Middle East revolutions reverberate close to home
Three young people with Tucson connections have direct insights into the turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia.
For one, it was her first day on the job in Tahrir Square. Another was participating in a study abroad program, and the third was moving back to her homeland after living in Tucson. None expected to find themselves in the middle of a revolution.
"She was very happy for the Egyptian people," said John Richardson, father of Andrea Richardson, a Tucsonan who was evacuated from Cairo on Feb. 1. Her first day working at the Egyptian Museum was also the first day of the protests.
Richardson, 24, had been living in Egypt for more than a year when the riots broke out on Jan. 25. "She was never concerned about the protesters," her father explained. It was not until the counter-protests began that she started to fear for her own safety.
The Egyptian Museum is located at Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Richardson's parents sought the help of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's office to get their daughter out of the country. A week after the protests began, she was evacuated to Istanbul, Turkey.
The protests reached a groundswell Friday as the crowds made their way to the presidential palace, forcing Mubarak to relinquish his power and leave Cairo. Crowd estimates range from the tens of thousands up to more than one million.
Nadia Hamrouni, 33, taught Arabic at the University of Arizona for five years. She moved back to her homeland of Tunisia in December.
"The lesson for the other Arab leaders is that they should just be aware that whatever they are doing is not going to last forever," she said. "They thought that by oppressing people, they would just keep their mouth shut, but that's not true."
Hamrouni arrived in the capital, Tunis, just when things were starting to heat up in that country.
"The riots spread all over the country, but mainly in the inner cities," she explained. "Not in the coastal cities because those are the more developed ones and least affected by the economical problems."
High rates of unemployment in Tunisia triggered the initial protests. According to Hamrouni, it was when the police got involved that the protests became more violent and the people began asking for political reform.
This same phenomenon was mirrored in Egypt.
"I go to the souq every day to buy groceries," said Noel Rivera, a 24-year-old Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Arizona. He was in Egypt to study Arabic.
"When you start seeing tanks every day in front of your house, when you see nine-year-olds carrying knives - that's when you say, 'I need to get the fuck out of here!'"
Rivera left Cairo last Friday morning, Feb. 4. He had been contemplating leaving for nine days, but when the situation became violent he made up his mind to leave.
Rivera lived in the edge of downtown Cairo, approximately a 15 minute walk from Tahrir Square. While on the streets of Cairo, an Egyptian gave him a shell casing which he kept as a souvenir of the revolution. On it was printed "Made in the USA."
Although it remains unclear what will happen in Tunisia after they ousted their president, Hamrouni does have some advice for the Egyptians.
"They should learn a lesson from after they get what they want, how are they going to use their freedom?" she said.
According to her father, Andrea Richardson is expected to be home in Tucson this Sunday. Rivera is in Norway but plans to return to Egypt early next week. Hamrouni remains in Tunisia. As of Feb. 3, the State Department aided in the evacuation of approximately 2,000 American citizens from Egypt.