By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – Brothers Nezar and Anas Hussain, students in Gonzaga’s MBA program, have been mesmerized watching, from a world away, weeks of protests in their native Egypt that resulted in President Hosni Mubarak finally, and reluctantly, leaving office Feb. 11 after 30 years in power.
Egypt’s modern revolutionary flame was fueled by social media images of a January revolt in Tunisia, and fanned by growing indignation over worsening economic conditions in Egypt. The protests against a regime perceived as corrupt took a mere 18 days to purge Mubarak and, remarkably, occurred primarily through nonviolent and peaceful demonstrations by millions.
The Hussain brothers, who grew up in Cairo and came to the Pacific Northwest to earn engineering degrees at the University of Idaho, said the cinders of Egypt’s revolution had been smoldering for many years. Some 40 percent of Egyptians live below the poverty level, the brothers estimated, adding that their fellow citizens united to promote changes they feared would never occur under the leadership of Mubarak, who had failed to keep so many of his promises.
“This was one of the very first times where people actually said, ‘We are against the president,’” said Nezar, 26. “When they said that, it was close to two million people doing so.”
Anas, 24, agreed with his brother: “All they wanted was political reform and they wanted Mubarak and his regime out.”
Nezar said the final days of protest, before Mubarak finally loosened his grip on the country, were difficult because there were two valid positions for advancement: gradual reforms or instant action.
“It’s sort of like, do you want everything now or is it a stepped program? Is it continuous political reform or do you just want to you know demolish the temple and start back from scratch? And those are two very valid arguments,” Nezar said.
“There was economic improvements in Egypt,” he said. “The only problem was people weren’t feeling it as much. Like with a lot of countries where you have the very rich people and the very poor people, and the gap between what used to be the middle class was starting to vanish more and more.”
In the end, there were simply too many people who felt their calls for help and reform had fallen on deaf ears, agreed the brothers.
“When you have such a large subset of your population living under the poverty line, not living in so-so conditions but under the poverty line, you’re not going to be able to ignore them for very long,” Anas said. “It’s going to cause you problems, even if you’re well off. Even if you’ve got money, it’s going to catch up to you one way or the other.”
The brothers, in their second year of the MBA program, said they expect Egypt’s military to run the country until the elections occur this fall. After that, they hope a democratic form of government emerges in which there are parties that truly represent the people instead of the 20-some interest groups that served more as décor in recent years. The Hussain brothers aim to return to Egypt at some point in the future.