Students protest Egyptian president’s 30-year reign
The South Carolina Egyptian Students Association held a demonstration at the State House Tuesday in support of the popular uprising in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule.
Members and other supporters of the organization, which was founded last month, stood in front of the Confederate memorial on Assembly Street from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. holding signs with phrases such as “Free Egypt” and “Down with Mubarak.” Students came and went between class and the demonstration; near the end there were around 30 showing their support. Elsewhere on the State House grounds politicians and joggers passed two Egyptians as they kneeled in prayer toward Mecca.
Sherif Abd El-Gawad, the founder of the organization and an Egyptian citizen, said his family is currently in Cairo, Egypt’s capital and the epicenter of the protest movements since they began on Jan. 25. After he receives his Ph.D. in civil engineering at USC, El-Gawad said he plans to return home, where he holds an assistant professorship at Cairo University.
“Everybody is in the streets right now — 10 million people — and I think more will be going,” Abd El-Gawad said. “There is no way out, there is no way back, we have to go forward until we get what we want. The Egyptian people want one thing: freedom.”
As of now, it’s looking like the Egyptians are going to get it, at least from Mubarak’s current regime. Mubarak announced on Egyptian state television Tuesday night that he would not run for another term. This came after President Obama advised the valuable Middle Eastern ally against seeking re-election.
Some commentators have expressed concern that the fall of Mubarak and increasing instability could bring about the rise of a more oppressive theocracy akin to the Iranian Revolution. There have been reports of widespread looting in Cairo, and many services have shut down.
“We have no communication whatsoever, I can’t call my parents back home,” said Kareem Gouda, a Ph.D. mechanical engineering student and the organization’s secretary of media relations. “No Facebook, no Twitter, no cell phones, no landlines.”
Gouda called on the U.S. government to aid Egypt in getting back in shape. He said he worries about his family.
“I’ve got my 19-year-old brother in the street with his friends and they’re protecting themselves,” said Gouda. “What Mubarak did was he let all the police back out, they let all the criminalsand the looters come out in the streets, so it’s up to the people to protect themselves.”
Abd El-Gawad said the situation in Egypt was the “opposite” of what the media were portraying. He said he didn’t care who took power just as long as the incomers were democratically elected, amended the constitution in Egyptians’ favor and respected their freedom and dignity.
“Who’s going to be next? This will be determined through elections,” Abd El-Gawad said. “But, whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood or any other party is driving this, it is completely a youth movement.”
Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, highlighted the age of the protesters.
“Demographically, in many of these countries you have a larger component of the population that is youthful,” Bierbauer said. “You’re not trying to shut down my generation in a country like Egypt. You’re trying to deal with the youth and they’re the ones who are out in the streets.”
Bierbauer also commented on how these youth utilized social media to build momentum.
“Protest movements have found a means to get around the government control of the media and that’s been largely through the Internet, ” Bierbauer.
Bierbauer also said that, along with the Internet, cell phones have a pivotal role.
“You’ve got a very connected element of society in a way that almost defies the conventional approaches of police and security forces to clamp down,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to hit moving targets.”