ASU student returns from Egypt
Shouting. The fog of tear gas.
The realities of the conflict in Cairo, Egypt, were in Appalachian State University sophomore Katherine Steussy-Williams" direct line of sight just more than a week ago.
Since Jan. 8, her birthday, Steussy-Williams had been studying in Egypt. It was supposed to be a four-month program. A week ago last Monday, she was forced to evacuate.
"I had about one week of orientation and one week of classes," she said. "We came up on the second week of classes, and we had a day off for Police Day."
That"s when the trouble hit.
"We were recommended to stay in the apartment," she said. "They didn"t enforce it then, because the demonstrations weren"t bad or violent, but the next day came and we didn"t have class."
By that Friday, the students were on forced lockdown. Steussy-Williams was holed up in the apartment for the next four days.
"We saw lots of stuff happen," she said.
It seems surreal, even now a week later after seeing broadcasts of action on both sides.
"In the beginning, from our balcony, we could see tear gas canisters being shot," she said. "We could see the tear gas cloud billowing up from the buildings. It was about a mile away, but we could still see it. It actually drifted over to us, and we started feeling the effects of the tear gas, a mile away."
Think itchy noses and watery eyes.
"At one point, we heard this loud chanting " this group of demonstrators marched through our square, waving flags," she said. "They were on their way to Tahrir Square. It was an incredible sight, the unity of the Egyptian people."
And Steussy-Williams, like many, is on the side of the protestors. She said it"s worse than people think, with "thugs" coming in and paying off people to protest against the anti-Mubarak (Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak) demonstrators. "But I really think the news has done a great job of reporting it," she said.
And she thinks the United States is doing the right thing in its response.
"I think Obama is doing all he can, and I"m impressed," she said. "The Egyptian people really have it tough there. Their minimum wage is, I think, $83 a month, approximately. What they"re doing is justified, and they do need a change of leadership and a change of government."
Despite the lack of communication (at one point she had to borrow a phone line to contact her parents), she never felt unsafe, and insists her parents were "not too worried" during the ordeal.
"They knew this was a historical moment, and they were proud that I got to experience it," Steussy-Williams said.
As for evacuating? She said it"s something she didn"t want to do. "Our vans couldn"t make it to the apartment because of the traffic so we hailed cabs," she said.
The cabs took them to the airport, as tanks patrolled the streets.
"And the main section of the airport was packed," she said. "I mean, people have slept there for five days to get out of Egypt."
The private charter plane that evacuated the students was supposed to make a stop in Alexandria to pick up "more kids," but wasn"t allowed to re-land in Egypt. After a few days in Athens, Greece, Steussy-Williams returned home to Indiana."
"App State was very good with telling me that I could come back, and they would figure out things academically for me, but I decided to take a semester off," she said.
And she"s planning to return to Egypt as soon as she can.
"It"s been my dream ever since I was a child to go to Egypt," Steussy-Williams, an international business major, said. "I"ve loved Egyptology."
And she wants to know that her new friends are safe.
"My Egyptian friends, they"re protesting, and we are definitely worried about them," she said.
Miral Al-Tahawy, also known as Miral Mahgoub, is the author of four novels, including the recently published "Brooklyn Heights," which has been nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. A native of Egypt, she teaches Arabic in Appalachian State University"s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
When asked her opinion on the Egyptian protests, she responded with the following statement:
The Egyptian people want the regime down. The Egyptians believed for a while that they were capable of changing the pathetic situations.
I was 10 years old when Hosni Mubarak assumed military rule in Egypt.
It was apparent that his lack of charisma and poor rhetoric won"t help him get the admiration or trust of the Egyptian people. He was not that type of leaders whose posters were hung on the walls.
Throughout decades of deterioration and backwardness in Egypt, everything changed except for the waxy smile on Mubarak"s expressionless face. That smile remained the theme of many jokes by the Egyptians while their hearts were full of bitterness and sorrow.
Three decades have passed ... I grew up and my facial features have changed. I passed the threshold of forty years. Egypt went from bad to worse. With all the promises uttered by this regime, its only achievement remained to be the introduction of the term "political thuggery."
This regime has hatched new class of political and social parasites. This new class which is closely connected with the regime or the so-called "neo-businessmen" won business deals and state-owned land through public piracy. They stole investment money and got seats at the two chambers of parliament. They enjoyed safe life and lived in Qatamaiya palaces depriving the people from their rights, and imposing a new law called thuggery by means of mercenary acts.
Against this background, all other social classes remained witnesses of the deterioration and falling apart of the general political atmosphere. The educational system collapsed completely together with any chance of employment. Clean and potable water became a dream, prices soared up, unemployment became widespread and the health care services collapsed. Egypt has become a place for human organs trade, prostitution, women harassment and human trafficking. Poor people started to sell organs of their bodies just to survive.
The Egyptian people waited for a long time a?" as they used to a?" for the situation to change. They waited sometimes with hope and another time with impatience ... but they were used to waiting. They were being starved and oppressed while they are trying to earn their living. They were kept busy securing their "holes" under the poverty line.
