Drs. Nash Naam and Elene Awad were ready to head to Egypt Friday when family members in the country urged them to stay in the United States.
“Our family called that morning and said ‘don’t come,’” said Naam.
The Effingham residents were torn between heading to their native country to support their family during a protest movement to drive 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak out of the country or staying and avoiding the risk of not getting back to the United States as people currently scramble for flights out of the Middle Eastern country.
“We finally decided not to go,” said Naam, adding as health care professionals, the couple had obligations here.
The protests continued Tuesday as Mubarak announced he would not seek a new term but refused to immediately step down and leave the country.
Even though the couple left Egypt before Mubarak took power, having moved to the United States in 1976, they travel back to the country once or twice a year to work at a clinic Naam established to teach and perform hand surgeries for free and are very much aware of the oppression that has plagued Egyptians under Mubarak.
“Corruption is rampant. The economy stagnant. There’s no freedom of expression or religion. After a while, people get sick and tired,” said Naam.
Freedom of religion is one of the reasons the two decided to make the United States their home. As Christians in Egypt, a predominately Muslim country, they were considered outsiders and treated like second-class citizens.
Naam is hoping the protests that have lasted more than week will change that and bring about democracy.
Freedom of religion is one of the simple basics of democracy,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish, Muslim or Christian. You’re an Egyptian. Hopefully, they’ll recognize that, and the government will respect its people.”
However, Naam noted there is a chance the protests may bring about the opposite.
“But I feel they’re not asking for an Islamic state,” he said of the protesters. “Just a simple democracy.”
Naam said until now, Egyptians have been too fearful of government to do anything.
“Now all of a sudden, that barrier of fear is broken, and people are happy to exercise rights they haven’t had in years,” he said.
Naam said part of him is sad to not be there at a monumental time in his native homeland’s history.
“It’s exciting to see the country go through that kind of rebirth,” he said.
Aside from a few days when phone service was down in Egypt, Naam and his wife have kept in close contact their their immediate family who still reside in Egypt, including Naam’s mother and six brothers and sisters.
“They are all safe,” he said.
Still, Naam fears for their continued safety as police withdrawal has caused criminal activity to escalate.
“People are roaming the streets looting,” he said. “Our families at night go downstairs with simple weapons, such as knives, to protect their belongings.
“My wife’s nephew had an upscale clothing store in downtown Cairo that was ransacked, set on fire and destroyed,” he said.
Naam said another concern is food, which is becoming scarce. People are forced to find food during curfew hours that end at 3 p.m. In addition, railroad service was stopped.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “The government doesn’t care about its people, and people feel that.
“Every human being on the planet deserves dignity,” said Naam. “Being able to think and be ourselves is a right given by God.”
Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.