Sayed, a 31-year-old Egyptian raised by political activists in Cairo, moved to Portland in 2004 with her husband so he could pursue neurosurgery here.
She says her parents were active in student protests during the era of Egyptian leaders Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El Sadat. Though their political fervor cooled after President Hosni Mubarak took power 30 years ago, they continued to vote, despite widespread election fraud.
But they stopped voting in 1985, disillusioned by rigged elections and harassment from police at the polls. Sayed says she never bothered to vote.
“We know it’s a fake process,” says Sayed, a stay-at-home mom and former financial analyst. “No matter what you do, they take the ballot boxes and fill them with the names they want, and it’s him [Mubarak]. It’s a state of despair. There’s no reason to be engaged in political life.”
And yet Sayed and her husband, Ahmed Raslan, joined about 100 others at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Saturday, Jan. 29, to demonstrate against Mubarak’s regime. As popular protests continue to rack Egypt, supporters across the U.S. and the globe have held rallies in solidarity.
Sayed and Raslan are optimistic democratic change will come to their homeland. Whether or not Mubarak is overthrown, Raslan says these protests have left an indelible mark on Egyptians’ psyches. Even if it’s not the end of the regime, he said, it’s the beginning of the end.
“The people in the street say they’ll keep going until Mubarak’s out,” Raslan says. “Will they actually hold up their promise? I don’t know. It’s very hard.”
Raslan, a 38-year-old neurosurgery resident at Oregon Health & Science University, had been politically inactive while in Egypt.
“We knew all along this was wrong, but we isolated ourselves into our bubble,” he says, adding he would have joined the recent street protests if he were back home, 7,000 miles away from local less-than-life-or-death debates over bike lanes and leaf fees.
“I’m jealous,” he said. “I want to be there. We had fear for 30 years. Now we put our lives on the line. How many people will die? A hundred? A thousand? That’s a low price to pay for freedom.”
Raslan and Sayed have been closely following the unfolding tumult from their Beaverton home, largely through Al Jazeera’s online live streams and Facebook.
They have also managed to make contact with family still in Egypt—no easy task as a government-imposed communications blackout hit the country late last week.
Sayed says her two brothers have joined the protests in Cairo, and one was wounded when a rubber bullet struck his knee. While she fears for their safety, she considers it their duty as Egyptians to participate. If she had grown sons, Sayed says, she would have sent them to protest.
“As much as I love my brothers, I care about the country more,” Sayed said. “I’m afraid something is going to happen, but they’re Egyptians and they have to be out there.”
As demonstrations have given way to looting, Sayed’s brothers have described a populist movement protecting neighborhoods and property. Egypt’s security police—a widely detested arm of Mubarak’s regime—have withdrawn from many cities.
And Sayed says her brothers joined a human chain around the Egyptian Museum to fend off potential vandals (looters ripped the heads off two mummies before Egyptian army commandoes secured the building, according to news reports).
As Pioneer Square protesters dispersed Saturday in Portland, Raslan and Sayed gathered their 6-year-old daughter, Alia, and 3-year-old son, Youssef. The children squirmed as their father drew them into an embrace, but consented when he draped an Egyptian flag over their shoulders.
Sayed listed three conditions that might prompt her family’s return to Egypt: the lifting of martial law, free elections and constitutional reforms.
“Whether the president leaves or not, these people will stand up again and fight for their rights again,” Sayed says. “People know they can make a change.”