On Wednesday, April 11th, CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab spoke at Chicago-Kent College of Law at the panel “The Arab Spring: Bringing Down Dictators.” During his half of the presentation, Rehab narrated his first-hand experience of the revolution in Egypt for students.
Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Muslim Law Student Association (MLSA) hosted the event.
“We really wanted people to understand the situation in the Middle East,” said MLSA President Eyad Tabahi. “There’s been a lot of interest on the topic, and a question that seems to come up a lot is ‘what’s going to happen in the Middle East with all this Arab Spring?’ We wanted to give people a chance to become more aware of the revolutions that are going on – what the goals are, where they’re going, and how it’s going to impact the United States.”
Rehab recounted for students his own experience on the ground in Egypt during the revolts in January of 2011. From protests coordinated through social media websites such as Facebook, to attempted crackdowns by the government, including a mass communication blackout of phone services and Internet services, Rehab recalled the final culmination of Egyptians gathering at mosques around Egypt on the eve of the revolution.
“Muslims naturally congregate in huge numbers at the thousands of mosques in Cairo and other cities in Egypt. We have to credit the mosque assembly on Friday for the Arab Spring,” said Rehab. “Part of the reason the Arab Spring was the Arab Spring is because you had this natural mobilizing and aggregating factor already there in society.”
As protestors continued to push their way into Tahrir Square, Rehab recalled his first encounter with tear gas.
“This was the first tear gas bomb canister I had ever experienced,” said Rehab. “And it’s not a very pleasant feeling. Basically all your senses are more or less disabled. For some reason you can’t hear well, you’re choking, you’re eyes are watering, you’re itching. All you can do is sit down and let time pass.”
And as Rehab neared the end of his presentation, he expressed hope for the future.
“The revolution continues. Today, Egyptians have a voice. Today, regardless of where you are, you can express that voice. The wall of fear and silence has been broken,” he said. “So long as we have this open mode of communication, we’re going to get there sooner or later. Revolutions don’t happen in a few months.”
Also featured in the panel was Professor Khalil Marrar of DePaul University. His presentation included a look at the multi-causal factors that influenced the various revolutions within the region, and what made revolutions so successful for some countries such as Tunisia, as opposed to countries that are still struggling in the aftermath of the Arab Spring such as Egypt and Syria.