By Abeer Gaber
I was born in Egypt and immigrated to the U.S. with my family when I was four years old. My mother is one of ten children and comes from the countryside where there is a village named after her family, while my father is one of three and was born in the city. Many of my relatives from both sides are still living in different parts of Egypt and other Arab countries in the Middle East. Having talked to them about their experience in the recent weeks, their opinions are all over the spectrum. Although, they each have a deep love and respect for their country, they are very sad about how things have deteriorated. Egypt has a rich and diverse history, from before the pyramids to the present. Egyptians have a lot to be proud of, and the older generations can remember a time when the situation was much better in Egypt. University and general education fees were once next to nothing and the Egyptian currency was strong against the dollar. My family comes from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but all have had to deal with elements of Egyptian corruption. Navigating society and the job market largely depended on one’s contacts, not one’s work, thus contributing to widespread unemployment.
Under such conditions, many wonder why it took the Egyptian people so long to come together and rise up against their dictator. However, many Americans may not know that the last three Egyptian presidents, Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, were all high ranking military officers and thus heroes in their own right. Their military leadership and service in Egypt’s wars in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s garnered both respect and fear. After Sadat was killed, the constitution was suspended, enabling Mubarak to put the much despised security laws into place when he took power. These give the Egyptian police almost unlimited authority to do whatever they see fit in any situation. Over the years, this has meant the arrests and incarceration of many young and old, male and female, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, who are, at times, not heard from again. My mother still remembers walking in Cairo early in the morning on September 6, 1982 when the city lights were shut of and she could see security forces in front of almost every building taking people away. Historical instances such as this instilled great fear in the people, preventing them from coming together in great masses to protest.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “when the government fears the people it is liberty and when the people fear the government it is tyranny.” This has especially been true in Egypt. This recent protest has truly instilled a hope within the people for a better and brighter future. Although Mubarak’s stepping down was an important first step, the people are worried about if and who of his corrupt ministers will fill his shoes. Having spoken to many in Egypt, there are several alternative ideas as to who should be the Foreign Affairs and Education Ministers. Citizens of Egypt have a lot of creativity and talent, and they are hoping for a true transition to democracy in which they can put it to good use, rebuilding a society where one’s position is based on merit not on who they know.
As Egyptians in the U.S., many of us with family remaining in Egypt, we have been greatly affected by recent events. My family and I were constantly calling all of our relatives to ensure that they were in good health. We were constantly worried the government would overtake and massacre the protestors, especially the day that the police forces and pro-Mubarak protesters were attacking journalists and hurting people with cameras. We were afraid they were going to attack at night while everyone was sleeping. We knew that if protestors left Tahrir Square before Mubarak stepped down, nothing would change, protestors would be killed, and the greatest fear into anybody ever thinking of protesting again.
Several of my family members participated in Tahrir Square. My cousin camped out and remained there from the beginning to the end – becoming hungry, tired, and losing a great deal of weight in the process. My family was very concerned about him. However, despite how scared we were, I was overcome but the overwhelming sense of humanity in my relatives’ experiences. My aunt and another cousin also went to Tahrir the Thursday before Mubarak stepped down and were greeted with kindness by the other protestors. They were treated with respect when their bags and IDs were checks and were offered food, water, and a place to sit. They felt a sense of organization in the chaos. It seemed people in the Tahrir Square had created their own world. One’s religion, age, gender or social status didn’t matter; everybody came together as one to speak out. This was a testament to how great humanity could be in the toughest times. Throughout this revolution, especially after protestors succeeded in getting Mubarak to resign, my family and I were never as proud to be Egyptian.
Above Picture Used with Permission:
by Jonathan Rashad