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Egyptian grad student at Utah State phones home each day

February 4th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

‘They used to try to show Egypt as supporting free speech and such, but when you get on the wrong side of the government – game over.’

By Mariah Noble

LOGAN–Live broadcasts and graphic photos pour into the U.S., illustrating the struggle of Egyptians to gain freedom. As a whole, our nation is interested, but for one USU student the stories literally hit home.

Hussein Batt is an Egyptian citizen, getting his doctorate in civil and environmental engineering at Utah State. He is the only Egyptian student at the school, and as far as he knows, the only Egyptian in Logan. There are other people who are of Egyptian origin who live here, he says, but they have lived in the U.S. for 20 or 25 years and don’t go back there and visit.

“Sometimes it’s difficult because if people don’t share the same rules (or values), they won’t understand what is going on,” Batt said. “Even if they are from the same Arab countries, they don’t have the same view.”

Batt moved to Utah five years ago for an advanced degree in engineering after getting his bachelor’s from Cairo University. He said he goes home to visit almost every year and returned from his most recent visit last September.

Batt talks to his family, who live in Cairo, every day. He said he usually uses Skype or the phone, but since the Internet was turned off, they talk only on the phone now.

“On the phone they just say, ‘Everything is great. Everything is fine,’ because the regime is just trying to scare people,” Batt said. “When you feel that your government is trying to disconnect them from the rest of the world, people get scared. When you see people killed in the streets and kidnapping, you just get scared and paranoid.”

He said that his family is not directly connected with the protest, but it has affected them.

“The whole thing is when the protest started on the 25th, everyone thought it was going to be nothing.” Batt said. “And the regime sent people in to crack down on the protests, and (for) the ones they couldn’t crack, they got the police to come (from) off the streets. So my brother had to go with his friends to protect the neighborhood. The streets had no type of security.”

He said that along with the streets, the prisons were left unattended and 17,000 prisoners broke free, including some terrorists. He also said the Egyptian Museum almost got destroyed and that the people who protected it were the protesters.

“No one likes the government at all,” Batt said. “Everyone hates the president so much. He’s corrupted, his sons are corrupted, the government – all corrupted. Actually a lot of people think he should be prosecuted as a criminal.”

He pointed out that the freedoms given to Egyptians are different than those offered to Americans.

“In Egypt, we have no right to bear arms,” Batt said. “So when police use force to kill people, we sometimes expect other countries to respond. They used to try to show Egypt as supporting free speech and such, but when you get on the wrong side of the government – game over.”

Batt said Egypt’s neighboring countries are still supportive of the president because they do not want their people to follow the example of Egyptians overthrowing their government. He said usually what happens in Egypt ripples throughout the Middle East.

Batt also said he would like the U.S. to pay more attention and act on what they see happening in Cairo.

“Here’s the thing,” Batt said. “Everyone looks to the U.S. as a superpower, and they are one of the countries who believe in human rights, so somehow they should act with conscience to what is going on. The U.S. should support the people, not the government.”

He said he pays attention to the news every day for more information on what is going on at home.

“There are some channels, like Al Jazeera News, that have live broadcasts 24-7,” Batt said. “The government took action and arrested people from them. They took the channel from the satellite after they harassed reporters, so people from Al Jazeera said all cameras are turned off. Every day, I’m just wired.”

Although the media has made a big deal about the Internet being turned off, Batt said the government also stopped trains from running, phones from working and food from getting into cities. Even with the current state of Egypt’s government, a friend of Batt’s has warned him to beware of government overthrow.

“If you don’t know what you want after it, any people can suddenly get power,” a fellow student from the Middle East said. “Some groups are not very good, and then (when they take over,) the situation will get even worse for people.”

The two referred to the country of Iran in 1978 and 1979 when people began protesting the monarchy. Once Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was out of power, Ruhollah Khomeini, a radical Islamic leader, stepped into power. Since he became the country’s leader, he has forced Islamic beliefs and laws onto Iranians. His radical beliefs about Western countries have also caused greater friction between the U.S. and Iran than before.

“People use a vehicle to get into government,” Batt said. “The protests were originally driven by young people. The Muslim Brotherhood and others didn’t join until they saw some effect (created) by the young people. They are just jumping on, trying to use what young people did to jump over and take power.”

Batt has spoken with friends from different cities in Egypt on the phone and said they feel the government is waiting for people to give up.

“People get frustrated,” Batt said. “The regime is counting on people getting tired and frustrated. Maybe people are tired now.”

Despite the political unrest, Batt plans to return to Egypt after he graduates in about a year. He said he used to have a good job working for the government, but even though he’s unsure what will happen, his family is there, and he will return.

“It’s our country, you know,” Batt said. “For everything with ups and downs, you just shouldn’t run. Otherwise these guys in power just succeed in whatever they are aiming to do.”


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