Many Americans remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot or when the Twin Towers were hit. For Egyptians, that moment is now, as the country pursues a pro-democracy movement, protesting in the streets until President Hosni Mubarak resigns.
On Friday, a crowd of all ages packed into Stiteler Hall to hear a panel discussion jointly sponsored by the Middle East Center, Center for Africana Studies, the African Studies Center and the Department of History on the popular uprising in Egypt. Penn faculty members Eve Troutt Powell and Ian Lustick were among those who offered their own experiences and reactions to the crisis.
The panelists offered unique perspectives on the uprising in Egypt, such as the impact of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the implications for women during this crisis and the safety of the people of Cairo in the midst of looting and chaos.
While the call for democracy in Egypt remains strong, professor Ian Lustick reminded the panel that "very few people say what they mean about democracy, and what democracy means for people is much more basic. It has to do with equality — equality before the law."
The symposium was followed by a question-and-answer session. One topic broached was whether or not students should be inspired by the movement in Egypt to take down institutions at Penn that they believe threaten democracy. Lustick reminded students not to "indulge in that kind of rhetoric, [and to] take that energy and put it elsewhere." Marie Brown, a School of Arts and Sciences graduate student who recently returned from Egypt, added, "We are privileged to be here, and we cannot take our freedoms for granted."
Many students who attended the symposium said they found it enlightening. College junior Sarah Haghighi came to the event because she is half-Iranian and very interested in the Middle East. "There's so much information out there. I wanted to get a framework to analyze the constantly unfolding events." She added that she felt the panel offered "new perspectives" on the issue.
College senior Blake Harden said, "I'm a political science major — this topic is an interesting and timely event, and I wanted to learn more about it."
The students were not the only ones who thought forming a framework on the uprising would be useful. "So many of my students asked me what was going on — even former students asked me questions, so we wanted to create a sense of community here where people can speak openly," Powell said.
Judging from students' and panelists' reactions, the symposium did just that.