Home » An Egyptian in America muses on the future of his country

An Egyptian in America muses on the future of his country

CORNWALL — Mohamed Elserafy is not into politics. But it’s difficult for him to not get into it when talking about the past year in Egypt. He may have spent half of his 19 years here in the United States, but his heart belongs to the country where his parents were born and where all but his immediate family remains. Those family members are struggling with the daily perils and longterm uncertainty of the aftermath of a revolution. Elserafy, a sophomore engineering major at the University of Connecticut, spent last summer with his family, in a small city about two hours south of Cairo.“The longest I ever stayed in Egypt was a little under two years,” Elserafy told a small crowd gathered at the UCC Parish House in Cornwall to hear him speak on Sunday morning, Jan. 8. “You may question my qualifications to speak about Egypt, but I was brought up to comply 100 percent with the culture,” he said. “No matter where we lived, my parents packed up Egypt and took it along with us. I have been told countless times that I am more Egyptian than the people who live there.”He was invited to speak to the adult education class that meets after worship service at the church. Members of the general public also attended, and all were armed with questions that demonstrated knowledge of both history and current events in Egypt. But mostly their questions showed a strong curiosity about life and religion there. Elserafy made a good impression with his tall, handsome appearance and excellent public speaking skills. His prepared words were brief, leaving ample time for questions. He has lived in the Northwest Corner since 2000, and was the valedictorian of the class of 2010 at Housatonic Valley Regional High School.He was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where his parents sought jobs not available in their repressive homeland. Egypt had already spent more than a decade under the regime of Hosni Mubarak. “All rights and liberties were taken away,” Elserafy said. “The economy, education and living conditions plummeted. Eventually, the gap between the upper and lower class became so wide the middle class completely disappeared.” He was unsure about his anwers to the more detailed political questions, saying he doesn’t often keep up with the latest. He is concentrating on his studies, and has no plans yet for where he will live after college — beyond wherever a job will take him. But being unerringly polite, he duly answered as best he could.He talked about the massive demonstration and overthrow of the government on Jan. 25, which began in part with students organizing through Facebook and Twitter.Activism thrived in the anonymity of the Internet, and at one point during the revolution, the government shut down Web access.Last summer, Elserafy, who is fluent in Arabic, observed a “whole new attitude.”“They have finally realized, after 32 years of repression and poverty, that the country belongs to them. One of the first things they did was organize crews to clean up the streets. They worked with each other to protect their cities with their bare hands. The people who stayed in their homes provided food and water and weapons to those on the streets. Many people put their lives on the line to stop the thieves and drug dealers. They took the country back, from cleaning streets to stopping criminals and gunmen.”The prisoners who escaped when the police withdrew were mostly organized against each other in gangs, he said, but many innocents were hurt in the “careless shootings.”Egyptians are taught English, watch American television shows and read a lot about American culture. There are many that Elserafy describes as very smart, maybe geniuses.“They would love to come here and work hard. They would do well.”The intricacies of his dual citizenship fascinated many in the audience. He is registered with the Selective Service here. In Egypt, men are required to serve at least three years in the military, exempt only by physical restrictions; if they have no male siblings; or they maintain an allegiance with another country. Elserafy does not plan to give up his American citizenship. He values highly the opportunities he has here, especially when it comes to education.It seems perverse that a country that so revered education and philosophy in ancient times now has one of the worst school systems in the world. Parents send their children to school, then spend time and money getting them to tutors so they can actually be taught something.Elserafy travels on his American passport. His Egyptian passport expired when he turned 18. To apply for a new one, he would need paperwork to prove his military exempt status.At airports, he is usually profiled and delayed several hours. Once, heading for Egypt, he suffered through a customs ordeal when his name was confused with someone who has swine flu. That experience put the “routine” delays into perspective.What Elserafy, his family and other Egyptians hope for is the chance to continue to move forward.The country is in the middle of a series of elections as the people work to establish a government.“There are a lot of rational candidates and their campaigns show they are not going to ruin the country with extremist religious law. People are voting for them.“We are all just concerned for our country, watching to see where it will go in the end. We are hoping that people just live happily and corruption just leaves us alone.”

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