Cairo native sees hope beneath images of violence in Egypt

3:55 PM, Jan 31, 2011   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Ragui Assaad's phone was ringing off the hook on Sunday afternoon. Many of the callers knew his wife and mother were in Egypt; as the images of violence and unrest played out on television news channels.

"The violence worries me and I worry about my family that is back there," Assaad admitted. But the U of M Professor of Public Affairs, and native of Cairo, saw promise beneath those images.

Assaad says many of the protests were peaceful. "I would have loved to be there. It happens once in a lifetime, a moment like that," he said from his living room in South Minneapolis.

The unrest in Cairo was directed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. As he hung on to his power, the rest of the world continued to weigh-in. "America's message has been consistent. We want to see free and fair elections and we expect that will be one of the outcomes," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

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Assaad has been studying the economic conditions and the plight of the people for years but he didn't see a protest of this magnitude on the horizon. "We had pretty much lost hope that it was going to happen in our lifetime. Usually these sorts of changes come from the middle class and the middle class is hurting," the professor remarked.

He thought that Mubarak's long reign of power was going to end in the coming days, not weeks. "Whether people are going to be satisfied with who comes after him, that's the big question."

Assaad left Egypt two weeks ago. His wife stayed; she wasn't excited to come back to the frigid Midwest. She was in a resort area near the Red Sea and didn't feel threatened by any demonstrators.

His mother lives five minutes from the center of the protests in Liberation Square, a stone's throw from the Nile. "Anticipation and excitement. She's 88 years old and is the most optimistic among us," Assaad explained.

His mother lives very close to the well-guarded US and British embassies and never felt threatened.

While the professor believed a change of power could have global implications, he also thought it would really have an impact in the Middle East. "The fact that it happens in Tunisia and spreads to Egypt, that already indicates that it has the ability to spread. Egypt is extremely influential in the region. I think every country (in the region) is going to have to make changes to accommodate the desire for democracy that this is going to generate."

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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