On Thursday night, a group of students took over Baxter Hall in Paresky in support of the political protests unfolding in Egypt at the time.
The rally, dubbed “Ephs for Egypt,” was started by a committee of students and was created independently of any student group, although many of its members are also involved with Minority Coalition (MinCo) organizations.
On Jan. 25, Egypt erupted in a series of violent marches, demonstrations and rallies, in which citizens demanded the resignation of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Protestors justified the uprising, citing a lack of free speech and free elections, police brutality, high food prices and a stagnant economy.
The rally in Baxter Hall sought to educate students regarding some of these issues and the oppressive rule under Mubarak’s government.
In a statement read to the 30 to 40 assembled students, the organizing committee stated that “the protesters in Tahrir Square are demanding a better future for Egypt, and we support their right to choose that future.”
Despite seemingly anti-government language in the rally’s advertisements, committee member Mattie Feder ’13 stipulated that was “not the position being put forth by the rally … our main point is simply to support the Egyptian protesters.” She also pointed out that “the anti-Mubarak language that might be present in our advertising is the language used by the protesters.”
Following the reading of the committee’s statement, a number of speakers came forward, their words ranging in their adherence to the committee’s stated intentions. David Marsh ’12 spoke about social injustice and police brutality that he observed while studying in Cairo.
Christopher Holland ’11 expanded the discussion, citing a cartoon published in the Record on Feb. 9 titled “Claiming Egypt” as “offensive” and an example of the kind of injustice and prejudice faced by the protesters.
Holland went on to discuss the police and torture tactics of the Mubarak government, and he tied them to civil rights abuses in the United States.
Later in the evening, event organizer Haley Pessin ’13 delivered another fiery address in support of the protesters’ fight for freedom and democracy.
Other speakers with less prominent political stances also stepped forward. One such speaker was Emily Cook ’13, who asked for a moment of silence for the approximately 300 Egyptians who have died since the riots begun.
Omer Khalayleh ’13, Rachel Hagler ’13 and Azd Al-Kadasi ’13 delivered rousing recitations of Arabic poetry. Batool Khattab, visiting assistant professor of Arabic and a native of Egypt, and Magnus Bernhardsson, associate professor of history, also addressed students.
Given the mélange of speakers, the rally’s tone and spirit were varied. Fiery political rhetoric was punctuated by spirited poetry followed by loud, angry chants. The latter, often recited in Arabic and led by the assembled native speakers and Arabic majors, contained anti-Mubarak language that demanded the now-former president’s resignation.
Many who did engage in the event found it rewarding. One attendee, Nathan Schine ’13, said, “I get tired of people saying, ‘I can’t doing anything because I’m not educated’ … There’s a point at which you have to actually do something even if you aren’t 100 percent for [the cause].”
Schine also noted that, “Obviously I don’t agree with everything that was said. But I think that the overall sentiment was something that I can absolutely identify with.”
Interestingly enough, the rally had no “action” component to it, despite what seems to be a recent trend toward such events. There were no petitions to be signed or boxes for collecting donations. The organizing committee videotaped the event so that it could potentially be put online, but this was primarily to show the political activeness on campus.
The day following the rally, Mubarak formally stepped down as president of Egypt.
According to Feder, some of the Ephs for Egypt committee members may organize events concerning Egypt’s future, but she stipulated that many of the committee members, including herself, “simply wanted to express [their] support, but aren’t comfortable dictating a political stance on how we think Egypt should move forward.”