To our friends in Egypt

Finally they recognized that we are not animals and they opened the internet I am fine as well as my family… me and my wife we are expecting she should deliver after 2 weeks …hope that things calm down wisely
Pray for us Deb

Oh, I am. I absolutely am, Ashraf. I think of you – you, and Nadia, and Dalia and Mohammed, and Magdy and more – in this week of increasing craziness and brutal government response in Cairo. I think and I hope and I make bargains with the universe if it will just keep my friends safe.

I’ve watched uprisings and protests in other countries before with the usual detachment one feels when it’s someone else’s country, someone else’s issue. Or that’s what we usually tell ourselves, as if it was happening on some other planet, as if it didn’t involve people who – just like us – want a decent life, dignity, respect for what they do and what they dream of doing.

Actually, I’m bargaining with the universe on that front as well. That you will prevail in these protests, this courageous and this heartfelt stand for a free and democratic country.

That this is your time.

I got the e-mail from you yesterday and it brought back to me a bright day in Cairo last July. I was meeting you and other local science journalists to help plan for the World Conference of Science Journalists. And you were worried that it was hot and I wasn’t drinking anything and you hurried off to get me some tea. And wouldn’t let me pay for it because I was your guest in your country.

Geez, that happened to me a lot in Cairo. The hospitality, the instinctive generosity. I stayed with my friend Nadia El-Awady at her apartment, displacing her sons from their bedroom. “You’re our guest,” they kept saying, when I tried to buy a gift, a coffee, a meal. “It’s your home,” they said, when I apologized for taking the boys’ room. And when I went shopping for gifts to take home to my family, Nadia and Dalia Abdel Salam bargained fiercely on my behalf. No guest of theirs was going to pay too much for even the smallest souvenir.

Nadia and Dalia are, of course, the co-organizers of the WCSJ-2011, due to be held this June in Cairo. I’m working with them as program chair, part of a bridge-building partnership between Arab and American science writers that dates back almost four years.

The National Association of Science Writers (NASW) joined in a partnership with the Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA) in 2007. It was an unlikely time to connect two such different groups. At the time, we were deep into George W. Bush’s insanely wrong and wrong-headed war in Iraq. We were determined to overcome that though. We thought we could learn from each other and we believed – I believed, Nadia believed – that we could learn also to trust each other.

We have, you know. I’ve been incredibly proud of my NASW friends and colleagues in this regard. They’ve contributed time and money, ideas and passionate commitment to making our partnership work. We brought the ASJA members to the United States and NASW members including myself have traveled to a variety of Arab countries – Qatar, Morocco, Jordan, Dubai, Egypt – to work with science journalists there.

But, oh, I’ve admired our ASJA partners as well. Nadia, Dalia, Mohammed Yahia, a blogger for Nature who manages the conference website, Cairo newspaper science editor Magdy Said and Waleed Al-Shobakky, current president of the Arab Science Journalists Association, and, of course, a quiet, serious newspaper science editor named Ashraf Amin, who sent me that e-mail this week. They’re amazing hosts, they’re united in wanting to raise the bar, to foster not just the conference but science journalism in the Middle East, and as you can undoubtedly tell from this post, I value them as friends.

I can promise you that I’ve worked hard on this conference, many people at NASW have worked hard – but our Arab partners have worked harder. They know much is at stake – if all goes as planned, this will be the first WCSJ in an Arab country, the first on the African continent, the first in the developing world.

And in the most selfish way, I want them to have that conference, exactly as planned, exactly as scheduled – a showcase for the talent, and intelligence and the passion for communicating science that exists in the Arab world. We all want that actually. The umbrella group for this conference, the World Federation of Science Journalists, issued a statement to that effect just yesterday. We’re still planning on it, by the way.

But I’m not bargaining with the universe about the conference at this moment. My hopes and thoughts and energy are directed at wishing my friends safe through a turbulent time. At despising the Mubarak regime and agreeing with our current president (Oh, I do like him so much better than the previous version) that the time for change is now.

Our colleagues, our fellow science journalists, our friends – the people of Egypt – deserve exactly what we fought for ourselves when this country was born in revolution – those same inalienable rights that we still name with just pride: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To quote the great Thomas Jefferson on that very point: “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Or as we like to say today: Let freedom ring!

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9 Responses to To our friends in Egypt

  1. Dear Deborah

    Thank you for you warm and wise text. I’ve been following your marvellous work first in the twinning association project and now when organising the World Conference of Science Journalists in Cairo in the end of June this year.

    Finnish science journalists (FASEJ) support your efforts organising the best conference ever. We also support Nadia’s and our other colleagues fighting for democracy and decent life.

    Let the dreams come true.

    All the best
    Vesa

  2. Mary Knudson says:

    A second to everything you said, Deborah. I hope the conference will come off as planned. But the most important thing is the safety of the courageous Egyptian people and their non-Egyptian friends who are now in the country, and the building of a real democracy. As your heartfelt words so graciously express, we wish for our Egyptian friends what we are so blessed to have. And I hope democracy and peace spread to all the mideast.

    Mary

  3. Deborah Blum says:

    Thanks so much, Vesa. The Finnish science journalist have been a wonderful friend and partner to the conference and to international science journalism. And you are exactly right – let the dreams come true!

  4. Deborah Blum says:

    You said this wonderfully, Mary. Thanks for writing and thanks, as always, for your amazing support of the right thing.

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  6. Ordinary Brazilian citizien says:

    It’s not other planet… It’s their land but our world, my home… fighting for freedom. =)
    I can’t do much from here…but I’m trying to bargaining with universe about Egyptian people, humans just like me, to get what they want and deserve!

    All my toughts and love with your friends and Egyptian people!

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  8. Joanne Clark says:

    Ashraf, we lost touch with each other since you went to London, but I have been thinking about constantly during these days of revolution. I am so thrilled for you and your country. You have shown the oppressed of the world the way.

    I am also thrilled that you are expecting a child. Please email me, my long ago friend and let’s reconnect. I send you a huge hug. Joanne

  9. Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this blog post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!