Egypt on my mind

A friend in the United States wrote yesterday to ask whether we’re concerned about the situation in Egypt. Here’s one answer: Yesterday I spoke to two Israelis who are very close to me. Both reported having had nightmares the previous night.

In one dream, a sniper was methodically killing all the people in a house where the dreamer—the last live one alive—remained to guard something precious. In the second dream, an angry mob was pursuing the dreamer. Both dreamers blamed the situation in Egypt for their nightmares.

Israel has much to be concerned about regarding its huge southern neighbor, which has more than 80 million inhabitants, many of them hungry for bread and not only for reforms.

President Hosni Mubarak’s dramatic announcement that he would step down in November (which is not soon enough for the masses) should have been the lead story in today’s paper but was overshadowed by Israel’s failed attempt to appoint a new chief of staff. A smooth handover in the IDF was never more important, and this failure highlights, among other things, the complexities of democracy and the naiveté of anyone who thinks a dictatorship like Egypt can become democratic overnight.

Last week, my immediate response to the situation in Egypt was to try to contact two women I’d met on-line, one through a copy editors forum and the other through a translation job. There was no response to my e-mail messages, and I knew I was unlikely to receive one because the Egyptian government had shut off the Internet, but I had to try.

Talk on Israeli news programs about the shutting down of the Internet focused on the uses that had been made of the social media in getting young people out on the streets.

And then, yesterday morning, I couldn’t access the Internet right here in Jerusalem. I couldn’t help thinking, for a second, what if this is spillover from Egypt? I had two urgent projects that were to arrive by e-mail; without the Internet I simply could not work. But it took no more than one (long) phone call to tech support to get hooked up again.

Egypt must have millions of people like me who have not been able to do their work, let alone get the latest unofficial information about the political crisis. In our computer-dependent age, being cut off for a week or more is almost inconceivable.

There is another minor personal angle to the Egypt story. The only part of Egypt I’ve visited is the Sinai Peninsula, and that was decades ago. Ever since I wrote about the grand Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2000 when it was still under construction, I’ve been promising myself to go and see it. This was to be the year of the visit, but I’ll have to wait.

And one more tidbit: Cairo University was established as a state institution in 1925, incorporating the private Egyptian University founded in 1908; it had colleges of arts, science, law, and engineering, as well as a medical school.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (my alma mater) was established the same year, and Cairo University’s president, Prof. Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, attended the inaugural ceremonies.

One of the participants at the inauguration, Dr. Selig Brodetsky, a mathematics professor at the University of Leeds and future president of the Hebrew University, passed through Cairo on his return to Leeds and addressed a teachers society.

“We are entitled to expect and anticipate with hope,” Brodetsky said, “the future in which these two universities will become the center of intellectual life in the Near East.”

Meanwhile, however, Egypt’s universities and colleges are producing 800,000 graduates a year who have little hope of finding suitable jobs. And they are leading the revolution.

Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

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3 Responses to “Egypt on my mind”

  1. Gerry Zoller Says:

    Thank you for your personal thoughts concerning the Egyptian situation
    I can only hope and pray that you are safe and the unrest can come to peaceful agreements.

  2. Mordechai Y. Scher Says:

    Some of those graduates are also the ones telling the press that relations with Israel must change in order to restore Egyptian dignity. Aside from the vacuous notion itself, every time Egyptians have talked that way has led to sadness and trouble for us and them, both. Little has changed to improve their perception of reality and how to improve people’s lives in real, productive ways. This upheaval may, unfortunately, just be the vehicle to bring even worse despots into power.

  3. Ah Yooni Says:

    i can only assume that there are thens of thousands of students who graduate from the Hebrew university every year, and they live under an oppressive regime , with an extremist government elected (well not really as we found out) out of a bunch of parties that all represent the same political opinions and are all headed by ex generals and ex spies, sounds familiar (mubarak\suliman)? but none of the hebrew university students revolt, cry out, demonstrate or for that matter have any opinions about the world outside their little shell, of a university whose campus is an enclave inside occupied territory, a university that pays less then slave wages to its non contract workers. a university that is almost free yet has a very selective enrollment process.
    they never revolt, unless of course there is an extreme and unjust increase in the price of their already ridiculously low tuition or the price of a double shot espresso.
    things in egypt MIGHT not change after all.
    things in israel are SURE to stay the same.
    Makiato for everyone.

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