In the midst of the various uprisings in the Middle East, one Milken student, Amir Firestone ’12, has a unique connection to the situation. Firestone lived in Egypt for the second half of his sixth grade school year.
Since he was still young while living there, Firestone did not know much about the politics of the country. However, one of his dominant memories is of the Egyptian police constantly infesting the streets.
“At first, it was strange, but after a while it felt safe for me,” Firestone said. “But looking back, this wasn’t really the case because the police were actually very corrupt.”
Firestone also noted a similar corruption in the media initiated by the government. Firestone remembers going up to the October War Panorama in Cairo. Despite the fact that Israel won the war, the museum exclusively displays the first 24 hours of the war during which Egypt had the advantage.
Additionally, Firestone recalls visiting an exhibit that honored a famous Egyptian singer. A film portraying her biography included segments depicting Israel bombing Egypt, even though the content was erroneous and had nothing to do with the singer’s life.
“This shows that, even though a lot of people think that Mubarak was good for Israel, he actually spread a lot of propaganda and caused hate among the Egyptian people. So the government did do bad things for Israel, but on the inside,” Firestone said.
The government’s control over anti-Israel attitudes was evident through its command over the newspaper. When Amir’s father was giving a talk at Ein Shams University in Egypt, journalists writing for the state newspapers came to listen. The next day, headlines in three state newspapers addressed his speech and what he had said about Egypt by referring to him as a “Jewish rabbi” to emphasize his Jewish identity. The article also claimed that he had said bad things about Islam and Egypt, despite the fact that he had in reality said the opposite of the article’s claims.
However, on the second to last day of the riots in Egypt, an article supportive of the protesters was released, indicating how the government was losing hold on the media.
An additional aspect exemplifying the government’s control over anti-Israel attitudes in Egypt was the country’s recent Internet shutdown. During the time this past month when Egypt’s Internet was inactive, Firestone regularly checked his Egyptian friends’ Facebook pages to see if they had updated their profiles. Finally, Firestone got in touch with two of his friends there. Speaking with them before Mubarak stepped down, Firestone asked about their views on the situation. Both friends thought it was necessary for the leader to leave, but expressed their opinions that he should wait until September to do so, because otherwise there would be chaos. Firestone assumes that this notion was not shared with the majority of the Egyptian population though, and that his friends had these opinions because they were a part of the higher class in Egypt, meaning that they were not as affected by the economic situation and did not feel as much of a sense of urgency.
His friends also discussed with Firestone that once Mubarak released all of the prisoners from the jails, there was a multitude of thieves stealing valuable possessions. Firestone’s friends were forced to stand in front of the building they lived in to defend their valuables from the criminals. However, this was not common throughout all of Egypt; Firestone’s friends were particularly targeted because they were members of the higher class and possessed more valuable items.
However, the danger affecting those associated with the Firestones was not limited to this event. The store belonging to Firestone’s father’s friend burnt down from the chaos. Additionally, Firestone’s mom’s Arabic teacher’s brother took part in the rallies at Liberty Square and got hit in the head with a rock when the government sent undercover police to break up the riots.
Though Amir was too young to notice anything while living there, his parents predicted that something would eventually happen in Egypt. Looking back, Firestone recalls that it was common for people to be fed up with the government. And once the recent revolutions occurred in Egypt, Firestone notes that he heard that, while during the day the riots seemed very lively, life at night was peaceful and enabled the people to unite and bond with one another, regardless of their social class.
But while the future of governmental power in the Middle East remains difficult to predict, Firestone has confidence in Egypt’s future.
“Egyptians know about the situation in Iran and don’t want what’s going on there to happen in Egypt. The protesters are educated and know how democracy works,” Firestone said.