Living in history: Student reflects on life in Egypt during the revolution


Junior Paulo Sadek and his family pose for a picture on July 24, 2012, shortly before leaving Egypt. Photo provided by Paulo Sadek.

In January 2011, junior Paulo Sadek had the longest winter break of his life– six weeks without school. While Sadek didn’t necessarily view this as a problem, the extended vacation was a side effect of a much bigger problem: the 25th of January Revolution in Egypt. Since then, another revolution and several temporary leaders in the country have created a less than ideal environment, causing Egyptians to be more cautious and causing others, like Sadek’s family, to leave Egypt altogether.

“All my life, I lived in Egypt… in Cairo,” Sadek said. “I left Egypt in August of 2012. It wasn’t really safe there, but that’s not the only reason [why we left]. The main reason is, my dad’s business was getting really, really low and the economy was going down. We have relatives that told my dad he can make an investment with them, so we came here.”

Sadek left before the second revolution began, but he was there to witness the first revolution in January of 2011, in which the people fought to remove President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years.

The change begins

On Jan. 25, 2011, millions of Egyptians began demanding Mubarak’s resignation, complaining about police brutality, corruption and the poor economy.

“My dad was against the protesting because he said that the country was going to be unsafe. He didn’t want to remove [Mubarak]. I was kind of glad, but I was afraid of what was going to happen,” Sadek said.

Out of fear for his safety, Sadek’s parents discouraged him from participating in the protests.

“I went to one or two [protests]. My parents were afraid–when your parents turn on the TV and see people are being killed, they won’t let you [join in],” Sadek said.

Cause and effect

Though Sadek only actually attended one or two protests, the revolution affected his life in tangible ways.

“Everybody in school was talking about [the protests]. Some days your parents wouldn’t let you [attend school] even if the school was open because there were people protesting,” Sadek said.

Students who participated in the protests found the activity was not without risk. Many people were hurt and even killed in the turmoil.

“None of my friends got killed. But there were a lot of people, friends of my friends who have been killed,” Sadek said. “Mubarak didn’t just say ‘I’m leaving,’ right after we protested. We started on Jan. 25, and he left on Feb. 11, so all this time there were police just shooting. A lot of people died in this revolution,” Sadek said.

The death toll for the 2011 revolution totaled over 840 people, with more than 6,000 injuries reported. Egypt’s safety was impacted in other, more indirect ways as well. Because the security forces in the nation were preoccupied with the revolution, criminal activity skyrocketed.

“Once you get used to [the protests], it’s OK, but it’s not safe because of the fights and thieves. When everybody’s protesting, there’s not much security, so anybody can rob you,” Sadek said. “In 2011, the people that were in prison escaped, so from 2011 to 2012 there were thieves and criminals everywhere.”

The lack of security impacted everyone; parents feared for their children’s safety, and some children even began carrying weapons to fend off thieves and other criminals.

“It wasn’t really safe to go to school. A lot of my friends were stopped by criminals who told them, ‘If you don’t give us the money you have, we will hurt you.’ I had a knife to save myself– everyone had a little weapon,” Sadek said.

Sadek and his friend Ali Abouzeid pictured in their school uniforms in March 2012. Because of the protests, it was often unsafe for students to attend school. Photo provided by Paulo Sadek.
Sadek and his friend Ali Abouzeid pictured in their school uniforms in March 2012. Because of the protests, it was often unsafe for students to attend school. Photo provided by Paulo Sadek.

A new beginning

After President Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, the military took over for a year until new presidential elections could be held.

“After they removed Mubarak, 30 thousand people wanted to be president,” Sadek said.

After the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) reviewed the candidates’ qualifications, a shorter list of approved candidates emerged.

“In the end there were two: Morsi and Ahmed Shafik,” Sadek said. “[The vote] was half and half, 51 percent for Morsi and 49 percent for Ahmed Shafik. My parents elected Ahmed Shafik because the Muslim Brotherhood does a lot of terrorism.”

Egyptians, however, soon became dissatisfied with Morsi’s rule.

“He was nice for the first two weeks, but we didn’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood, so we knew he was going to ruin the country– but we didn’t expect what he did,” Sadek said. “They [the Muslim Brotherhood] took all the money, they cut the electricity and the water and there wasn’t enough fuel. [Morsi] used to take the fuel and give it to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Starting over

Angered by Morsi’s policies, Egyptian citizens began demonstrating in November 2012. These continued all the way to June 30, 2013, the one-year anniversary of Morsi’s election, when tens of thousands of people gathered in as many as 18 locations across Cairo and in other cities to protest.

“There were 30 or 40 million people in the streets,” Sadek said. “Nobody liked Morsi, and if I was in Egypt for the 30 June Revolution, I would have protested. I was kind of sad that I left. All my friends were in the street and everyone was protesting.”

On July 3, Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi lead a coup d’état to depose Morsi. Judge Adly Mansour was then sworn in as interim president on July 4.

Though Sadek is no longer in Egypt, many of his friends and relatives still live there, and he gets information from them. The biggest change that’s recently come about is the state of emergency, which  was declared on Aug. 14 following the expiration of the emergency law on May 31.

“The state of emergency says that from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., no one can move in the streets,” Sadek said. “Everybody’s inside, and that’s really hard for us because Cairo’s active 24 hours, almost like New York.    The army is in all the streets. Regularly the street is really crowded, but you’ll only find four or five people moving in the street at 9 or 10 p.m.,” Sadek said.

Now violence is no longer as much of a concern, but other issues still discourage Sadek from returning to Egypt. The political turmoil took a heavy toll on the economy, and protesters damaged many public buildings, including the school Sadek attended.

“I want to visit, but not now. It takes years to be a good country after [a revolution]. Now, everybody is fighting. Every group wants something different in the constitution, and I don’t think it’s going to be right for seven, eight, 10 years,” Sadek said.

While Sadek will definitely visit Egypt in the future, he probably won’t move back.

“I can go back and forth [between Egypt and America], or if it’s really safe in Egypt, I could go live in my home country, but after 10 years, I will probably be American,” Sadek said.

– Emily Levinson (Feature Editor)