Graduate student enters Egypt to join with protesting masses

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A UT graduate student stood with protesters in downtown Cairo as they barricaded themselves against military attacks and fought for a revolution in the midst of former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

Law and urban planning graduate student Sherief Gaber flew straight into Cairo on Jan. 30 to join the protests in Tahrir Square before Mubarak stepped down from the Egyptian presidency. Gaber, who grew up in the United States but holds dual citizenship, booked a ticket to Egypt on Jan. 28.

The protests began on Jan. 25, when Egyptian citizens rallied for a democratic government. More than 300 Egyptian civilians were killed before Mubarak ceded power to the military on Feb. 11. Mubarak was in power for more than 30 years.

“I knew I was just going to be one in a million people there, but I thought on the one hand, my being there would be a way to communicate to people back here what was going on from the perspective of just one among many, not a journalist,” Gaber said.

On Feb. 2, Gaber used a metal barricade to protect other protesters in Tahrir Square. After stepping out from behind the barricade for a moment, he was hit in the face with a stone. He saw a flash of white before getting a nosebleed and losing vision briefly in his right eye, he said.

“There was this moment where the government kind of brought in a bunch of paid thugs with weapons to basically attack the square,” he said. “I was roped into protecting the people in the square. There was this feeling that if we did not stand there and stop them from coming in, they would have killed everybody in the square that night.”

Gaber said he hopes to return to Egypt as soon as possible to celebrate Mubarak’s resignation.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was different every day. The situation was constantly changing, but overall it was the most exciting place I’ve ever been in. When you were there, when you were in the square, it was like a festival. But you weren’t there to see an artist or anything. You were there to participate with these other people.”

Egypt’s military is not as strong as many believe it to be because of desultory training, poor maintenance of equipment and dependence on American funding and logistical support, said government professor Clement Henry in an article he and Naval Postgraduate School professor Robert Springborg published in February. A civilian government similar to that of Tunisia would work for a country like Egypt because of the similar uprisings and military- and police-based governments, he wrote in the article.

“Since he has dual citizenship, [Gaber] was doing his civic duty,” Henry said.

The dissolving of the Egyptian government came as a shock, said undeclared communications freshman Katelyn Usher, who moved to Maadi, Egypt, in the eighth grade and attended high school there. Maadi is a suburb about 15 minutes south of Cairo.

In addition to news coverage, Usher received mobile updates on the situation from people in Cairo who had access to satellite phones after the Internet and phones were shut off by the government, she said. It a relief that the protesters got what they wanted, she said.

“My dad said they’re just so excited that they won,” she said. “They’re cleaning the streets and painting the trees with the flag colors and passing out stickers with ‘January 25.’ I would love to go there now and celebrate with the Egyptian people.”