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Two days before the waves of revolution reached the shores of the Nile River, Dina Ibrahim left her native country of Egypt to return to her teaching position at SF State.
While Ibrahim, 35, was in Egypt during winter recess, Tunisian protesters organized an uprising that eventually led former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country. On Jan. 25, thousands of Egyptian citizens, emboldened by the Tunisians’ success, took to the streets and demanded an end to the 30-year term of President Hosni Mubarak.
“We didn’t think in our wildest dreams that the protests would be this affective,” Ibrahim said. “I can’t begin to describe what it was like watching the people be stronger than the security forces that had suppressed them for so long.”
In 1998, Ibrahim left Egypt and began teaching courses in SF State’s BECA department in 2003.
Despite the current insurrection in Egypt that has the whole world watching, Ibrahim has been able to set aside the chaos in her home country for the sake of her students.
“It’s tough,” Ibrahim said. “There’s this temptation to stay plugged-in all the time, but I have to resist it because my job requires me to stay focused on my students, and they are just as important.”
When Mubarak announced he would resign at the end of his term, Ibrahim was lecturing and was unable to learn of the news until hours later.
“She’s very strong for being able to show up for work every day even though she’s going through this personal tragedy,” said 20-year-old BECA senior Ashley Lassiter. “It has made this issue more real to me and I admire her even more than I already did.”
James Martinez, 25, is currently enrolled in Ibrahim’s Television News Center class.
“Her (Ibrahim’s) work ethic is always professional,” he said. “She doesn’t really talk about Egypt, when we’re in class, all we talk about is class.”
Students sometimes ask about the situation and her opinions, Ibrahim said. She gladly shares her thoughts, but restricts discussion to a few minutes so as to not take up too much class time.
“My students aren’t paying for their teacher to be distracted,” Ibrahim said.
Her students aren’t the only ones curious of her opinions. Since the uprising began, Ibrahim said she has given an average of three media interviews each day.
“Every day is a new adventure,” she said.
On the second day of protests, Internet and cell phone connections throughout Egypt were disrupted in a failed attempt to diminish the magnitude of demonstrations.
Ibrahim was able to contact her family only via landlines. The ten-hour time difference between Cairo and California forced her to wake up at 4 a.m. to receive phone updates from her parents, sister, friends and extended family. Internet and cellular connections have since been restored.
“It’s very difficult to sleep knowing you’re family is in danger,” Ibrahim said. “It feels like this whole experience is surreal.”
Ibrahim’s parents reside in Cairo. They have been unable to work, she said, and have spent their days rationing food, watching the news and securing their home.
Her father has joined one of the many self-organized neighborhood watch groups that have developed throughout the nation in response to widespread looting of homes and businesses, Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim chuckles between tears at the thought of her mother defending their home with the same wooden spoon and flip-flop sandal that she was punished with as a child.
Tension in Egypt has risen as pro-Mubarak demonstrators violently clash with opposing protestors, sometimes with the conflicts ending in death. Even though their lives are in danger, Ibrahim’s parents refuse to leave Egypt. She couldn’t be more proud of their stubbornness, she said.
“Patriotism is about loving your country even in hard times,” Ibrahim said. “I’m proud of everybody who’s risked their life to take part in this protest.”
Reports of Egypt’s death toll range, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports the number of dead may be as high as 300 and over 3,000 injuries. While strict curfews and tight travel restrictions have frozen the Egyptian economy, food supplies continue to dwindle.
But Ibrahim remains hopeful and believes the short-term turmoil is necessary for long-term stability.
Ibrahim and her parents support the demands of the opposition protesters – which include Mubarak’s resignation – an end to emergency law, constitutional reforms and free and fair elections.
“People need to appreciate the fact that they can vote,” she said. “People are dying in Egypt for their right to vote.”