Not so far from home

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Turmoil in Egypt affects students at this school

By Victor Xu
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After the outbreak of the demonstrations in Egypt agitating for a new government, senior Crestin Andrews said she was concerned for her relatives in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Although her relatives did not participate, they still needed to protect themselves during the protests.

“I do know that a lot of them had to stand outside with weapons in an attempt to protect their buildings and families when the police told the citizens to protect themselves early on in the protests,” Andrews said.
The protests in Egypt started on Jan. 25 and lasted for less than three weeks, culminating in the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to CNN’s website. The protests erupted in major cities across the nation, including Cairo and Alexandria, and most famously in Tahrir Square in Cairo. According to Hicham Bou Nassif, a senior graduate student in the Indiana University Department of Islamic Studies who has been following the events in Egypt closely, Egyptians are fighting for the end of the political repression, corruption and economic issues under Mubarak’s regime.

“It was humiliating to have to listen for years and years that Egypt is not yet ready for democracy,” Nassif said. “How come, say, India is, but not Egypt? It is certainly humiliating to…know that you can find yourself in jail just for venting out opinions that happen to be ‘politically incorrect.’ The accumulation of all these frustrations, over decades, led to the eruption we are witnessing.”

According to senior Andrea Biel, her sister, Erin Biel, a sophomore at Yale University, was studying abroad for her second semester in American University at Cairo when this eruption occurred. About two weeks after her arrival, Erin was able to experience the protests firsthand by attending one of the earlier protests.

PART OF IT ALL: Senior Crestin Andrews shows her support of the revolution in Egypt. Andrews said the violence of the protests affected her. CONNER GORDON / PHOTO
PART OF IT ALL: Senior Crestin Andrews shows her support of the revolution in Egypt. Andrews said the violence of the protests affected her. CONNER GORDON / PHOTO

“My sister had texted me actually as she was there,” Andrea said. “She was at the courthouse, and she had told me that she had just run three blocks from the protest because police officers had just started firing the rubber bullets everybody h as been talking about.”

Erin’s tenure at Cairo was cut off by several months as the situation intensified and became dangerous. Andrea said her sister and other students needed to stay within dorms and wear gas masks when they left. Ultimately, Yale University chartered an emergency evacuation flight of all their students back to the United States. Erin’s account of her experiences can be found on the Forbes website.

Andrews also had family in Cairo during the protests. Her relatives told her that the country was in chaos, and all the stores, schools and banks had shut down. Her uncle is one of the police officers dispatched to protect citizens during the protests; demonstrators had released many prisoners, and citizens were concerned about crime.

“Another story I was told was of this girl that was sitting in her balcony reading a book, not at all involved in the protests,” Andrews said. “She was shot (by) a radical on the street and died instantly. Another person was robbed by one of the escaped prisoners and ended up committing suicide because they stole everything he ever owned. Sad stories.”

Still, Andrews emphasized that the nature of the protests in Egypt were indicative of a new unity in Egypt as different social groups congregated for the cause of new government.

“I have been told that the sight in Tahrir Square is close to unbelievable,” Andrews said. “Millions of people from all different backgrounds are gathered together to stand up for the same cause, and it looks like they are not going to leave until they get what they want.” She added that Egyptians, Muslim and Christian, were uniting and praying together, marking what she hopes is a new era of cooperation between historically clashing religions.

According to Nassif, the Egyptian youth have been the “vanguard” in organizing the demonstrations. According to a Feb. 9 Gallup poll, the number of Egyptian youths who believed government maximized youth potential dropped from 39 percent in 2009 to just 29 percent in 2010. These youth utilized social media like Facebook and Twitter in organizing the demonstrations, Nassif said. For that reason, Mubarak’s government attempted to block the Internet.

The shutdown of Internet and mobile devices on Jan. 28 made communication with their Egyptian relatives more difficult for Andrews and Andrea. Andrews usually communicates with her family in Egypt through the Internet, but she had to resort to phone calls.

“It was much easier for us to call them from here than it was for them to try to contact us,” Andrews said.

Andrea said she and her family became apprehensive after they could not contact Erin any longer.

“My mom and I are naturally worrywarts, and we were really concerned, trying to find any way to get a hold of her,” Andrea said.

Despite some instances of violence, Nassif said the Egyptian protests and the government’s response to them have been peaceful, and family members in Egypt remain safe. With the resignation of Mubarak and the dismantling of his government, Nassif said he looked forward to a future Egypt in the hands of the people.

“People want freedom and dignity everywhere,” he said. “The Tunisians seem to be well on their way toward democracy. I hope the same will be true in Egypt.”

 

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