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‘Born to Be Somebody’ in the New Egypt

Christl Dabu

During Rose Lumbo Auf’s 27 years in Egypt, she has never seen anything like it.

Young people from their early teens to their mid-20s are literally painting the town red, black and white – the colours of the Egyptian flag –  transforming the dirty walls into messages of harmony, peace and patriotism. In one wall painting, a Muslim and Coptic man stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a near embrace, clutching Islamic prayer beads and a cross while flashing the peace sign. They wear black and red amid a white background and an Egyptian flag.

“It’s so lovely – we are very happy to see this,” says the 50-year-old stay-at-home mother in a phone interview from Cairo. “They are cleaning the streets. We can see there is hope. You can see there is a future for this country.”

A Muslim and Coptic man stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a near embrace, clutching Islamic prayer beads and a cross while flashing the peace sign in this revolution-inspired wall painting found in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. PHOTO BY ROSE LUMBO AUF

A Muslim and Coptic man stand in a near embrace, clutching Islamic prayer beads and a cross while flashing the peace sign in this revolution-inspired wall painting found in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. PHOTO BY ROSE LUMBO AUF

In the Cairo suburb of Maadi, the 50-year-old mother of two was delightfully surprised to see more signs of Egyptians’ desires and efforts to make their country better.

Street lights now illuminate their suburban neighbourhood and many parts of Cairo.

“It was so dark here, but now there is more light,” she says. “It’s beautiful now when they switch it on every night.”

As garbage in the streets is commonplace, it was also unusual to see people handing out papers encouraging others not to litter, and for some work to finally begin on road repairs.

This was a contrast to about a month ago during the uprising when Auf witnessed schools and the Internet shut down, and cars burned and destroyed before her eyes. A strict curfew and safety fears kept her family, among many others in the city, indoors.

After the largely peaceful but determined protests fueled by young Egyptians and Web 2.0 ushered revolutionary change in Egypt, pockets of the Egyptian capital of Cairo are experiencing their own rebirth and moments of inspiration. For some Egyptian families like the Aufs, life in the “new Egypt” is a little brighter, more colourful, more hopeful and kinder. For many, it also means tasting freedom from the dictatorship, being less afraid to speak their minds and demand their rights. The ousting of a president in power for 30 years has not only physically changed the political landscape of the country, so is it changing, at least in the early days of a post-Mubarak Egypt, the psyche of many of its people.

Cairene Student ‘Waiting for the Great Change’

A few days after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned following the 18-day revolution led by Egyptian youth,  Auf’s 17-year-old daughter, Sherine, posted this status update on Facebook:

I Was Born To Be Somebody! Change is coming my way

February 13 at 1:40pm

Although Sherine didn’t participate in the protests, she wants to be part of the change in the country and joined her family to celebrate the new Egypt at Tahrir Square the day after Mubarak resigned.

“I think Egypt will change to a better place and a better country,” she says in a phone interview from Cairo, echoing the sentiments of her teenaged friends. “People now are cleaning the streets and they’re becoming more kind and sweet to each other. We’re friendly now—all people.”

The Grade 11 student returned to class a few weeks ago after  a month away when her private school was closed due to the unrest. Seeing a better side of Egypt, she noticed a remarkable change in her teachers who seemed more motivated to do a good job. She believes this is just another example of how the revolution is inspiring Egyptians to change and make their country better.  After Mubarak stepped down and classes resumed, her teachers made sure students understood their lessons before they left class instead of making them depend on their tutors for help.

“Before they didn’t care about the students,”  Sherine explains. “They just teach them about anything and make them pay for a tutor, and now they changed and they’re teaching better.”

Sherine’s mother believes Egypt’s education system needs much improvement. Even in a private school, the Auf family is forced to pay more for after-school tutoring, a common problem in Egypt, where low-paid teachers are said to focus more on supplementing their income than doing a good job. A major reason Auf chose to send her children to private school is because they teach English unlike in public schools.

“I feel hopeful with the new government, education can improve,” Auf says.

‎”Be yourself; and believe in your Destiny”!:)♥ xoxo

February 21 at 10:43am via BlackBerry

Since the revolution, Sherine reflects the upbeat outlook shared by many Egyptian youth, posting encouraging messages of believing in your dreams on Facebook.

“When I heard that Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I was happy cause we Egyptians we needed change,” Sherine writes in a Facebook message to Our Kids Media, shortly after the momentous change in her country. “And I guess from this moment, this is the new Egypt. And I hope it’ll be better in everything (jobs, education, freedom). We are now a free country, and I hope the best in the future for my generation.

“And from now on, every Egyptian has the right to say what he wants. And now people who didn’t have a job, they will have the opportunity to have one. And every Egyptian will have the right to live his life not like before. All Egyptians were so happy. And we are waiting for the great change. Hopefully! :)”

Sherine, 17, and Rose Auf, 50 (second and fourth, respectively, from right), celebrate the new Egypt in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Feb. 12, 2011. Sherine and her mother have witnessed Egyptians' desires for a better Egypt after the revolution.

Sherine, 17, and Rose Auf, 50 (second and fourth, respectively, from right), celebrate the new Egypt in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Feb. 12, 2011. Sherine and her mother have witnessed Egyptians' desires for a better Egypt after the revolution.

