January 25, 2017: Reflections of an Egyptian-American Muslim

I will never forget the call I got from my childhood best friend that Tuesday morning while blowing off steam on the elliptical at the Stanford gym after days of almost no sleep and schizophrenic feelings of depression, exhilaration, and awe. “He’s gone! He’s gone! He’s gone!” she said to me, referring to Mubarak, seconds after the announcement confirming that the then-President of Egypt would step down.

Every year following January 25, 2011, I have gotten together with friends to reflect on the passing of another 365 days since the Egyptian revolution. Every year, it is a complicated day. It is one that is filled with admiration for my people who unapologetically took to the streets to demand bread, freedom, and social justice after years of authoritarianism. It is one that is filled with romanticism as I flip through the photos of the crowds and the painted, graffitied walls of resistance. It is one that is filled with tears for the lives we lost during those initial days and in the six years since. And it is one that is filled with rage at those who hijacked the beautiful spirit of the square and left us backsliding.

But this year, on January 25, 2017 as an Egyptian-American Muslim, I am the most broken-hearted and angriest of all.

Not only am I a witness to the continued abuse of the Egyptian revolution by an authoritarian who has allowed state violence, forced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings to continue with impunity; not only am I a witness to what is possibly the most significant crackdown on civil society in our country’s history; and not only am I a witness to the lost memories of those who gave up everything fighting for a country that would only imprison, torture, rape, and kill them.

But I am also a witness to the day that my other home, the United States of America, has let me down. I am a witness to the day that the “Muslim ban” slowly becomes a reality, as a halt to the refugee resettlement program and a suspension of visas for seven Muslim-majority countries are announced. I am a witness to the day that the newly-elected President is proud to tweet his intention to build a wall separating our country from its neighbor. And I am a witness to the day in which the country my family and I have made home is turning its back against those like me.

When you originate from a country where many are too afraid to challenge the status quo, are thrown into jail for thinking differently, and are defamed for speaking out, you are raised to appreciate your ability to write op-eds in local newspapers as a young middle schooler. You are raised to take to the streets to challenge torture at Abu Ghraib as a maturing high schooler. You are raised to stop studying for mid-terms, take time off work, and wait in line — for no matter how long — to exercise your right to vote as a busy college student.

The America I grew up with is the same America that inspired me to dream for a better Egypt. It is the same America that pushed me to move across the country where I knew no one in order to pursue an international human rights career. It is the same America that has protected me, nurtured me, and given me the resources to become a fighter for everyone irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation, and political opinion, as I scream my lungs out at protests, spend my evenings postering columns, and fill my days chalking political messages.

But today, the America that has raised me is an America that risks losing what makes it unique. It is an America that is willing to consider the most infamous authoritarians as friends and role models. It is an America that is turning its back on those that have made it great. And it is an America that is dishonoring its founding principles by denying the promise of its dream to all.

So on this day, on January 25, 2017 as an Egyptian-American Muslim, I am broken-hearted and I am angry.

But I will not settle. I will not waver. And I will not mope.

I will continue to fight.

I will fight for the memories of those we have lost since January 25, 2011.

I will fight for the Syrian friends and loved ones who fill my life with color and purpose and give this country — alongside so many other immigrants — their all.

I will fight for the lessons I was taught, the principles embedded into me, and the traditions I honor dearly.

I will fight for both of my countries…for Egypt and for the United States, challenging them to rise above that which only promises to drag them down.