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Mona Mowafi Headshot
Nadine Farag Headshot

Let's Stand on the Side of Freedom in Egypt

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Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It is also a president whose time has come to step down. After decades of discontent, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Largely organized by secular youth on Facebook and inspired by Tunisia, protesters are calling for no less than an end to the regime. Such popular resistance is unprecedented in Egyptian history. What we are witnessing today is an Egyptian democratic revolution led by, and for, the people.

As Egyptian-Americans, we have watched these events unfold with tremendous pride and excitement. Our joy, however, has been dampened by Mubarak's latest actions. Reports depict a government employing its resources to scare the public from demanding change. We are particularly concerned about media restrictions as well as reports that the regime itself is responsible for some of the looting. By deploying these desperate tactics, Mubarak seems to still view this as a game of smoke and mirrors -- he is struggling to grasp the reality of this historic moment.

Mubarak has attempted to control the situation by diverting TV coverage to inconsequential programming and cutting internet access, but this last ditch effort has ironically illustrated why his time is long past. For example, there were reports on Sunday that a cooking show was airing on Nile TV, the state-owned television station, while an estimated 250,000 Egyptians gathered to protest in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square. Al Jazeera was also shut down and several of their journalists were arrested under the allegation that they were riling up protestors. Meanwhile, the number of demonstrators has swelled with each passing day.

Even more troubling are reports linking looters to the Interior Ministry's police force. This strategy of state-sponsored vandalism may have been targeted to both the outside world as well as to Egyptians, designed to make Egypt look unsafe and chaotic without Mubarak. But it is largely backfiring, leading many to conclude that the president is simply concerned with maintaining power at any cost.

As the daughters of Egyptian immigrants, we have grown up constantly reminded about the ills of closed societies, and we have witnessed the impact of freedom and opportunity on our own families in this country. In light of current events, we urge the U.S. government to support the protesters and give Egyptians this same chance. We recognize the difficulty of the Administration's position given its relationship with the Mubarak government as a strategic ally. We strongly believe, however, that the benefits of a U.S. policy that embraces true democracy in Egypt far outweigh those of the status quo which perpetuate an authoritarian regime for the sake of "stability in the region." History has shown us that non-democratic governments are inherently unstable because they suppress the will of the people, and there is a limit to human indignity and humiliation. Supporting this regime pits us against our own core values and raises questions about our credibility in this critical part of the world. Over 60% of Egypt's population and 90% of Egypt's unemployed are under the age of 30 according to the US Census Bureau. These youth are the very people leading this Revolution, and they will be the country's leaders for decades to come. They aspire for the same things young people wish for everywhere - to secure basic necessities such as food and shelter, to be treated with dignity and respect, and to hope for a better future. We should be investing in that future rather than supporting the final vestiges of a dying regime.

The protesters have called for a Million Man March to commemorate the one week anniversary of this historic popular uprising. Viewing the pictures of young and old, men and women, Muslim and Christian, peacefully demonstrating for their human rights, we can't help but be reminded of our own country's history. Only a few short weeks ago, we celebrated the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in our nation's struggle for civil rights. Half way across the world, Egyptians are rising up, echoing Dr. King's calls for equal rights to social and economic opportunity and a just, representative political system. We hope the U.S. administration will take this opportunity to stand on the right side of history. Our commitment to our nation's founding principles must be extended to all peoples of the world if we want to ensure our moral authority as a democratic nation and our global leadership for generations to come.

Mona Mowafi is a Research Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. Nadine Farag has a Masters degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. Both authors have lived, worked, and conducted research related to health and development in Egypt.