Student cut off from a revolution

Imagine starting a life at college 6,200 miles away from home, from friends, from family — from a revolution. For Mohab Tawila, a Northern Kentucky University student from Cairo, Egypt, this is reality.

20-year-old Tawila has been attending NKU since fall 2009, but his family and his heart are still in Egypt, especially during this crucial point in the country’s history.

“I really want to be a part of this because I think it’s a historical moment for my country. I want to tell my children about this,” Tawila said.

On Jan. 25, as many as 20,000 Egyptian citizens spilled into the streets of Cairo to protest the government and now ex-president Hosni Mubarak. According to the Associated Press, the recent unrest in Tunisia and a Facebook page sparked the revolution that demanded presidential term limits, higher minimum wage, government reform and an end to police brutality.

On Feb. 11, after 18 days of protest, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power. “We, as Egyptians, reached the result that we wanted,” Tawila said. “This is just the beginning, and the upcoming months will be the real transformation of the country.”

The protests began as peaceful ones, but the police and military soon intervened. The government shut off all Internet access for Egyptians, which was one of the most terrifying parts for Tawila because he could not keep in contact with his parents who live very near Cairo.

“You could feel the corruption in everyday life in Egypt,” Tawila said. “Before this protest took place, the officers, people were scared to death of them; they were very, very brutal.”

The release of 17,000 inmates was also terrifying for Tawila and his family. The government released the prisoners, although U.S. news stated they escaped.

“You can see some videos on the YouTube that people posted that show the government officials letting those people go on the street,” Tawila said. “The government itself is doing that.”

Tawila had no contact with his family during the prisoner release. Because his family lives so close to Cairo, his parents had to take shifts guarding their house with no weapons to protect themselves.

“And my father’s an old guy,” Tawila said with a laugh. “Like, he wouldn’t be able to stand a fight against people who don’t have a heart and are crazy.”

Now, with Internet access restored, Tawila knows his family is all right, as he talks with them on Blackberry Messenger and on Facebook. Apart from his family and friends, Tawila relies on the Internet and TV to get his news. He’s impressed with American channels in their accuracy and ability to continue to give unbiased reports.

Tawila said he never expected this to happen to Egypt because Egyptians are often stereotyped as lazy and scared of change, which is why Mubarak was able to hold power for 30 years without revolt.

“But it did,” Tawila said. “And it’s amazing.”

To Tawila, one of the most amazing parts of the revolution is that united all of Egypt: “Actors, richest people in Egypt, poorest people in Egypt, Christians, Muslims.”

Now, when Tawila returns to Cairo in May, he will not only be arriving in a free country, but also a new country that he and many Egyptians have never known.

Story by Claire Higgins