As Egyptian cries for freedom pour out from the streets of Cairo, CSU Arabic teaching assistant Fatma Abdelrahman can only watch. She absorbs the news as it comes and struggles to get details about the chaos in her homeland.
Abdelrahman, a practicing Muslim, dresses in a pink and purple headscarf. The brightness of her hijab masks her more serious emotions.
â€œIt is really, really aching my heart that I am not there,â€ Abdelrahman said.
The Fulbright scholar left her native Egypt in August to study at CSU for the academic year. Instead of calling her family to tell them about America, she calls so they can tell her about the revolution that has erupted in their city, Cairo.
â€œIâ€™m really so proud of this,â€ Abdelrahman said. â€œI always say Iâ€™m proud being Egyptian, but this is definitely the first time for me to feel that kind of pride.â€
For decades Egypt has been plagued with widespread unemployment, high food prices and an oppressive, autocratic regime led by President Hosni Mubarak â€“â€“Â a president who has â€œruled with an iron fist,â€ according to CSU political science professor and Middle East expert Gamze Yasar.
Mubarak has been Egyptâ€™s president for 30 years since he took over after President Anwar El-Sadatâ€™s 1981 assassination. But on Jan. 25, Egyptâ€™s National Police Day, thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other major cities to demand the end of Mubarakâ€™s reign.
The demonstrations in Egypt began about two weeks after Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out by Tunisiaâ€™s own protests after 23 years in power.
Mass protests in Cairo have continued every day since, culminating Tuesday when hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, ultimately leading to Mubarakâ€™s announcement that he will step down in September â€“â€“ a decision Yasar said Egyptians may not accept because they want Mubarak out immediately after years of empty promises of reform.
â€œThey realize they have enormous power, and if they are united, they can ask for better lives in economic and political terms,â€ Yasar said.
Despite that newly realized power, both Yasar and Abdelrahman said Egyptians have lived under a government that largely refuses to allow open public discourse and tries to hide its faults rather than face them.
Under the Egyptian autocracy, citizens are subjected to emergency laws that limit freedoms of expression, allow government to arrest people without explanation and detain them indefinitely.
â€œThe government doesnâ€™t allow [freedom of speech]. People have it, and obviously you can see it now, but the government doesnâ€™t allow it,â€ Abdelrahman said.
Adelrahmanâ€™s family experienced government oppression first-hand when her brother joined the studentsâ€™ union at his university. He was arrested under suspicion of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic opposition party. While Abdelrahmanâ€™s family members are conservative, practicing Muslims, she said that her brother has no radical ties.
â€œIt was just, what we say, a â€˜black dayâ€™,â€ she said.
CSU sophomore biochemistry major Brooke Lake also saw first-hand the stranglehold the Egyptian government has on its people. Last summer, she went with a group of twelve other people to do community service in Cairo.
The group was followed by secret police and monitored during their journey, Lake said.
â€œBehind we had a whole van of guys in uniform with AK-47â€™s just following us around, and all we were doing was talking to people,â€ she said.
Government control has extended even further into the digital world this last week as Mubarakâ€™s regime has tried desperately to quell the unrest in the streets.
Contact through Facebook and Twitter helped Egyptian protesters to organize, so the government shut down cell phone and Internet access on Jan. 28, hoping to limit protester communication, leaving Abdelrahman with few options to check in with her family.
A video conversation with her family via Skype was cut off mid-way last week when the Internet was taken down, and now Abdelrahman can only call them on a landline, which she said is plagued with frequent disconnections. Her friends are another story.
â€œI have no contact with my friends now. I donâ€™t know anything about my friends there. Itâ€™s just my family so far,â€ Abdelrahman said.
Despite her constant worries from the uncertainty, unnerving news reports and lack of communication that brought Abdelrahman to tears when the uprising first started, she said she is proud to be Egyptian and knows her people are strong.
â€œAnd I say to people of my country: â€˜Congratulations! Youâ€™ve been doing a great job, and Iâ€™m really so proud of you. Some are already dead now and some of you had their children or relatives shot in the demonstrations, but freedom is never free! And at last you just got it! Enjoy it my beloved Egypt and ahead to a wonderful rebirth!â€™â€
Staff reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.