By Delilah Valentin
In the midst of Cairo Egypt’s wave of protests, Mercy student Racquel Miller was studying abroad paying witness to it all.
As Egyptians planted themselves in Tahrir Square, Miller speaks for herself and other students by saying, “I feel 100 percent safe as do most of the students here.”
While news in the United States spoke of violence breaking out among the protesters, according to Miller, she witnessed a peaceful side to the protesters, pointing out their dedication to God as they knelt down to pray right at the moment the prayer bell would ring.
Miller said she was disappointed in the media portrayals that she had seen in Egypt and how the protesters were being portrayed.
“I am hurt by what’s going on, and even though I have not been here, long it bothers me when I hear how Egyptians are being portrayed. These people are fighting for what Americans take advantage of: everyday food, the right to work, the right to survive, and the right to speak without paying the price.”
Miller is attending the American University of Cairo through a study abroad program.
The protest began Jan. 25 when a group of activists organized an anti-government protest to bring Mubarak down from presidency. The organizers rallied on issues concerning Egypt.
Miller explains her own experience with the Egyptian’s people desire of freedom.
“I was walking home just before the protest started, and this Egyptian man passed by me, stopped and said ‘Don’t be afraid, you American, you have rights here. I am Egyptian and I have no rights.’ That was the most touching statement I have heard, for a man to say he has no rights in his own country made me understand right then and there why they are protesting.”
Americans have seen photos of the Egyptian government attacking protesters and Western journalists being struck. Miller explains that while the activists protest, they want reporters and cameras to take pictures in order to get their message across to the U.S. of the poverty and hardship they endure with Mubarak in power.
While protesters were made to appear savage to the public eye by the Egyptian government, Miller explained that police took on the role of making the protesters look bad.
“As a non-American reporter was filming, a guy came up to him and slapped the camera away saying ‘no pictures, no pictures!’ The people immediately dragged the guy away cursing, then a lady came up to us and said that the man was a pro Mubarak supporter and that some of them were paid to come out and ‘protest.’ These people were non-existent until Mubarak gave his speech about not running in the next election. Most of them were paid. Although I have no proof, I believe it,” states Miller.
Curfews were set for the people of Cairo by Mubarak, said to be enforced by the military. Protestors still took to the streets and continued their cause. Along with curfews, officers are taking physical action in attempt to keep order among the people.
Miller explains her own personal encounters with the injustice brought on by the officers and her view of the corruption in
“I have witnessed police brutality multiple times. Yesterday one of our friends was arrested and questioned for six hours because she was accused her of being an Israeli spy. Mind you, she is Mexican!”
Repeated issues make Miller angry about the government’s attempts at propaganda. “The government wants the Egyptian people to look bad and make it seem like the president is the only one who can keep order in the country.”
The people of Cairo were left with no internet or phone service Jan. 28, orders set forth by Mubarak in order to interfere with the protesters’ movements and communication with other activists. Landlines, however, were still working. Still protestors stood at Tahrir Square through the night.
“For a man to cut off internet and phones for days, not caring that tourists need to contact their family, for a man to sit at home and watch this brutality going on in the streets and not do anything about it: he doesn’t love his country; he loves the power he has over the people. He has exercised that time and time again by arresting journalists and preventing them from telling the truth.”
Miller heard herself the press control being forced upon the Egyptian media.
“One Egyptian news woman said she quit her job because they were forcing her to report only pro-Mubarak supporters,” States Miller.
According to Miller, while the internet and cell phones were shut down, Mercy College Prof. Alan Hartman, along with the financial aid department, continued to reach out to Miller until they were able locate her once again. Hartman and financial aid assisted Miller with keeping in contact with her family and insuring them of her safety
Hartman recommended Miller for the program and was instrumental in creating a chain of dialogue with her during the tensest moments of the protesting.
Miller has decided to complete the semester in Cairo and not travel to Morocco like so many others despite her parents’ wishes.
“My parents are not happy I chose to stay. I hope in time they will come to understand my decision.”
The uprising of the people of Cairo went on for two weeks. On Feb. 11, Mubarak stepped down, giving the protestors victory.
Miller states that while she has chosen to stay and continue her classes, many students were forced back home to the U.S. in tears.
According to Miller, school has started and things have settled. “You don’t see many ‘foreign’ students anymore. Some classes have been cancelled due to lack of enough students or teachers. Yet I’m staying. I’m not leaving.”
BRIEF TIMELINE OF EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION
January 2011: Activists in Egypt call for an uprising in their own country, to protest against poverty, unemployment, government corruption and the rule of president Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for three decades.
On Jan. 25, a national holiday to commemorate the police forces, Egyptians take to the streets in large numbers, calling it a “day of rage”.
Thousands march in downtown Cairo, heading towards the offices of the ruling National Democratic Party, as well as the foreign ministry and the state television. Similar protests are reported in other towns across the country.
After a few hours of relative calm, police and demonstrators clash; police fire tear gas and use water cannons against demonstrators crying out “Down with Mubarak” in Cairo’s main Tahrir Square.
On Jan. 28, Internet and mobile phone text message users in Egypt report major disruption to services.
Mubarak announces that he has sacked the cabinet, but he himself refuses to step down. His whereabouts are unknown.
The US embassy in Cairo has advised all Americans currently in Egypt to consider leaving as soon as possible, given the unrest. The crowds are cheering when ElBaradei addresses protesters in the square, saying “What we started can never be pushed back”.
Protesters continue to defy the military-imposed curfew. About 250,000 people gather in Cairo and hundreds march through Alexandria.
On Feb. 6, the Muslim Brotherhood says in a statement that it “has decided to participate in a dialogue round in order to understand how serious the officials are in dealing with demands of the people”.
A symbolic funeral procession is held for journalist Ahmed Mahmoud, shot as he filmed the clashes between protesters and riot police from his Cairo office. Protesters are demanding an investigation into the cause of his death.
Egypt’s government approve a 15 per cent raise in salaries and pensions in a bid to appease the angry masses.
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive and political activist arrested by state authorities, is released; some see him as a potential figurehead for the pro-democracy camp.
Three days later, 34 political prisoners, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were released on Tuesday, according to Egyptian state television.
Human Rights Watch says that 385 people have been killed since the start of Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising. Based on visits to a number of hospitals in Egypt, the organization says that records show the death toll has reached 232 in Cairo, 52 in Alexandria and 18 in Suez. Nearly 6,000 are injured.
After a speech on Feb. 10, protesters in Tahrir Square react with fury when Mubarak says he’s remaining in power until September. Protesters wave their shoes in the air, and demand the army join them in revolt.
On Feb. 11, after tens of thousands people take to the streets across Egypt in angry protests, Hosni Mubarak resigns as president and hands over power to the army.The announcement is made by Omar Suleiman, the vice-president.