A Girl’s Dreams Amid Cultural Expectations

Being single means you’re strong and patient enough to wait for someone who DESERVES your worth.

January 20 at 5:03pm via BlackBerry

While the predominantly Muslim Egyptian society expects women to stay at home to take care of the family and discrimination against women and girls is a serious problem, Sherine and her friends disagree about the old-fashioned cultural expectations. Instead, they have their sights set on doing well in high school and getting into a good college.  Some want to be doctors, others aspire to be flight attendants. Sherine dreams of becoming a broadcast journalist or actress. She first plans to study mass communications in a Canadian-run college in Cairo.

“I would also love to be the change that I want to see in my country,” she adds. “I want all people around the world to know that Egypt is like any other country like the U.S.A. We are talented people and we have ambitions that we want to reach.”

Her older brother, Kareem, 23, a mass communications graduate, recently landed a job at the airport working for a foreign airlines after struggling to find work more than a year after graduating from college. Kareem is one of the lucky ones in a country where the youth unemployment rate is high and where some of the destitute literally live among garbage and graves. Moreover, nearly 14.2 million people in Egypt get by on less than a $1 (U.S.) a day. In the new Egypt, Auf says more people are hopeful about having opportunities to follow their dreams and the military rulers have recently promised to open up jobs for youth.

Despite the sexual assault of a high-profile female foreign reporter by a mob of Egyptian men during the revolution, women in Egypt have tried to make their voice heard in a recent protest for equality and rights in Tahrir Square, only to be driven out by the men. While sexual harassment in Cairo is another serious problem for women, who consequently have their own subway cars separate from men, many men are also seen as the quiet heroes of the revolution by their families and neighbours. During the unrest, the men regularly went outside, sometimes staying up all night, to protect their families and neighbours since few police were present during the unrest, say Sherine and her mother.

Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be what you want to be. Because you have only one life and one chance to do it all.♥ :) xoxo

Sunday at 8:02am via BlackBerry

Dark Days Not Over Yet

Even in Egypt’s moment of carpe diem, its dark days are not yet over.

Schools and universities have recently opened after they were shut due to safety concerns during the uprising. However, the curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. is back on in the military leaders’ apparent attempt to maintain order in a nation restless for change.

With parliamentary elections and the presidential vote still to take place in the summer, the Aufs and other families are still glued to the news rather than going out to enjoy the new Egypt. Even with more hope about the future, Auf says there is a sense of impatience for change to happen immediately and nervousness about the uncertainty without a stable elected government. In some cases, with some police stations destroyed and not enough security to maintain order, she has dealt with drivers who are bolder than usual on the road. Auf says there’s still fear about the lack of police to enforce law and order.

There may be more freedom to do what people want, speak their minds and protest, post Mubarak, but Auf won’t allow her daughter to go out as much as before, and will only let her go with friends. She always calls her 23-year-old son to come home by 10 p.m.. “Right now it’s okay; it’s so quiet,” she says. “But it’s not finished. It’s a bit dangerous because there’s no government until now and there’s not enough police around.”

Moreover, the unity of every Egyptian that emerged during the revolt – regardless of religion, class or background – was called into question as tensions between Muslims and Christians erupted again in early March. The religious clash was sparked when 13 people died in Cairo during protests over the burning of a church.The church was reportedly targeted due to disapproval of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Christian man.

Auf can relate to the challenges facing different cultures and religions, but in her case, her story has a happy ending. Auf  was raised Catholic in the Philippines, and her husband of 25 years, Sayed, is an Egyptian Muslim and native Cairene. Despite their cultural and religious differences, Auf has adopted Egypt like her own country and has learned to speak Arabic fluently over the almost three decades she has lived there. Her Arabic- and English-speaking children, Kareem, 23, and Sherine, 17, were born and raised as Muslims in Cairo, adopting a blend of Egyptian, Filipino and the western cultures. The family observes Muslim traditions and prayers, and together they have celebrated the Christmas season complete with a Christmas tree.

Despite the enormous challenges and uncertainty facing her country, Sherine’s motto, as she shares with friends on Facebook, coincidentally fits the same “born to be somebody” outlook that seemed to motivate the young street painters who impressed her mother:

“paint ur dreams in bright colors and bold stripes♥”

* * * * *

Do you have a story or views to share about the revolutions in the Middle East, or life in the new Egypt? Tell us in the Comments section below.


Rose and Sherine Auf celebrate the new Egypt in Tahrir Square on Feb. 12, 2011, the day after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned.

Rose and Sherine Auf celebrate the new Egypt in Tahrir Square on Feb. 12, 2011, the day after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned.

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About Christl Dabu

Christl Dabu is the former editor at Our Kids Media (www.ourkids.net). Before her proverbial plane landed at Our Kids, she had worked as an editor at the Toronto Star, and she had been country-hopping in Egypt, China and some dozen other countries and 40 cities ... to Write, Edit and Travel. She encourages you to regularly check out the blog and the Our Kids Newsletter for parents and Dialogue Newsletter for educators for fresh web-exclusive content. Check out Our Kids on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ourkidsnet). Follow Our Kids (@ourkidsnet)and Christl (@ChristlJZDabu) on Twitter.

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