A few months ago, Aliaa El Kalyoubi was living in Cairo. She was preparing to leave for college in a faraway place called Kansas, hoping to go into a field she loves: graphic design.
Now, she’s far from her home, where civil unrest has been at center stage for two weeks. Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the reign of President Hosni Mubarak, which has lasted almost 30 years. During his presidency, the gap between the rich and poor has expanded immensely, and many of the 80 million Egyptians live below the poverty line.
El Kalyoubi, a freshman at Kansas University who is one of nine students from Egypt, knew people were unhappy, but she was surprised at the speed of the uprising. If she were back in Egypt, she doesn’t know whether she would take part in the protests because she’s certain her mother would try to keep her inside. But she said most of the people in the streets are young and she was proud of them for taking a stand.
“We’re the part of the population that’s most affected by what’s happening; we’re the ones who are actually doing something about it,” she said.
Mohamed El-Hodiri, professor of economics at KU, may have left Egypt 52 years ago, but he’s still in touch with people there and visits regularly. His last trip back was in July.
“This is a young people movement. It’s a Facebook movement,” he said. “People thought in general that they don’t care. They got serious for some reason.”
“What the kids did was break the barrier,” he said.
Heba Hamdy Mabrouk Mostafa, a graduate student in microbiology, and her husband, Maged Zein El-Din, a graduate student in molecular biology, haven’t been home to Egypt for more than a year. Both have family and friends who have been affected by the protests.
“I don’t think anyone here knows about how bad the situation is in Egypt,” Mostafa said. “No one knew anything about Egypt. People here live in a very good way, and I don’t think they can understand or know how bad we live.”
Mostafa’s best friend’s brother is one of the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a main gathering place for those still calling for Mubarak’s departure.
“She is worried, but she is proud,” she said of her best friend.
El-Din said the couple have been watching as much news about the protests as they can during the last two weeks. He said he and most of his friends want change in Egypt.
“You really want this stuff to happen, but you are at the same time and worried about your people, about your country. You don’t want a lot of destruction,” he said.