History of conflict in Egypt hits home for Elon community

Kassondra Cloos
News Editor, The Pendulum

Although riots in Egypt are calming down, Shereen Elgamal, assistant professor of Arabic, has not stopped worrying.

Elgamal said she lived in Egypt for 28 years before coming to the United States in 1993 and is “beside herself with worry.” Except for her husband and children, all of Elgamal’s relatives still live in Egypt.

“I called back home and some people are apprehended and in custody and some people are not and waiting for this to happen,” Elgamal said. “Some people are missing, totally, and some people are badly hurt and in hospitals trying to get treatment.”

Graphic by Luke Lovett.

Following the Tunisian uprisings that resulted in the ousting of President Ben Ali, millions of Egyptians have been protesting in the streets of Cairo in an attempt to force President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled since 1981, out of power.

What started as mass protests against Mubarak Jan. 25 soon escalated when pro-Mubarak forces entered the equation and clashes became violent. As many of the protesters coordinated through social media, the government turned off all Internet and mobile phone access on Jan. 28.

While access was restored Feb. 2, after Mubarak announced he would not run for re- election in September, the communication gap did not stop the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who continued to convene in Tahrir, or Liberation Square.

“Didn’t anybody see this happen?” Elgamal said. “Was it a surprise that Hosni Mubarak has been resented by his people for many years? Has it been unclear that he is 82 years old preparing to run for presidency? Was the suffering of the Egyptians unknown? It has been known to everybody, and everybody was sitting and watching.”

Freshman Ronda Ataalla, whose parents are Egyptians currently living in North Carolina, said the violence in Egypt was difficult for her parents.

“They’re taking it hard,” Ataalla said. “We have property in Egypt, family in Egypt.”

Ataalla was born in the United States, but she and her family return to Egypt every other summer. She said her family has several houses in different cities in Egypt, including Alexandria, and while she said their property is fine, some of their neighbors’ property has been damaged. Some of her male friends have had to act as security guards outside their homes.

“I feel like it’s great people are fighting for their rights,” Ataalla said. “I’m not liking the ending. I like how it started.”

Ataalla said many of her Egyptian friends are pro- Mubarak and those that are not did not participate in the protests. She said the first protests, which were peaceful, started as “educational.” Now, she said, the toll the riots have taken is too great.

“The people don’t know how to deal with each other now,” she said. “There’s too much fighting going on in the Egyptian race. It’s very sad to see.”

Elgamal, however, said people need to continue with the resistance.

“People need to continue to die, actually, in the thousands,” she said. “So that at least they would leave behind the legacy of a huge smear on this system. The system that is sacrificing thousands for one person who is in the eyes of many, useless, and in the eyes of some others, valuable, depending on who’s looking at it.”

Elgamal said the protests turned violent when policemen in street clothes went into crowds and instigated fights in order to have reason for retaliation against otherwise peaceful demonstrators.

According to Elgamal, her brother-in-law, Mahmoud Abouzeid, is still awaiting arrest at his home. Abouzeid is on the advisory council of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned party that Elgamal said is moderate and represents about one-third of Egyptians. Elgamal said Abouzeid was taken from his house at 3:30 a.m. Jan. 27, just after the protests started picking up momentum, but was freed when a prison break-out was staged by the police.

“Another technique the police use lately is to free the prisoners, set the facility on fire and claim the prisoners had an uprising or something,” Elgamal said.

While Abouzeid returned to his home, she said she is sure he will be apprehended again.

Elgamal said when Abouzeid was taken into custody, the police turned the house upside down before taking him away.

“‘It is not enough that they take my husband,'” Elgamal said, quoting her sister’s account of his arrest. “‘They take the car.’ Anything that has value, computers, cell phones. If you have $5 in a drawer, it is gone. If you have a ring or a nice necklace, nothing. Nothing stays.”

Senior Sheehan Kane, who studied at the American University in Cairo in both the spring and fall of 2010, said she always felt most uneasy around the police when she was walking through the streets of Cairo.

“They’re the ones who harass you, as girls,” Kane said. “The police are the ones who will harass you on the street and whistle at you and try to talk to you. It’s very weird.”

Senior Molly Harmen, who also studied at AUC last fall, said she felt the same way.

“I feel like if there was a real emergency, I don’t think they’d help me out,” she said.

While Elon canceled its spring AUC program and most of the Elon students planning to study in Cairo will be studying at the University of Haifa instead, Harmen said she has heard from friends at AUC that many of the other American students seemed to be staying put.

“Some are just really worried about what’s going on,” she said. “I guess it’s harder because a lot of the Egyptians who go to AUC are from a very wealthy part of society, so there are a lot of mixed feelings about what’s going on.”

Although Ataalla said her parents are pro-Mubarak, she said she is unsure of her position.

“I’m conflicted,” she said. “My dad loves him, he’s very pro-Mubarak… but I feel like (Mubarak) knew all this would happen and he let it happen.”

Ataalla said she thought the protests started going too far when clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces became violent and the numbers of dead and severely injured people began to rise steadily.

Elgamal said the group of anti-Mubarak protesters is composed of people who are willing to die in order to instigate change.

“Some of them are people like me,” she said. “Or people who think that if we can’t live with liberty and justice, it is not a bad thing to die after all.”

She said many of the protesters she saw interviewed on TV echoed similar sentiments of feeling as though they had no futures or promise in life, and many were unable to support their families.

“Blood is really inexpensive,” she said. “There is no value to human life in the system, the Mubarak system. There is absolutely no value.”


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