The Revolution of My Egyptian Homeland and San Jose Family

The Revolution of My Egyptian Homeland and San Jose Family

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Less than two months ago, on my way home from work, I heard on the radio that Egyptian youth had started demonstrating in Tahrir Square. As an Egypt-born US citizen who grew up in France, my ears immediately perked up when I heard the words “demonstration” and “Cairo” in the same sentence. I never would have imagined that this call for change would be the seeds of a historic revolution that would spark larger demands for democracy all over the world.

And while many of my peers here in the US marveled at the Egyptian revolution as a political phenomenon, for me, the historic event was about how the revolutionary spirit moved through my family -- across generations and across continents.

Last winter, when I was in Cairo, I remember informally asking some of my family members what the state of affairs of the country was. They unanimously responded that they were dissatisfied with the country’s political and social climate. My cousin Amr once told me that his vote had been blatantly questioned by an agent at the voting booth during the last elections. That same agent asked him if he was sure to have voted for the “right” candidate, and if that wasn’t the case, he had better change his vote.

The most vehemently negative observations and comments made by the people usually involved former President Mubarak’s dictatorship (disguised as a democracy). It was certainly not the first time that my family members had shared their consternation and disapproval in regards to Mubarak’s crooked ways. In the past, when I would go for my annual visit to the Mother Land, the complaints that reached my ears were often the passive lamentations of the people, a certain sense of general disillusionment and defeat. Nonetheless, in the winter of 2010, I started picking up on a different vibration. The Egyptian air seemed to be saturated with an acute frustration I had never felt before. It was clear that their sense of defeat had been morphing into a sort of more palpable feeling of repressed anger - which was accompanying a profound desire to see things improve. I overheard my uncle say to my father: “This dismantled system must change, and the people must believe that there is hope here!”

And back in the US, as I watched the revolution from San Jose, I carried those experiences of Egypt with me. On the morning of January 30th, I asked my parents if they had any news from the family in Egypt. During that conversation, they mentioned something that I believe to have been the greatest catalyst of my involvement in this Revolution. They told me that the day before, they had attended the first anti-Mubarak demonstration in San Francisco. The funny thing is that a couple of days before the Revolution even started, my father and I had a light-hearted conversation about his involvement in a protest in the 70’s; a story that completely took me by surprise. My entire life I had viewed my parents as overly cautious people. Although they are both interested in politics, current world events, and history, they never seemed to be very politically active, except perhaps around elections time. What shook me more than the fact that the youth of Egypt was uprising was that my parents had also taken a proactive stand. They merely drove up to San Francisco on a Saturday morning to participate in a Revolution in the works.

As they were recounting their experience at the protest, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming wave of pride. All of a sudden, it was as though a million walls that had once separated us came down. My first reaction was to ask them, “When is the next demonstration?” and I insisted that I was going with them next time, no matter what. Ironically, they seemed surprised at my response. It appeared that they thought I would have no interest in participating in a protest. That day, my parents and I got to discover something very precious about each other: we all cared about the same things and were willing to fight for our beliefs. I guess we just never thought we’d do it together.

On February 5th, 2011, I went to the UN plaza demonstration in SF with my parents, my brother, and some family friends. That morning, my parents and I spent hours painting our banner ideas on cardboards. This protest was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever shared with my parents. I had never seen my father chant along anything before, let alone, “Down with Mubarak!” and had never seen my mother take the lead the way she did that day…it was hard keeping up with her!

On our way back to the South Bay, my parents asked me how to set up a Facebook account so that they could exchange news and stories with the family back in Egypt (they had been reluctant to sign up since the creation of FB). The next day, I had added them to my social network, and now, they get to see another aspect of my life that they would never have had access to if it weren’t for this movement.

The tyrant was brought down on February 11th, 2011, and the country will inevitably be undergoing many transitions before it can find an equilibrium. But if there is one thing I learned from this adventure, it’s that a real Revolution of the people can only come about if we allow ourselves to Revolutionize our own existence on even the smallest scales.