Egyptians come to Columbia, speak of revolution

By Amanda Murphy

People around the world watched Egypt erupt in protest against the country’s repressive regime on Jan. 25. As the events unfolded and turned violent, President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in office for 20 years, resigned.

Three Egyptian civil society activists and media leaders, Mohanad Ahmed Diab, Sherif Abdel Azim and Sally Maged El Baz, came to speak at Columbia on April 11 about their firsthand experience of Egypt’s status before and after the revolution. The guests shared stories, personal experiences and opinions of what the revolution accomplished.

“People, for a long time, lost their Egyptian identity,” said El Baz, who is the international relations officer for El Sadat Association for Social Development and Welfare in Cairo. “But I must confess, after the revolution I am proud to be an Egyptian.”

Azim, project manager at the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement in Cairo, was arrested around 2:30 p.m. during the Jan. 28 protests. He said after emerging from jail, he found Cairo to be in what he described as a war zone, complete with tanks and soldiers.

“We were attacked with machine guns [although] everything was peaceful,” Azim said. “Everyone was painting, doing graffiti work, singing. And then suddenly, we find Molotov cocktails and machine guns. ”

The revolution changed many aspects of the country, according to El Baz. She said the Egyptian people feel more liberated to express their feelings and speak out about the current

status of politics and the country.

During Mubarak’s time as president, every person and his or her activities were monitored, which made citizens constantly live in a state of fear. To speak out about concerns and frustrations is something considered unheard of in Egypt, she said.

“Many people didn’t have something to care about because they were poor or [didn’t] have jobs, so they [went] out with the feeling that something needs to change,” said Diab, who is the media officer and member of the Board of Directors of the General Egyptian Society for Talented Welfare.

However, the revolution united people from all social and economic upbringings. Diab said when he witnessed a 7-year-old girl standing on a stage and chanting, it made him believe in the revolution more.

“You would see daughters, mothers and women of 70 years old participating,” El Baz said. “No one was satisfied with anything.”

The poverty and unemployment rates are high, and there are vast economic disparities in Egypt as a result of Mubarak’s corrupt rule, Diab said.

Now that the revolution has occurred and Mubarak is no longer in power, the participants agreed there is hope for a better Egypt.

“I would rather die in the revolution than die living that way,” Azim said.