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A peaceful revolution

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Talk about contrasts. Did anyone else sense the irony? Police officers on camels and horseback vying for crowd control in Cairo’s Tahrir Square? Cell phones and the Internet providing communication and updates to widely scattered groups surging into the melee?

More than one of the newscasters following the revolution in Egypt for the last couple of weeks said it took them so by surprise that they were not ready for what would happen next.

If at any time the behavior took on a really angry tone, there could have been an explosion of destruction, with many injuries and deaths. And in the confusion, no one in authority could provide the numbers of the dead. Educated guesses said anywhere from 18 to 88 deaths were mostly caused by the crowds and not guns. The images shown on TV and in the print press were of army vehicles forming barriers, but not menacing the demonstrators.

Hundreds of thousands of students, young people, and professionals, poured through the streets and squares of Cairo to hear President Mubarak relinquish power to his vice-president. But the people wanted more. They wanted Mubarak and his cronies gone from office, and in a stunning pre-dawn flip-flop, they got their wish. The repressive 30-year president was deposed peacefully, if you can call such demonstrations “peaceful.”

I sent my friend Soumaya Khalifa a note, not sure of whether she is seeing a dream come true or was there something more sinister under the surface.
She was born in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city. I knew she had been back in Egypt visiting relatives about a month ago and would know what the mood was among ordinary working class people.

To me, the exhilaration was almost palpable and carried brilliantly through television. I think most of us were caught by surprise at first, then felt collegiate with the demonstrators.

There was no doubting how Soumaya sees it. To my greeting, “Mabrouk! Congratulations!” she replied, “Your Arabic is amazing! Yes, big congratulations are due to all Egyptians and all human beings for the peaceful revolution that took place in Egypt.”

Did she think her family was represented in the protest marches? Indeed. “I have uncles and aunts as well as cousins and their children. Some of my relatives were camped in Tahrir Square through the whole time of the Revolution, from Jan.25 until Feb.11.”

I asked her what she felt when she finally had confirmation that Mubarak had fled the city. “I broke down in tears and could not stop,” she said. “It was a huge relief. It was a dream that so many people had and it seemed impossible to achieve.”

She continued, “These young women and men were able to pull a nation of over 82 million people together. It is not just about change in regime but a change in outlook. From what I hear, Egypt went from a state of apathy to a state of dignity, caring and belonging. People feel now that they count and the country is theirs.”

Soumaya emigrated to Houston with her parents and two older siblings in 1969. “We came to Texas when I was child, because my mom was a medical doctor and she came to continue her research,” she said, adding: “My parents needed a break from the Nasser regime at the time.”

She became a U.S. citizen in the mid-1970s. Her husband Mohamed became a U.S. citizen shortly after they were married in the early 1980s.

“Our two sons were born in Houston, and Yosra, now in college, was born in Newnan.” Like their parents, the sons have advanced degrees, one of them as a physician.

Soumaya is one of the busiest and well-organized people I know, and she took time to share her feelings about the revolution in her native land. She lives in Peachtree City and is co-founder and director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, located in Fayetteville.

It’s safe to say that she has dedicated her life to reaching out to both Muslims and non-Muslims to help build bridges between them.

The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, no less, recently published a piece on Soumaya and her contributions. In addition, she and the ISB have been recognized nationally “as a prominent example of a major cultural shift.”

I’m privileged to call this grandmother “a prominent example” of friendship and family. “Marouk, Soumaya. Congratulations.”

I’m at

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