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The End of Osama bin Laden as Witnessed from Jordan May 20, 2011

Posted by Sharief El-Gabri in Fulbright, Jordan, Uncategorized.
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I woke up on Monday, May 2, to news of the successful Navy SEALs operation that killed Osama bin Laden. President Obama had given his historic speech some two hours prior. Just like all Americans I was taken aback by the news. My surprise, partly due to my still drowsy disposition, soon transitioned into elation.

It is not my intention here to judge the reactions of Americans who celebrated the announcement. I do not intend to speculate on whether or not this behavior is detrimental to our security and antithetical to our moral code. However, I must say that I am a strong believer in expressing emotion, as those close to me are well aware. Frankly, I wish I had been in the States. I did not interact with another American for the next 16 hours. Rather, I was left to contemplate the horrors of September 11, the consequences of being an Arab-Muslim-American, and how my life and the world have changed throughout the decade. I would be remiss to not retell my experience here in the Middle East following the news.

I need to stress that my experiences with the Jordanian population, particularly regarding this information, is only a sampling of the community and should absolutely not be construed as representing the country, the region, or the Muslim community at large. This realization is, in truth, the crux of the Fulbright experience.

Although I arrived to work in a chipper mood, I tried to suppress my obvious American sentiment. Most teachers and students had not heard the news due to the timing of the announcement. I briefly apologized to my boss for not shaving for I was consumed by the recent revelation. (We had assessments from the university.) She accepted my apology and took in the information of bin Laden’s death as if it were old news.

I found that as the days and weeks passed, most people did not discuss the news. This should not be surprising because Jordanians, like Americans, generally share the same aversion toward discussing politics in social contexts. Although, Jordanians have more political freedom than many of their fellow Arab citizens, debating politics is somewhat of a faux pas and may bring about unnecessary attention to the concerned parties.

Regardless of the social tendencies, however, the reaction from many following this international news was something I was naively unprepared for. I immediately became a representative of U.S. foreign policy over the past 10 years. The killing of Osama bin Laden reopened the floodgates of anti-American sentiment. Most of these conversations (all of which where in Arabic) criticized the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, drone attacks, and rubber stamp support for Israel (keep in mind that at least 60 percent of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin). I was surprised by most of these conversations because they usually started with our reactions to bin Laden and his death. Most of the time, when the conversation moved into a lambasting session of the United States, I would try to redirect the discussion toward this single event. I would express my agreement with some of their critiques but try to emphasize what bin Laden’s death meant to the West and to me.



Witness: A New Egypt March 17, 2011

Posted by Sharief El-Gabri in Fulbright, Jordan, Undergraduate.
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Revolutions, protests, and strikes surround me. The Arab world has re-awakened after 40 years of slumber and centuries of empty promises by its dictators and monarchs.

Sharief El Gabri with his cousin and friends

Sharief, along with his cousin and friends, participates in the "Day of Cleaning" demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

Two weeks ago I made a self-imposed pilgrimage from Amman, Jordan, where I am teaching English to ninth and tenth graders on a Fulbright U.S. Student fellowship, to Cairo, Egypt. Cairo is considered the heart of the Arab world. The city represents the region’s complexity and heterogeneous makeup, its poverty, and its insane wealth. I visit my father’s family in Egypt on a regular basis and lived in the bustling capital the past two summers. I consider Umm el Dunya (Egypt’s nickname meaning “Mother of the World,” referring to the world’s oldest civilization) my second home.

On January 25, the first day of the revolution, then simply labeled “protests,” I was at home in Chicago for a short break from my internship in Jordan. Four days prior, my family and I were expressing our affections while saying goodbye to my younger sister as she set off for a seemingly standard study abroad experience at the American University of Cairo.

As I observed the movement gain momentum and enter days of uncertainty and violence, my emotions went haywire. I was incredibly supportive of the demands of the people, yet I was fearful for my family. My cousins brandished golf clubs and rifles while they participated in their community watch efforts night after night for three weeks. I was also concerned for my family which lives a block away from the now world-renowned Tahrir (“Independence”) Square. I was and still am concerned for their businesses and Egypt’s economy as a whole. Yet all I could do was join rallies outside of the Egyptian Consulate and post incessant Facebook status updates.

Graffiti expresses desire for new president

Graffiti on this wall expresses the aspirations of those both young and old, "I want to see another president B4 I die."

When I talked to my father about the uprising, he originally expressed pessimism, echoing the voices of Middle East experts who were taken by surprise. My father’s disposition eventually brightened as the inevitable drew near. I truly believe that he could not envision the demise of a military government, which used its might for 59 years to harm my family and its people and to suppress the aspirations of its loyal citizenry.

I returned to Amman, Jordan, with less than a week left of what remained of the former Egyptian regime. I received warm receptions from most people, expressing their love of the Egyptian people’s bravery. This was quite a transformation. Prior to the revolution, Egyptians were portrayed as submissive (5,000 years of non-democratic rule will do that to you). Such the same is now being said of those paying the ultimate price in Libya. Of course February 11, the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down (or was it a people’s imposed coup d’état?) was filled with jubilation and astonishment. I rushed to the Egyptian Embassy with my roommates to celebrate and relish the moment with a crowd of some 6,000 – 7,000 people. (more…)