Earth Day turns 45 years old this week. Tia Nelson’s dad is rolling over in his grave.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background.
Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Well, I grew up in Cairo until I was eighteen years old, and then I moved to college in the United States.
Q: Where did you go?
Kouddous: I went to Duke University. I thought I wanted to be a banker, and so I studied economics and philosophy. And I did become a banker for two years after college.
Kouddous: Yeah, I went to New York, and I was an investment banker with Bank of America Securities in its leveraged buyout division.
Q: What was that like?
Kouddous: I hated it.
Kouddous: I hated the culture, I hated the work. I very quickly realized that this wasn't what I wanted to do. So, after two years, I took some writing courses -- I always loved to write -- and I figured the only way I was going to get paid to write was in journalism. I really wasn't very involved politically with anything up until that point. Then I started reading about the second Palestinian Intifada, and I spoke to friends in activist and journalism circles. Then, somehow by complete luck, I ended up at Democracy Now.
Q: Take us to Egypt. How did you decide to pick up everything and go over there?
Kouddous: Well, I was actually in Park City, Utah, covering the Sundance Film Festival. I had heard that there was a protest planned for January 25, which is National Police Day. For many years, a small number of people were willing to risk going to such a protest. They would be quickly surrounded by ten times the number of security forces. They would be frequently shoved into police vans, and sometimes they'd be beaten. Then they would be taken out to the edge of Cairo and left in the desert to find their way back.
So I expected that's what would happen again on Tuesday, January 25. I was very wrong. People were inspired by the uprising in Tunisia a few weeks earlier that led to the ouster of President Ben Ali, and thousands of people for the first time in Hosni Mubarak's regime hit the streets. People that I would never have imagined, including friends of mine, cousins of mine, who were completely depoliticized, but were fed up after so many years of this regime. They were tear-gassed, and the state really tried to force them back. I watched all of this on TV from Park City very closely, calling people and finding out what was going on. Then, on Thursday, I heard there was a huge protest planned for Friday. This was what they called the Day of Rage. It's the day Muslims go to pray communally, at noon. It's a very good organizing tool because everyone's in the streets at a coordinated time. My cousin Hamad called me -- I'll never forget it -- and he said, "Cousin, tomorrow, we're overthrowing the government." And it sent a shiver down my spine.
Q: I read your dispatch from your first day. You said that you landed in a country completely different from the country you knew.
Kouddous: I was three years old when Hosni Mubarak came into power. I've lived under Hosni Mubarak nearly all my entire life. Even before he stepped down, I knew this wasn't Hosni Mubarak's Egypt anymore, and regardless of what happened, it never would be again. A fear barrier had been broken. And once that barrier was broken, it would never be built again. People knew that they had this power, that they would not be pushed around again. There was just this fearlessness and determination.
Q: Where do you see things going from here?
Kouddous: Well, Mubarak was the glue that held this very leaderless and organic and very pluralistic mix of people together. Now that he's gone, there's a lot more debate and division about what happens next, which is healthy. We're essentially still under military dictatorship right now. The military rules the country. It can issue laws by decree.
Q: That's ironic: You have a revolution, and then essentially it's handed over to the military.
Kouddous: Right, I tend not to call it a revolution yet. I call it an uprising. We'll see if the revolution succeeds.
This is but a small excerpt from the interview with Kouddous that appears in the May issue of The Progressive. To read the whole interview, and the entire May issue, simply subscribe to The Progressive for $14.97 -- that 75% off the newsstand price for your year's subscription. It's easy: Just click here.