Reflections on the uprisings from an Egyptian-American
“Hourayaa.” It’s a funny word when repeated with an American accent. It’s a universal word uttered in different shades of gray, black, and red, etched across countries struggling to break free from an oppressive regime. It’s “freedom” with all its loaded implications. It’s a chant that falls from the lips of thousands of Egyptians and rankles in the minds and hearts of those who watch the drama unfold.
Words like “historic,” “momentous,” and “critical,” pepper the nightly news and the on-going conversations. It’s the first time in many years that Egyptians are taking a stand and taking back their country. The collective conscience of a sleeping beast, 80 million strong--transcending divides of age, religion, and class, has been awakened. Hunger, pain, and hopelessness can only fester for so long until spilling over and giving way to overwhelming bursts fueled by passion; tempered by fear and hate.
Watching familiar faces of people who might be my third cousin twice removed or my brother-in-law’s fifth nephew makes me feel a certain affinity to the events that are unfolding. I struggle in deciding whether I should call myself American-Egyptian, American-Muslim-Arab, or Egyptian-American. The differences are subtle but each sings a complicated story of hyphenated identity.
I think back to summers spent wandering Tahrir Square with cousins, fool and falafel sandwiches in one hand, termous rolled in newspaper in another, lost in the irony of a place called “Liberation.” I remember the months spent living in Alexandria, awakened by the sea and shouts of the roaring “Rubabickya” man. I remind my children of the happy places we visited two summers ago, now ablaze with anger and flames.
My memories make me realize that the Nile streams in my blood and banks in my heart. The sunny country known for iconic ancient structures, sand, and sea is embedded in my identity. It takes a revolution sometimes to remind us where we come from. It takes a revolution in countries thousands of miles away to remind us of the freedoms we take for granted.
As Americans, we might argue about our government and fight about our factions—but at least we have the right to do that. We may hate our presidential politics and hate the proposed economic reform-- but we know that there is an end in sight and that we, the people, have some say in who presides over us every four years. This basic inalienable right to express our voices and speak our thoughts without fear of repercussion is what the Egyptians are fighting for. Waking up free and able to afford basic amenities can’t happen without moments of friction. Knowing that the side dish of change is often a period of chaos and terror should not deter our people from speaking up and finally letting loose the centuries-old silence of repression.
Even though our hands are helplessly tied and we can’t share Egypt’s hunger, we can feel her pain. Our hearts are chanting support for all those who are struggling. The fight against tyranny has to begin somewhere and at some time. Egyptians have chosen now. As much as my heart bleeds for the people of Egypt who are battling government-supported convicts, looters, and gangs to stand up for a cause, my heart also bleeds for my grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who are struggling to feed their families and resume some sense of “normalcy” amidst the chaos.
The ripples of change inevitably come with waves of anguish that the average citizen, far-removed from any political embroilments, must also ride out. While I am genuinely afraid for my family, I am also proud of my “mother” country. To find a voice and articulate it clearly as a cohesive nation standing in solidarity is a first in Egypt. History has shown that revolt is sometimes the only way to oust a corrupt government. From our own American Revolution, to the French Revolution, to the most recent South African revolution—each struggle ended in ultimate upheaval and eventual liberation.
Will all people’s lives improve if the current regime is ousted? No, but the nation itself will begin to heal eons of wounds simply because people stood shoulder to shoulder shouting in unison for a cause. Why should we, as Americans, care? Because we are so embedded in the Middle East’s interests that we can’t afford not to care. Because we are watching a people etch out their own path towards freedom for the first time. Because we call ourselves protectors and promoters of democracy. Because “Masr” has finally spoken and the world cannot ignore the faint syllables of freedom’s familiar call.--Suzy Ismail