Voices of Egypt

My friend, Mohamed

I’m going to have some anxiety mixed with my joy till I clear it up with my Egyptian friend, Mohamed, who has insisted I don’t know all sides. I heard the news of Mubarak acquiescing the reins of the presidency with joy and with a marked dose of astonishment. I also worried that I was the butt of a joke, and had to check it for myself, since all day Thursday at work, as rumors from Egypt flew to us here in the U.S., we had been launching the joke back and forth across the cubicle sea.

“I heard Mubarak has stepped down.”


“Oh, looks like he hasn’t. Nevermind.”

And it continued like that. We’re mostly early risers where I work, and by 6am (the earliest we’re allowed to begin) that place is hopping. Friday Chris came in early and headed for his cube in his bicycle gear. He said, “Hey, I guess Mubarak has stepped down!” “Really?” I asked. “No,” he laughed.

But a couple hours later I heard the announcement. About 8:50am, I knew it was for real.

Earlier in the week, I had finally heard from Mohamed, a young man from Upper Egypt who recently received his degrees in tourism and business management. The week before I had jetted off an email in the thick of things, then remembered that he probably had no Internet. D’oh! So Wednesday he got back to me and assured me that he was safe. Our communication is poor, since I speak about thirty-five words of Egyptian Arabic and he can probably triple that for English words. We are pathetic, but determined! Ha ha.

Mohamed’s message was brief, but it chimes in with Middle Eastern media voices I keep hearing whose theme is that Americans just don’t have a clue. My message to Mohamed was simple enough. I told him that I send my love and I hope he is safe. His response to me was that of the 80 million people in Egypt, there are many sides to the situation, and not to think I know what’s going on. He said the Egyptian media only gave one story in the beginning. With our emaciated language skills, I can’t tell what he thinks of the protests, or the Mubarak regime, or what.

Then he expressed his doubt and fear about being a citizen. He didn’t say “doubt” and “fear.” On Wednesday, prior to news of the departure of Mubarak, he wrote to me: “Now all things may be back like last in street and in government. What the result! Problem in economy for example ( tourism ) after that no tourists.”

And this is going to be the looming story for Egypt through the remainder of 2011 and beyond. His words touch my heart with their poignancy, and they still hold true. What the hell are the common people going to do now? So many people were struggling anyway, and now the entire system has been ravaged. It’s not like Mohamed can go back to work on the tour ship Monday. It’s not like his Uncle can set up his shop at the dock and sell anything this week. In Mubarak’s speech Thursday he called to the young people in Tahrir Square to “go back to your jobs.” That made me furious and I don’t even live on the same side of the planet. Talk about not having a clue. The victory here is undeniable and I hope it will carry some Egyptians through the painful coming year.

I don’t think Mohamed (or his countrymen and women) understands the American perspective. He has so many fears and stereotypes about Americans that battle in his brain. he’s always telling me how unusual I am for befriending him. But that isn’t true! Americans are no more haters than Egyptians are. On a one-to-one basis, outside the bark of Fox television, we are just like people anywhere. We can love you no matter what your native language is.

I want the people of Egypt (all of them!) to know that we, over here in the United States, have been concerned much less about the type of government that reigns in the end, if it was placed there by the popular voice of the people. Argue all you want, but think about it, and it’s true. We have not been tuned in to the news out of our concern for the quality of the regime overhaul.

Americans value voices freely raised!

THAT is why we are so excited. That is why we have been tuning in every day for the past 20 days. The silly commentators keep bringing up the implications in world markets, in Israeli relations, and whether President Obama is saving or losing face with his reaction. But we don’t really care. We want to hear the shouting, see the banners raised, hear thousands of people holding their country’s flag and chanting their pride and patriotism. We particularly loved hearing an authority organization – the army – supporting the people!

Mohamed is afraid that I’ll make a judgment based on inadequate facts, but all I needed to know was that Egyptians were speaking up, which the media certainly provided. And I wanted to see a result that incorporated their voices. The particular demands are not so important for me to understand. Some Egyptians expressed that Mubarak was not so bad that he needed to be ousted.  So ok, it’s not my country; I won’t judge the Mubarak regime because I don’t know enough.

But that does not dim my enthusiasm for an Egyptian revolution. I was invested in getting proof that their voices were heard. Come on, admit that’s what you wanted too. I wanted to see the people express a common demand and have it met, and I wanted so badly for it not to end with bloodshed and mass imprisonment. Sadly, over three hundred people did die, and their deaths are not forgotten. I hope the death toll holds steady as governing negotiations ensue.

Americans value voices freely raised. And for that fact above all others, we have stood in support of Egypt for three weeks. Americans value a people’s victory. And for that fact, we too are celebrating. Mostly to ourselves, our friends, or in our facebook status. But we are celebrating, nonetheless.

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