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About a week after the first anti-government protests erupted in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, Devon A. Youngblood ’10 reflected on the movement that had displaced her from her post-graduate year of working and studying abroad in Egypt and decided that, since her neighbors had begun to arm themselves against looters, it was time to leave Cairo.
“It wasn’t about activism—it was more about a general wanting respect in your own country and wanting to feel 100 percent human,” she said of the uprising.
Last Monday, Youngblood boarded a U.S. embassy flight out of Cairo as tensions escalated and civilians armed themselves against increased looting.
While Youngblood took refuge in Berlin, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman met with members of the opposition party in an effort to negotiate a transition to a democratically-elected government.
Though negotiations threaten to stall the removal of Mubarak, significant political reform could be within reach for the Egyptian protesters who have flooded into Cairo’s streets in recent weeks.
Soha Bayoumi, a Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations teaching assistant, was politically active while growing up in Egypt and said that the current political moment holds a potential for radical political change that has not been seen in recent memory.
“We’ve always chanted for democracy and for human rights, but we were dozens, we were hundreds,” she said. “Now it’s millions.”
Bayoumi, whose brother has been injured by rubber bullets, tear gas, and stones during the demonstrations, added that injuries are common among protesters but that they have not deterred them from demonstrating.
“They just go down again and again, and they are not retreating in front of the thuggery,” she said.
History of Science lecturer Ahmed Ragab, whose brother-in-law was injured by a rubber bullet, wrote in an e-mail that protestetrs “have the feeling that they are witnessing a new beginning in their lives and in the history of the country.”
The U.S. government now backs a plan for a more gradual transition with Mubarak remaining in power, a move that has generated criticism from protesters who had hoped for stronger support from President Obama.
“Mubarak and Suleiman’s actions are trials to buy time, while hoping that the revolution will lose steam,” Ragab wrote in an e-mail.
Despite the government’s efforts to avoid the ousting of Mubarak, most believe that the protesters will not settle for less. Since the first protest, Mubarak’s resignation has been a central and unequivocal demand of the demonstrators.
“The negotiations so far do not represent the people in the street who insist they are not willing to negotiate before Mubarak leaves,” Bayoumi said.
Bayoumi also said that the representatives who met with Suleiman were members of formal opposition parties not considered legitimate by most Egyptians.
Chaos has marked recent weeks in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities as protestors have fought pitched battles against supporters of the government and pushed hard to gain concessions from the current government
“You couldn’t really tell what directions things were going to go, and if they were going to get more violent,” she said.
Youngblood was awarded a Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Fellowship—which provides select Harvard seniors with $18,000 for purposeful international travel—in order to study race and cultural identity in Egypt. Before her departure, she was working at the Townhouse art gallery in downtown Cairo.
“Cairo won’t be the same,” she said, but she intends to return to Egypt and finish her year working at the gallery despite the political unrest.
This political movement could potentially signal the return of a political voice for millions of Egyptians.
“It’s beautiful because Egyptians are getting back their sense of ownership of their own country,” Bayoumi said.
—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Kevin J. Wu can be reached at email@example.com.
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