Videoconferences Revealed Egypt's Desire for Democracy Well Before Protests

Dr. Roberta Fiske-Rusciano recalls discussions between students from Rider and the American University of Cairo, from 2004 to 2009.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Many Americans witnessed the Egyptian protest movement suddenly and drastically unfold on their television sets, computers and smart phones once it began on January 25. Millions tuned in as the revolution, inspired by something as complex as a revolt in Tunisia and as simple as a Facebook page, swept across the Arab nation and eventually forced Hosni Mubarak to step down from his presidency on February 11.

Egypt’s demands for democratic reforms of its political system were evident years prior to the recent demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, according to Dr. Roberta Fiske-Rusciano of Rider University’s Global Studies. In fact, the desire for a civil society was an underlying theme during countless videoconference discussions between her students and students from the American University of Cairo (AUC), from 2004 to 2009.

As part of GLS-285: The Student Global Village®, Rider students maintained a continuing dialogue with students from AUC. Fiske-Rusciano remembers sitting in the back of her classroom while the students discussed the future of Arab-United States relations, ways to deal with the problem of terrorism, concepts of terrorism, how to bridge the gap between rich and poor nations, and concepts of a civil society.

“For five years, one-and-a half-hours per week, for 12 weeks, our classes discussed frustrations while engaging difficult issues. One Egyptian student said, ‘How can we here in Egypt discuss civil society? One student here was just imprisoned for posting a blog!’” Fiske-Rusciano recalled. “But they did and the distance between civil society and both our countries produced a challenging and fruitful conversation. As one AUC student said, ‘The East and the West need each other. Sometimes the governments get in the way of peace, and peace is too important to leave up to governments.’”

Fiske-Rusciano said the partnership was developed by a contact who recommended Dr. Ibrahim Saleh from the Mass Communications and Journalism Department at the American University of Cairo to her. The two instructors communicated by e-mail as they planned the videoconferences, exchanged ideas, and discussed large themes. In addition to facilitating the videoconferences in Cairo, Saleh visited Rider as a guest speaker in May 2007.

Fiske-Rusciano and Saleh have continued their correspondence during the Egyptian protests, and Saleh has recently been in touch with Rider students who participated in the videoconferences.

“He is not surprised that this has happened in the cities of Egypt, as he has published several articles on the inevitable results of Mubarak’s policies,” Fiske-Rusciano said. “As an expectant father, he has recently written to me that now his son will be born in a free Egypt.”

Fiske-Rusciano, who is currently facilitating videoconferences between students from Rider and Kufa University in Iraq, expressed her views on the situation in Egypt.

“I am extremely proud of the young men and women who began this movement, and all the people who supported them,” she said. “However, I am concerned about who shall replace this regime and when.”

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