Berkeley student arrested in Egypt

April 11, 2008 7:36:39 PM PDT
A Berkeley grad student should soon be on his way home, after a harrowing experience in police custody. He got caught up in the food rioting that has swept across the globe, at least three people have been killed. The U.C. Journalism student was detained by police in Egypt.

The student, James Buck, is expected back in the U.S. on Saturday. He says while in custody he was not abused, and he was allowed to keep his cell phone, but he was not granted any of the other rights an American would have. Now though it appears he's in the clear, he says police told him his translator is, quote "a dead man." And Buck is very worried about what might become of him.

In Haiti and Africa, the skyrocketing cost of food has led to violence in the streets. The poor are hungry and desperate.

In Egypt there were riots over the cost of bread.

That's where Berkeley journalism graduate student, James Buck, was Thursday.

He took photographs to go with his graduate thesis project, related to blogging. But after the protests in the city of Mahalla, he was interviewing family members of detainees at the police station, when he was detained and held for more than a day.

"Emotionally, I kinda went up and down. When I would get a text message from someone outside, I would feel much more confident that we were doing the right thing. And then they would come back in and interrogate you and it was scary. As it turned out, I came to with no physical harm, and I guess my embassy was working behind the scene to try to negotiate a release," said Buck.

The price of food is also increasing dramatically in China and India. Oil prices and the demand for biofuels are part of the problem.

"There is simply less food in the world, serving more people," said Buck.

UC Berkeley Geo-engineering Professor Tad Patzek says farming once devoted to food for people is now devoted to crops that can be converted to bio-fuels. That in compounding already low world food supplies, which then leads to commodities market speculation and food price inflation.

"People are betting on the price of food increasing and therefore the price of food is increasing," said Patzek.

The Dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, Neil Henry, says the U.S. Embassy in Egypt has assured him Americans are treated better than Egyptians there.

"I will not be totally relieved until he's actually in the air and out of the country," said Henry.

The President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, calls the situation a "prefect storm" and notes it is not only biofuels creating a global food shortage. Zoellikc says drought and low crop yields are a factor. And that an emerging and affluent middle class in China and India is driving grain and rice prices up as well.


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