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Wheaton College graduate held in Egypt released
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff

Philip Rizk


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Published: 2/10/2009 5:06 PM | Updated: 2/11/2009 5:17 PM

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Friends and family members Wednesday were celebrating the release of a Wheaton College graduate who was held for several days by Egyptian authorities.

Philip Rizk, who has dual Egyptian-German citizenship, was taken into custody late last week by Egyptian State Security officers north of Cairo after taking part in a march supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday night, Rizk's family announced he had been released.

"Needless to say we are so relieved that he is back and safe with us," his sister, Jeanette Rizk, wrote Wednesday in an e-mail.

Egyptian authorities never explained why Philip, a 26-year-old graduate student at the American University in Cairo, was detained.

Among those searching for answers during his detainment were his former professors and classmates at Wheaton College. Rizk graduated from the school in 2004 after spending four years living in the suburbs.

Wheaton College professor Paul Robinson, a friend of Rizk, said students at the college "clapped, shouted and gave thanks" when news of Rizk's release was announced during a Wednesday morning chapel service.

More than 6,000 people joined the Facebook group that provided updates and drew attention to Rizk's arrest. Supporters held rallies, including one in Chicago, demanding his release.

Rachel Ostergaard, a longtime friend who helped start the Facebook group, said she was amazed by the outpouring of international support.

"I think it helped make it more visible," she said. "There were a lot of people who were watching, and the news got spread quickly."

Friends said they have no idea why Egyptian authorities would want to arrest and detain Rizk.

Egypt has been sensitive to criticism it didn't do enough to help Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during the recent Israeli offensive against Hamas. Rizk wrote blog posts that criticized the Egyptian government's refusal to open its border crossing with Gaza during the three-week offensive.

Rizk also produced a documentary about the nonviolent resistance in Palestine while living in Gaza from 2005 to 2007.

"His main concern is getting humanitarian aid and the necessities of life to the people of Gaza," Ostergaard said.

About 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the offensive, which started Dec. 27. Israel says it launched the assault to stop Hamas militants from firing rockets. A fragile cease-fire now is in place.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.