Protests unite Egyptian students in D.C.

As the fervor of discontent grows in Cairo, some Egyptian students at GW have sought to preserve the passion of their countrymen.

More than 6,000 miles away from the protests that have swept through their home country, the students are participating in protests and demanding revolution.

Hours after President Hosni Mubarak announced Tuesday he would not run for re-election in September, Egyptian-Americans in Washington, D.C., swarmed the front of the Egyptian embassy and the White House, vowing to continue protesting “every day, every day, until Mubarak goes away.”

Alaa Shaker, a graduate student at GW who moved to D.C. from Cairo in December, helped organize protests and marches over the last week. While he yearns to join his wife, friends and relatives back home, he wants to bring their message to the U.S.

“The first two days of the protests, I was so mad I wasn’t there. I wanted to take part in this, especially when the [Internet and cell phone] blackout started, and I couldn’t connect to anyone,” Shaker said. “But Egyptians outside Egypt can still help, and we can support those already there. We’re putting some pressure around the whole world. We’re trying to unify the message.”

Shaker is also trying to spread that message on Twitter, echoing Egyptians’ demand for Mubarak to leave office. While his family sleeps in Cairo – which is 7 hours ahead of D.C. – Shaker continues the dialogue by translating tweets from Arabic news sources into English.

“We’re trying to make sure that someone who might not know Arabic gets our news, our facts, our views and our feelings, just as they are,” Shaker said.

After evacuating 12 of the 14 students studying abroad in Egypt to Paris, Istanbul, Dubai, Athens and Prague, the University is now working to place these students in new programs. Some students may decide to remain in these new locations until the end of the semester, while others may go directly to new program sites, University spokeswoman Jill Sankey said Wednesday. Two students decided to stay in Cairo with family.

Meanwhile, students in D.C. are worried about their family in Egypt, where a face in the crowd of millions could be an aunt or cousin.

Dalia Naguib, a freshman born in Cairo, has been attending protests at the White House and the embassy with Students for Justice in Palestine. Naguib returns to Cairo every year and has relatives who ran for seats in the Egyptian parliament for the dissolved Labor Party.

“It’s pretty scary because you hear of all the buildings burning down, so I feel like if I go back, it’ll be a completely changed city,” Naguib said. “But at the same time, I’m incredibly proud to be Egyptian right now.”

Rachel Gabriel, an Egyptian-American who visits Egypt every year, said watching the protests from half a world away has been an emotional experience.

“The first day the protests began I was in class,” Gabriel said. “I went to CNN and they had a live stream and I started crying in the middle of class because I thought, ‘It’s about time.'”

As reports of looting and violence replaced footage of jubilant protesters, Gabriel said her sentiments grew sour.

“I went from looking at the television and being proud, to looking at the television and being horrified,” Gabriel said. “We’re very conflicted. We love our country and want to see things change. Not a single person wants Mubarak to stay, but we don’t want to see our family and friends and culture hurt.”

With their hearts in Tahrir Square, Egyptians at GW have embraced the support of their classmates.

“I’m really proud of GW. Whenever I go to the protests at the White House and the embassy, I always see GW kids involved whether they’re Egyptian or not,” junior Ramsey Andrawis, an Egyptian-American with family in Cairo, said. “It’s an interesting time to be Egyptian. It feels like people are finally fighting.”

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