Panelists Weigh in on Egyptian Revolution

    The panel event discussed ongoing revolutions in the Arab world and was Hosted by the Arab Student Union, Students for Civil Rights in Iran, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Student Sustainability Collective.

    Panelist Ahmed El Desouky, an Egyptian national who is finishing an engineering doctorate at San Diego State University, said he was in Egypt less than six months ago and did not expect anything of this magnitude to occur.

    “I was honestly surprised by how people acted during the revolution,” he said. “There were two million people in Tahrir Square … [and] they’ve been managing to do all that [while] being very well-mannered.”

    Iranian-born UCSD literature professor and alumni Babak Rahimi, who specializes in Iranian and Islamic studies, compared the Egyptian movement to the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran.

    “We’re talking about a global phenomenon here,” Rahimi said.

    Rahimi described the current movements as part of a worldwide demand for human rights and increased standards of living.

    “What I felt in Iran was this aspect of daring, which we are seeing right now in the streets of Cairo, this aspect that ‘I am here to give my freedom and liberties, even if that would cost me my life,’” Rahimi said.

    He also warned attendees to be wary of Western news outlets’ misrepresentations of the situation.

    “What is central to this movement is a demand for a particular kind of civil rights that is grassroots,” Rahimi said.

    A.S. Council President Wafa Ben Hassine, a Tunisian-American who lived in Tunisia for four years as a child, said that prior to the revolution, citizens were afraid but the Tunisian revolution helped the momentum needed to end Egypt’s authoritarian regime

    “People there, my fellow Tunisians, would live in fear all the time,” Ben Hassine said. “You can’t have a meeting of three or four people. You can’t belong to any party that the government bans, whatever they believe in.”

    The Tunisian revolution culminated in the Tunisian President fleeing the country.

    “There is a price to pay for everyone, and clearly Tunisians, a lot of them, believe in that,” Ben Hassine said.

    “They really believed in what they are doing, they had a passion that was stored in their souls for 23 years.”

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Middle East studies professor Asef Bayat spoke via Skype about how Egyptians mobilized with social networking websites in recent weeks.

    “Things have changed, and now … there is a new kind of politics [that combines] ideas of social justice and national dignity with the quest for democracy,” Bayat said.

    Bayat said the movement’s young activists were instrumental in leading protests in downtown Cairo.

    “This is a class with educational capital, with college degrees, who know about new social media, who have knowledge about the world,” Bayat said.

    Bayat explained that massive protests were needed to create change in an autocracy.

    “They must revert to street politics because they don’t have much of an institutional channel for which they can communicate their discontent,” Bayat said.

    Literature professor Fatima El-Tayeb said to reconsider the damaging ethnic notions on the Middle East, like the myth that democracy and Islam cannot coexist.

    “When we hear about the clash of civilizations … we must remember the people who are risking their lives for democracy and human rights, and who are the forces who try to suppress them,” El-Tayeb said.

    Professor Babak Rahimi was impressed by activism and organizing around these issues at UCSD.

    “It really reflects what’s going on back in Egypt — the level of organization that can be created at the spontaneous level,” he said.

    “First, we showed that creative power that people can have,” Rahimi said. “And second, that global connection — that we can be here at UCSD and at the same time we feel that we could be here in the middle of Tahrir, that Egypt is here this second.”

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