Why the Egyptian people do not want President Mubarak? A question that cannot be raised now. The five-day war in the streets of Cairo is clearly a manifestation of the lack of trust between the regime and the people.
The last elections were not the only evidence that the Ruling Party and the regime are using bloody violence, bullying and suppression to suppress and humiliate the people and shut down all windows of democracy. It is a long-lasting legacy of oppression, theft and systematic looting in a flagrant way without even any attempt to deceive the people or pretend to be honest.
The regime became wild and indifferent to the opposition or call of conscience. The new generation of the ruling party thought that they were capable of getting rid of their opponents through thuggery.
With the advent of a new regime, the Egyptian people waited patiently to see the wind of change blowing again. Whenever a dictator fell down, the people cheered with optimism thinking that the wind of change may finally pass by. However, a cyclone of poverty, corruption, recession, lack of freedoms, election rigging, and more power and domination by the National Democratic Party came instead.
Rumors were widespread about plans of succession for the (son of the president). Properties were looted and there was a controversy on the succession of the old man who no longer appears in public but on rare occasions. His archaic speeches became the theme of jokes and sarcasm of the people.
The regime became senile and political vacuum gave way to the ugly facades of the corrupt regime. The new generation found their own outlet in bitterly mocking at the regime through the Internet. Now, they found their way into streets too. They found themselves a party in the scenario of panic.
Why aren"t the Egyptians satisfied with the content of Mubarak"s historic speech. They expected Mubarak to say instead, "OK, I understood you now and I understood your demands," like Bin Ali. But he did not. He insisted on lending deaf ears to the roaring voices of the youth and the simple old men who are tired of the corrupt regime.
Mubarak, unlike Bin Ali, did not understand. He did not pack to leave. But he stayed to deeply root chaos and bullying. All small and big cities and streets of Egypt were turned into a vast arena of looting and robbery. He imposed the only and sole policy of his regime, i.e. thuggery ... this term which became the mere characteristic of the regime.
I, the professor of Arabic language, failed to accurately define it. It is a term which means the use of thugs in the political arena to impose violence and power as understood by dictatorships. Those thugs and outlaws have been employed always by the regime to liquidate its enemies and to settle its disputes with the opposition. They are used to rig elections by force. They go to the streets in civil clothes armed with light weapons, clubs and iron chains to suppress students and demonstrators. They act like a third army that we know now how it was deployed in the streets of Egypt to implement the scenario of anarchy and chaos.
When the night falls, those thugs unveiled their masks and disclosed their true identity. They started to practice their genuine role. They went to streets for robbery and looting so that Mubarak would say, "Either me or chaos ... or rather after me, may the flood come" Either Me, or let the whole region fall into complete mess."
This is the only scenario suggested by Mubarak. Those thugs carried their weapons and spread in Cairo streets and Tahrir Square. They stormed the Egyptian Museum and The Arab League Street. They chased my neighbors in the serene Maadi neighbourhood. They intimidated my family that is scared now in a small village near Ismailia governorate in east Cairo and a few miles away from Port Said. This area in which my father worked as a doctor and used to move between all hospitals along the coastline of the Suez Canal and Suez governorate since the War of Attrition till he passed away.
All my family and my relatives who spent three decades busy securing their way of living and the future of their offspring are now victims of the scenario of panic. They are sitting behind one door trying to steadfast at the dark night of panic introduced by Mubarak.
It is true that the thugs of the ruling party and the faA?ade of the old regime came out of their holes. They brandished their weapons against defenseless and innocent people. This is because political thuggery became the only language understood by the regime which Mr. Baiden refused to describe as dictator and Mr. Obama refrained from giving it any description because it is the allying regime.
That very regime is usurping power from its people and causing bloodshed, unlawfully adhering to the throne, looting the resources of its country and flying away. All this is committed and the "goddess of liberties" says nothing.
I was listening to the sounds of fireworks celebrating the victory of Obama. The blue sign carried the words "hope" and "change." That was my aspiration and the aspirations of others. Was it a surprise that Obama was met by deep welcome when he paid his historical visit to my university, Cairo University, where he made his speech that was met by our applause and our tears later?
That young black lawyer who belongs in a way to my black continent was the orator that we missed. He came to move our hearts and to say that there is hope in change. The Egyptian people impatiently waited for long pinning hope on the new Administration. Those who have been waiting for days of complete mess and chaos only got from Obama"s Administration very mild statements about the corrupt regime.
Such statements are interpreted by the oppressed people as collusion with the dictator despite the fact that Obama Administration is well certain that hundreds of thousands of people in Egypt"s streets are shouting for the fifth day that they want the regime down. They do not want to add any cosmetics to this regime or to change its symbols.
The people after 60 years of military governments want salvation government, a constitution respecting human rights, fair and integral elections and a new window open to freedom and humanity.
They do not know on what exactly Obama is betting after the fifth day of repeated demand "Freedom, freedom and down with Mubarak."
I write this while I am certain that this will be realized even before it is published.