Cairo ‘Looks Like a Hollywood Movie’ to Egyptian Student in US

Ahmed El-Selawy came to the U.S. from Egypt in August to study political science and international studies at American University (AU) on a State Department Near East and South Asia exchange.

Ahmed works at VOA
Ahmed at work in VOA's public relations office

In the past few days he has watched his hometown of Cairo erupt into protests and chaos.

Ahmed, who interns at VOA, was nice enough to sit down with me and chat about what’s been happening back in Egypt, and what it’s like to watch it from here in the U.S.

Here is our fascinating conversation:

On finding out about the protests via Facebook

So I got those events and people saying, ‘We’re going to protest on the 25th of January.’ Everyone was so excited. That’s when I started to get a background on what’s going on in Egypt.

And then that’s how I followed it. The statuses of my friends, their pictures. Because a lot of my friends went to the protests, so their pictures, their videos, what they write – that’s how I was keeping in touch with what’s going on.

Until suddenly one day they disappeared and I discovered that the government just blocked everything – Twitter, Facebook and all the communication possible.

On trying to stay in touch with friends and family

I talked with my family, but not for a long time. My mom was like, ‘Everything is fine.’ She doesn’t want me to get worried or panic or whatever. So she told me everything is fine, everything is safe here. But I didn’t really believe her. So after the call instead of feeling better I felt worse.

People are just worried over there because there’s no police, no one is feeling safe, there is no order – it’s very chaotic.

About my friends – I just talked with one friend of mine. The rest I seriously don’t know how I could communicate with them. Because I couldn’t reach their mobile, because at some point I couldn’t even call them on cell phones. But now things are getting better – I heard Facebook is now working in Egypt today.

On feeling like he’s missing out on history

It’s very bad. I feel like people there are really making history. That’s what the next generation will be talking about. What’s going on, I feel like it’s a big thing. So I feel like I’m seriously missing out a lot of things.

I really wish that I was there. I guess I would have a better insight, I wanted to be with my family, with my friends to just live every day with them – day by day, moment by moment.

Because here when I see the news and what’s going on, I feel like I’m an outsider. Even when I talk with my Egyptian friends here in the US, the way we see it, we just don’t believe it.

We made some jokes about it because we don’t know how to comprehend that this is going on in our country. When we see tanks in Tahrir Square, in our streets, and what’s going on, we feel like, wow, that’s not happening. It looks like a Hollywood movie or something.

On teaching fellow students about Egypt’s politics

AU, they’re very political. There are a lot of politically active students. So everyone when they know that I’m Egyptian, they just discuss with me the politics, what’s going on there. Because they ask me who’s Mubarak, what’s the regime, what’s the problem, what’s the demand of the Egyptian people. Because they’re trying to understand what’s going on there.

So I try as much as I can to give them a simplified story of what’s going on there and what people want.

On what this means for his own future

When I came to the US I thought just studying here at American University, I tried to have a lot of experiences as much as I can from my classes, from my professors. I felt like the more experience and the more knowledge I’m going to take that will increase my probability of having a good job back home. So that’s what I tried to do.

I don’t know the impact of this uprising on the economy yet, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be so good. The employment opportunities will be less – much much less.

And I wanted to work with the government, actually. I wanted to work with the foreign affairs for my country. So I’m not sure how this will happen, how things will go.

It’s a very unpredictable situation, but let’s just hope for the best. Let’s hope when I go back home in May everything will be stable and my Egypt will be back again.


  1. Um, am I watching a WWII film, or did I just turn on CNN? I am so confused on why everything erupts in violence. It seems that people want to revolt, and that protesting is the only way “the people” will be heard. What about the people in power? Do they not hear? I guess not. I guess that is the problem in Egypt right now – the president hasn’t heard anything different in 30 years. Unfortunately, he has become so embedded in the Egyptian infrastructure, without him there may be a partial or collective political collapse. Didn’t I read somewhere that if we don’t know history, we are doomed to repeat it? This is not the first time in history this exact situation has occurred, and I am certain it will not be the last. What I don’t understand is why does it take people dying or getting hurt to be noticed? I find it interesting the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports the current president and present regime – why is that? Maybe because the US has established roots and is scared – like everyone else – about the changes to the leadership and infrastructure if the presidency changes. All I can say is that I am praying for the peaceful path to emerge, and for the Egyptian people to learn from their mistakes. I hope little blood is shed in this, but knowing from history, that is an unlikely wish.

  2. It would be amazing to see Egypt transition to a true democracy in my lifetime. I am very proud of the people who have courage to face tear gas, tanks, guns and not stand down. They are brave and I wish the Egyptian people the best.

  3. It is very annoying to see this clinching of power by the African presidents no matter the number of years the have ruled.It is becoming a routine and possibly if they do not change then the word democracy looses meaning in the black continent.As they cross the blue oceans to the west in plead of aid,they wear a sheep clothing but themselves are wolves and the greed,corrupt characteristic dominates their hearts.They protect the nobility in countries themselves limping economically and were they presidents of western countries?The problem comes in that they have seen the earlier leaders do that and escape the force of the law.They hire judges instead of advocates if brought before courts of law.To them watch out because Africa is not the Africa five years down!

  4. It is very unfortunate that majority of the African Heads of States are very greedy, corrupt, inhuman, heartless and ever blood thirsty. They will always want to be in power despite the level of vulnerability of their citizens.
    Whereas, apart from Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the rest of the devils resemble angels in the eyes of the Western world that keeps funding them to brim in order to perpetrate their evil acts. It is so sad. For instance, Uganda does not deserve even to be part of Common Wealth Countries anymore owing to the current situation. All sectors are doing badly, let alone the huge amounts of funds spent by government for bribes rather than for developmental programmes to help improve the lives of majority vulnerable citizens. The same semi-literate or illiterate majority poor citizens miserably sell their rights for sugar, salt and utmost Ugx 5000 in order to continue living as destitute. Simply because the vulnerable majority poor are kept in total ignorance as there is no civic Education to enlighten them on typical issues affecting them but only told series of lies during Election seasons which are so short to allow them discern any controversies.

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