I landed in Cairo at a revolutionary time.
It was a hot day in Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the Egyptian Revolution. Cars honked, trash filled the square, cops patrolled the area in cars and on foot. The atmosphere was tense. The country was undergoing a political transition, which included the first democratic election after the protests that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
I bought a notepad and pen from a street vendor and started writing. I wrote observations, and asked random people about the Arab Spring. Then my mom grabbed me and said, “Stop! This could be dangerous.” I stashed my notebook, but I wasn’t done writing about the Arab Spring.
I learned about Egypt’s struggles with human rights and poverty. Egypt was thirsting for something new, but at the same time was tired of the instability that the previous years had brought. A lot of Egyptians felt trapped by an election that made them choose between a former Mubarak prime minister and a Muslim Brotherhood leader.
I began writing personal essays about social and political life in Egypt. I kept a journal documenting the people I met, how they dealt with poverty and their views on domestic and foreign affairs. I sat in coffee shops with my cousins and had discussions with them, like I was a real Egyptian.
I returned home to the boring and rural town of Bemidji, Minnesota, and reflected on my experience in Egypt. I felt like people in Bemidji were naive about foreign affairs (especially in the Middle East), and it was time for them to learn. I
was an outsider for the brief time I lived in Bemidji. I was one of the few minorities at my school. Making the best of a bad situation, I began having political discussions. I began understanding some Bemidji people’s view on the Middle East and the world.
It was a one-sided view that everyone in the Middle East is radical, if not a terrorist, and no one wants change or democracy. My experience in Cairo showed me that was completely false. I became angry with the mainstream media for telling only bad stories and ignoring the reforms that are taking place. It was there in Bemidji, witnessing people’s misconceptions about the Arab world, where I found my gift, my deepest desire and purpose in life. I want to shed light on important issues. I want to provide a non-biased viewpoint on issues and conflicts. I hope to inform the misinformed and to show sides of the Middle East that the mainstream media doesn’t cover. I want to document human rights abuses and promote democracy.
Today, Egypt’s first democratically elected president has been overthrown by a military coup. The military is now in charge, and things are worse than before. Journalists are jailed, activists tortured and the media is biased. I, and many people I met during the Arab Spring, have completely lost hope.
Four years after my Cairo experience, I realize it helped me understand complex issues, made me more open-minded and, most importantly, made me more ambitious.
Let me write about complex issues. Let me investigate crimes against humanity. Let me make a difference. Help me inform. Information is power.