room,” Sweeney said. He also quipped, “I was a little bit annoyed when I saw the first article because I noticed I looked like the wimp of the three of us.”
Throughout the press conference, Sweeney denied the validity of the accusations made against him and the other two students. When asked if he was on a rooftop, Sweeney emphatically asserted his innocence: ”We were not on the building at all. That was very clearly just lies, 100 percent.”
Sunday morning, Sweeney and his mother Joy Sweeney were interviewed on Today and Good Morning America. Asked again about the photograph, Sweeney said to Today, ”[It was] perhaps the scariest moment of my life. I was not sure whether I would get to see America or my family or my loved ones again. I actually fainted right after that, it’s the only time I recall fainting in my life.”
Sweeney also gave more details about the harrowing first night of his detainment. “The first hour, they threatened to force feed us gasoline,” Sweeney said. Sweeney’s resiliency came through in his description of what happened:
They hit us in the face and the back of the neck a lot, and we spent about 7 hours in the fetal position with our hands behind our back handcuffed in the dark and they were behind us with guns saying that if we moved they’d shoot us and at that point i just recalled that existence is love and that everything is beautiful, it was very scary.
In an interview with Good Morning America, Sweeney defended his decision to go to the protests. ”I would still say that going to the protests that going to the protests was a smart decision,” Sweeney said. “Certainly I should’ve stayed away from the more violent scenes.”
Asked to consider his son’s position on going to the protests, Joy Sweeney said,
He goes to Georgetown University, it’s what students do all the time, it’s what college students in this country in this country do, and when you’re used to doing that you want to see that. If you’re immersing yourself in another culture, then that’s what you’re going to do. I don’t know, I haven’t always made the safest decisions in my life, and like I said the other day, I want my children to live their life and experience it to the fullest, not watch it from the sidelines. This was a little bit nerve-wracking though, I could’ve lived without this experience, I would not wish it on my worst enemy.
Sweeney described how he felt when he landed in St. Louis. “I felt love everywhere, and existence is beautiful,” Sweeney said.