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February 10, 2011

Chicago Activist Documents Egyptian Turmoil Online

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's speech on Thursday disappointed many protestors in Egypt. Many demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square eagerly awaited what they thought would be Mr. Mubarak's resignation.


Instead, Egyptian-born Ahmed Rehab says, it was a disappointment.

"The Army and others gave the people hope that this was the date that it would all end.  And this kind of set expectations high,” Rehab said. “Before that announcement, people weren’t exactly sure that anything would happen today.  But now that the expectations were raised, the disappointment is huge.  Tahrir Square right now is erupting like I’ve never seen it erupting before, with people chanting for his [Mr. Mubarak's] immediate departure."

Rehab is the Executive Director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Muslim advocacy group based in the United States.

On January 22, Rehab flew to Egypt.  Since then, he has witnessed the unprecedented protests in his homeland.

"I had close shaves during the protests, especially on January 28th, when the marches were against the police.  Even after that, there are still a lot of questions about my own safety and security,” he recalled. “But you know, this is a cause.  Democracy is a cause; freedom is a cause -- and one has to take risks that come with it."

Rehab is documenting his experiences through an online blog, editorials in different publications and interviews with the media.  Thousands of people have contacted him through social media and have visited his Internet website.

Brian Edwards is Co-chairman of the Middle East and African Studies Working Group at Northwestern University near Chicago. Through online media such as Rehab’s website, Edwards has been able to monitor the situation in Egypt.  He says there is concern about how events will unfold in the wake of Mr. Mubarak’s speech.

"The reaction has been wonderful, overwhelming," Rehab commented online.  "A lot of commenters.  It’s been retweeted and reposted on Facebook.  And it’s important for me to get my voice out, which I hope represents the voice of the people that I talk to and the facts on the ground that I see myself."

"This has caught the imagination of Americans who had no real knowledge of the Middle East or of Egypt before," noted Edwards.  "All of a sudden, regular Americans [are] following this online in great numbers.  People have really stuck their necks out here, and been very public about it -- whether it’s on TV or online or editorials.  And I think they’ve kind of put a lot of chips on the table.  No one is very optimistic about a kind of peaceful resolution of things, as the protestors seem to have been protesting in peace…  The authorities aren’t giving up that easily."

As he prepared to venture back into the heart of Egypt's protests in Tahrir Square, Rehab said the demand of the demonstrators is simple.

"Democracy is what the people want.  Mubarak is stalling.  The United States has its own interests.  It’s a very difficult situation," he admitted.

Rehab says he believes Mr. Mubarak’s decision not to resign has the potential to bring record numbers of protestors out into the streets across Egypt.