Cheering on My Brothers & Sisters in Egypt

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Given the extraordinary events taking place in Egypt and the leadership role that young people continue to play in these historic times, I am reaching out to a number of Egyptian youth (and others) to contribute their insights and perspectives. Today,  I am pleased to introduce Maria Andrawis as this week’s guest blogger. She’s a 25-year-old Egyptian American living in Baltimore and a colleague of mine at the International Youth Foundation. Stay tuned!

As a 25-year-old Egyptian American, I’ve been watching the events in Egypt unfold over the past few weeks with particular interest, and a good deal of pride. Of course I’m worried about my family, horrified by the lawlessness, and apprehensive about what may come next.

But something else moves me about this revolution: what the young people have accomplished. Egypt has endured repressive regimes for thousands of years (there’s a reason one of the anti-Mubarak chants is ‘Down with Pharaoh’)—so it was taken for granted that Egyptians are complacent with their lot and, to quote an Arabic phrase, “walk next to the wall,” unwilling to bring about change.

Over the past few weeks, Egypt’s youth have proved that saying wrong. They instigated a revolution that has stirred a fire in Egyptians that I’ve never seen before. For a generation of young people who have been constantly told to compete against each other for grades, jobs,  spouses, apartments, and opportunities; for a generation where success has gone to those who recite the most facts from their textbooks and not to those with the best ideas, today’s youth have defied the norm. They’ve instead united and led their elders to a revolution that opposition groups until now could only dream about. To hear Nawal Al Saadawi, the 80-year-old legendary Egyptian activist who’s protested every regime since the time of King Farouq, interview in Newsweek saying she’s never seen anything like this uprising before, that’s inspiring.

Young people have brought resilience, energy, and even humor in the fight for freedom, protesting in Tahrir square via stand-up comedy, drum circles, sing-alongs, and humorous signs. Their exuberance and determination have enabled a population wary of change to embrace new possibilities.

Young people have also stirred a communal sense of civic engagement and activity that has long been dormant under Mubarak’s rule. After years of apathy toward not only their government but their own communities, Egyptians, led by the youth, are voluntarily cleaning up public spaces, setting up neighborhood watches and checkpoints, even forming human shields to protect each other during times of vulnerability. Egyptians have always been patriotic in word; now we’re seeing it in action.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the belief that youth aren’t problems to be solved, but creative problem solvers. I think the youth of Egypt have become shining examples of that principle.  If they, with so few resources, could change the course of their nation’s history and awaken a country to the best in its people, how much more could they transform Egypt if they had the opportunities of a relevant education, meaningful jobs, and the mechanisms to transform neighborhoods into strong and vibrant communities? We need more voices like theirs – from people who have stopped listening to the experts and the historians and instead are listening to and empowering each other.

To all the youth in Tahrir, Alexandria, and across the country, stay safe and peaceful, and continue to inspire the country you love so much and those of us everywhere who can only be there in spirit.

social change arab spring hosni mubarak