The Oak Leaf

SRJC Professor in Egypt

Quinn Conklin

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Every year Dr. Heidi Saleh travels to Egypt to visit family. Last January, the SRJC art history professor walked the Egyptian streets; this year she is watching them on the news.

Saleh keeps in touch with family via mobile phone and Facebook. On Jan. 26, the Internet went down across Egypt, but still Saleh kept in contact. Her cousin was able to circumvent the blockade through his job with Vodofone, one of the largest Internet providers in Egypt.

According to Saleh, the protests and violence in Egypt did not come out of nowhere. Tensions have grown for the last decade, but the people have felt helpless. The Egyptian’s dissatisfaction rises out of the inequality between the rich and the poor.

“The economy was booming, but only very few elites profited from it, while the rest of the country lived below the poverty line (at about $2/day!),” she said in an e-mail. “The future for young Egyptians has been grim, with most college-educated graduates who speak English and/or French unable to find work.”

Saleh went on to explain how the Government used the people’s fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Islamic fundamentalist group, to keep them from rising up. “That was the general message that the government was sending: if we go, the Brotherhood will take over,” Saleh said. “I think the Egyptian people realized that the threat of the Brotherhood was overplayed by the government, and that it was time for change regardless of the consequences.”

Miriam Saleh, Heidi’s cousin, a graduate student at the German university in Cairo, said “Please tell them that Egyptians will never stop until Mubarak and his regime leave.”

She also added, “Nobody in Tahrir accepts Mubarak’s offer to leave in September people want him and his regime to leave; not only to leave, but to be sentenced to death.”

Heidi says she is proud of her relatives who have taken to the street. “Most are my college-age cousins, but my aunts and uncles are hitting the streets, too. I know that I have an aunt in her late 70s, who joined the protests, as well,” she said. She also said she is surprised because her family has lived comfortably. However, they recognize that things are unfair the way they are.

While Heidi is proud of her relatives in Egypt, Miriam reports the Egyptian people are disappointed in the American response. “Egyptians don’t like the Obama administration reaction. They were expecting the U.S. to be on the people’s side.” Miriam said.

In the first days of the protest people felt safe taking to the streets. Heidi shared the sentiments of her family when she had talked to on Facebook. “Those participating in the protests feel incredibly proud and they feel safe in the crowds,” she said. “However, some of the moms, who have chosen to stay at home with their young children, feel helpless and scared in the midst of chaos and instability.”

While the protesters have been peaceful, Miriam tells us that forces loyal to the government have not. “The demonstrations have never been more civilized and well organized.” Miriam said. The protesters were searched as they came in to Tahrir Square to make sure no one was armed. “So what’s happening right now is that Mubarak’s supporters are using violence against the protesters, the Egyptians, who have nothing to defend themselves. The army is being very passive, they can see people being injured and killed and are doing nothing!”

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SRJC Professor in Egypt