Nezar Hussain and his brother Anas watched from half a world away as Egyptians mobilized by the millions and removed a stone-faced president from power.
The Gonzaga University students grew up in Cairo but came to study engineering in the Pacific Northwest.
Over the past three weeks, Nezar, 26, and Anas, 24, scrambled to stay in touch with friends and family in Egypt. They tried, with difficulty, to stay focused on their courses in GU’s master’s in business administration program.
They lived online to a large extent, tracking the swirling popular movement across Egypt that began Jan. 25 and culminated Friday with President Hosni Mubarak announcing he was stepping down after 30 years in power.
Like everyone else, the brothers said they have no idea what will happen next.
They expect the military to run the country until the fall elections. Like most Egyptians who’ve waited for change for dozens of years, they hope for representative government and a system that distributes economic benefits more fairly, they said.
Both of them are in the second year of the MBA program, and both plan to graduate this summer. Neither knows if they’ll return to Egypt soon. Their parents live in Qatar, where their father is practicing medicine.
Over the past three weeks they spent hours every day tracking news on TV and the Internet. When cell phone lines were shut down during the early days, they used Skype to call friends and family in Egypt.
They found too much information online. “On Facebook I monitored two or three groups or pages,” Nezar said.
“But you had to be careful. There was a lot of rumor and conflicting opinions,” he said. “It was very hard to get the full story.”
It’s much easier, both said, to say they wished they’d have been there during this turning point in their country’s history. They also admit they have no idea if they would have joined the protests in the streets.
“I don’t know exactly what I’d be doing,” Anas said. “It’s very difficult talking about this halfway across the world, from having the courage to stand up against violence and be nonviolent in your actions.”
The hundreds of Egyptians who died and the much larger number arrested and beaten during the unrest are a stark reminder to them that the cost of change was not small.
They both also said they find reason to hope the violence has ended and that their land will heal and hold true to its highest ideals.
Said Nezar: “I’m relatively optimistic things will be good. If you talked to me two days ago and told me Mubarak would step down, I’d have my doubts. So all this has been absolutely amazing. I went to bed each night and woke the next day totally not believing what was happening there.”