Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Egypt, with hope

by Elizabeth Station


February 15, 2011

Nearly two years ago, while working on a story about an exchange program that brings Egyptian students to UChicago, I met a remarkable young man named Mahmoud Khairy. A student from Cairo University, he had come to Chicago to study economics for the spring quarter. Mahmoud was intense, intelligent, energetic, fun—and determined to seize every opportunity available to him, from classes with Nobel laureates to bike rides along Lake Michigan.

He also had a clear idea about what he wanted to take back to Cairo from his U.S. experience. In Egypt, a rising sector of academics and professionals had begun to call for economic and financial reform. “By studying here, I now have a more solid academic and professional background and I can join this movement,” he told me. “This new direction needs more push.”

After our interview, Mahmoud and I walked across campus together because we both wanted to keep talking. He asked me what newspapers I read and recommended his favorite sources for online news about Egypt and the Arab world. It was May, and he paused to admire the bright green grass and blooming flowers. He urged me to visit Cairo someday, and he kept in touch by e-mail when he returned.

As events unfolded in Egypt these past few weeks, many of us in Chicago wondered how Mahmoud was faring. Had he joined in the protests or watched from the sidelines? Given the outcome, was he optimistic or pessimistic about the future? The answer came a couple of days ago in an e-mail that I’ll never delete.