Stories of conflict from Syria and Egypt
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 01:09
The ongoing battle to establish democracy in Egypt and Syria has held U.S. media attention since 2011. Miami University students and faculty from both nations follow the events intently.
Although they are geographically distant from the Middle East, the crises continue to affect their lives.
First-year student Edward Khaddam has lived in the U.S. his whole life, but his extended family, still in Syria, have suffered under the dictatorship.
“One of my cousins is 24 or 25 and he got arrested at the beginning of the revolution and was tortured for five days straight in the soccer stadium,” Khaddam said. “He used to go to college, but then he left Syria because he was too scared to live there.
Just stating your opinions in public can get you put in jail, Khaddam said.
“Another one of my cousins got arrested for six years for saying he didn’t like the president and an undercover cop heard him.” Khaddam said. “You have to look deeper than the politics. This is really sectarian. It is political, we want democracy, but it’s gone from that to being religious.”
Syrian graduate student Osama Jomaa arrived in the U.S. just days before the beginning of the term, after spending about eight months in Egypt following his graduation from Damascus University in Syria. Jomaa said he believes education will be the key to rebuilding his country.
“The crisis in Syria is unimaginable, believe me,” Jomaa said. “I really want Syrian students to continue with their studies because ultimately the war in Syria will end, but there [will be] a great number of students who are without education, so who is going to build Syria in the aftermath?”
In order to learn English well enough to study in the U.S., Jomaa took advantage of MIT OpenCourseWare, a web-based publication of MIT course content. He now works 20 hours per week at Erickson Dining Hall in addition to taking a course load of 10 credit hours.
Jomaa communicates two or three times a week with his family via Skype, but cannot and does not plan to visit Syria any time soon.
“I find it not very wise for me to return to Syria, at least in the current conditions,” Jomaa said. “Today is not like yesterday; I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future for Syria, but what I can say is that in the current situation I cannot return, and I have no intentions of returning unless there’s a radical change.”
Jomaa wants to spread awareness about the humanitarian and educational crises in Syria here in the U.S.
“The thing I would like Americans to know is that these crises in Syria need their support,” Jomaa said. “A lot of Syrian students have been away from school for more than two years and they need support in order to rebuild Syria on just principles.”
In nearby Egypt, the political situation has been less violent but no less complex, with roots going back as far as the 1970s, according to Egyptian professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering, Osama Ettouney.
“Many of the issues that are arising right now in Egypt started in the 70s. The Muslim Brotherhood came back in the 70s,” Ettouney said. “They hijacked the revolution of 2011.”
Ettouney said that since the 70s, the Brotherhood had been working their way back into the government by making deals with officials and doing things for the community.
“So when they hijacked the revolution, people said ‘Well, that’s okay, they have been doing fine in the community. Let’s just give them a chance,’” Ettouney said. “And people started to vote for them, and they got into the government.”
The Brotherhood quickly established a divide and conquer strategy, according to Ettouney.
“They aligned themselves with all kinds of radical Islamist groups and they started to create a very contentious society. They made divisions between Muslims and Christians, between men and women, between Islamists and seculars and liberals,” Ettouney said.
According to him, it was the young people of Egypt who made the next move.
“By March of 2013, the young people decided to have a kind of drive to sign a petition to kick them [the Brotherhood] out of the government and have a new, early election,” Ettouney said. “By May, they had about 15 million signatures.”