Protests in Egypt may seem thousands of miles away to most Lawrence residents, but for one couple the protests hit very close to home.
Magda Khater and Moussa Elbayoumy both grew up in Egypt before coming to the United States in the 1980s and to Lawrence in 1995. Neither is surprised about the protests that have already taken the lives of hundreds of Egyptians.
“For the last 30 years, the police have pretty much have had license to do whatever they want, and they’ve been governing with an iron fist,” said Khater, whose two siblings, her mother and many nieces and nephews are still in Cairo. “I honestly do see the rifts between the haves and have-nots. It’s obscene.”
Khater, who works at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and is treasurer of the Islamic Center of Lawrence, said she had not been able to get in touch with her family, but word has made it to her that they’re OK. She said she heard her nephew and brother were walking in a neighborhood and saw people looting a building, and her brother tried to talk the looters out of taking property.
“People are so oppressed and so angry,” she said. “It’s just a reaction of anger.”
Elbayoumy, a medical consultant, said he was able to speak with his family in Cairo over the weekend after limited cell phone service was regained. He spoke with them at 1 a.m. Egyptian time, and members of his family were forming a neighborhood watch to protect their property from looters.
He said most of the country thinks that President Hosni Mubarak should step down from his post.
“I think everyone shares the feeling that it has reached the point of no return,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all. I have actually been expecting this for some time.”
Both Khater and Elbayoumy are worried about what will happen in the next few weeks and in the longer term in a country that could soon be without its president, who’s been in power for almost 30 years.
“When this is all said and done, how is the whole economy going to pick up and survive?” Khater said. “People are hoping for the president to leave, and if it doesn’t happen in the next week, will they settle down?”
But everything takes place on a global scale, Elbayoumy said, and ultimately these protests will affect Americans and even Lawrence residents. His wife agrees.
“At the end of the day, it boils down to money. What regime are we supporting?” Khater said. “As human beings, we have to care. We as taxpayers, we keep feeding this.”