During Protests, Scholar’s Thoughts are Close to Home

February 1, 2011

Reports on Tuesday afternoon estimated the crowds Nourhan El Koptanon Cairo’s Tahrir Square had reached two million. One Egyptian — who might have otherwise joined the throngs of people protesting President Hosni Mubarak — was right here on the Mary Baldwin campus.

Instead of marching with her countrymen, Nourhan El Koptan walked the hills of Mary Baldwin Tuesday wearing an Egyptian flag like a scarf around her shoulders. The 29-year-old Arabic language instructor said she is proud her country is taking a stand against a regime that has been in power since she was one month old.

“They’re writing history now, I wish I was writing it with them,” El Koptan said of the demonstrators. “They are doing something that we’ve dreamed together.”

For more than a week, Egyptians have taken to the streets of Cairo and El Koptan’s hometown, Alexandria, to demand an end to Mubarak’s rule. Clashes between demonstrators and the military started off with violence, but had ceased Monday night when the army promised that it would not fire on protesters.

In the initial days of unrest, cell phone and Internet service was down and El Koptan was unable to reach her family. Eventually she restored contact through a landline and learned that everyone was safe. A few days later, she heard her friends were also unharmed.

“For three days I was worried about them,” she said. “There has been violence in the street. I couldn’t reach them myself but I asked people to call them in Egypt.”

El Koptan said her father — like many in Alexandria — joined other men to stand guard and protect their neighborhood. Fortunately, they saw no violent clashes and did not encounter looters close to home, a relief to El Koptan, who has been keeping up with the broadcasts and newspaper reports daily.

Reports that President Obama and his administration have not made a direct call for Mubarak — a strong U.S. ally — to step down disappoints El Koptan. She said she wants to see America take a stand for democracy.

In May, El Koptan will end her time as Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at Mary Baldwin and return to Egypt. For now, she is unsure how recent events will affect her future.

“Of course I am very proud of my people; I wish I was there for them,” she said. “At the same time I’m really worried about them . . . and I don’t know what will happen to them.”