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Let it spin

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CAIRO — It started out with Twitter.

The sun-shaped circle on top of my browser spun searching for service, but the website would not load.

Then Google.

The sun-shaped circle spun frantically, but unsuccessfully.

Then Facebook.

It spun. And spun. And spun.

Finally, after 72 hours of rumors and intermittent Internet access, the Egyptian government had completely shut down the Internet and all forms of phone communication.

It was a type of isolation I had never before imagined or experienced. The effects of blocking the Internet and phone services were endless.

How do you set a time for a group to meet for dinner?

How do you find out how many people have died in the protests?

How do you talk to someone living on the male side of the dorm (which girls do not have access to), let alone your friends and family from home?

It was a helpless, lonely, frustrating feeling.

As the reality that the government could actually do such a thing sunk in, for the first time in my life I truly began to appreciate the freedom of speech we have in America.

The right to vote.

The right to protest.

The right for newspapers to print without government approval.

These are all basic Constitutional rights that we’ve all read about in history class, and whether we think about them often or not, we appreciate them on some level.

But we have other rights, or maybe I should say basic privileges, in America that we so often take for granted.

The privilege to information, whether it is via the Internet or some other form.

The privilege to communicate, through phone calls, texts, Skype etc.

The privilege of money and networking.

In America, you can get almost anything you want if you can pay enough for it. And if that fails, you can probably find someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get it for you. 

The fact that such privileges did not exist in this Egyptian dictatorship was a startling realization. I could not pay any amount of money to gain access to my email account. I was not above the citywide curfew. I, like all Egyptians, could only be given access when president Hosni Mubarak said so.

The government’s complete control over communication mechanisms gave me slight insight into what living in a dictatorship was like. I didn’t like it. I felt like a child again and all I wanted was for my mom to say I could have a cookie.

I thought about what would happen if a leader attempted to enforce such a thing in America.

When Internet access first began to fluctuate, and access to social media websites was taken away, I joked with other study abroad students that taking away Facebook alone would be enough for a nation-wide revolt in America.

Or would it?

We have all these freedoms. But we don’t take advantage of them.

At dinner one night last week, a few study abroad students and I sat at the table discussing politics.  At least half of us had trouble naming our state’s senator or congressman, myself included.

I’ve never participated in a protest and I can’t think of one issue I would be motivated enough to protest against.

Don’t get me wrong. I have opinions and strong ones. But my rights have never been severely violated and I’ve always felt like I had a voice, so protesting has never seemed like the most effective tool.

I can’t claim to be informed enough about the situation in Egypt to take a stance either way. But I can say that I support giving everyone a voice, and if taking to the streets and rioting is the only way to get one in Egypt, I understand.

I also hope that America never has to resort to such measures to be heard. But coming from a country where millions of people don’t vote every presidential election, I’m inspired by the Egyptian people’s passion and tenacity.

And it is their passion and tenacity I am reminded of every time, through the window in my room, I hear the loud explosion I have become accustomed to hearing in the past week.

I pray that they are the sounds of tear gas canisters being administered, and not that of gunshots. And I think of the thousands of people out there fighting for what we so often take for granted.

By the time you read this, Egypt will have regained access to the Internet or I will have been shipped back off to the United States.

But for now, let the sun-shaped circle spin.