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Q&A: Omar Hagrass, UO grad and Egyptian citizen on activism in Cairo



Omar Hagrass graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012. As an Egyptian native, he moved back home upon earning his degree in political science and now works as a financial analyst at CI Capital. Hagrass was one of many Egyptians who took to the streets and successfully oust Hosni Mubarak from the office of the president in 2011. His parents passed away June 20 in a car accident, otherwise he would have been in Tahrir Square protesting Mohamed Morsi’s presidency as well.

Hagrass recently chatted with the Emerald about the Egyptian political movement. Quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Emerald: Can you describe the atmosphere in Egypt from late June to early July? I saw stark contrasts between the atmosphere in Eugene and Cairo: In Eugene there were celebrations for the Fourth of July and Egyptians were celebrating democracy in action.

Omar Hagrass: Well, my parents passed away on June 20th in a car accident. Protests started 10 days later, on June 30. I didn’t really have enough time to join the protest and take care of family issues. I participated in the demonstrations but on a low scale. If everything was to go as planned, I would’ve stayed in Tahrir Square for no matter how long until Morsi was ousted. I did it before when Mubarak was our president.

The general atmosphere was very positive. The stock market skyrocketed the other day and people were actually happy by the revolution — not a coup d’état as foreign media call it. Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood has strong ties with certain citizens who actually went to the streets to protests the military declaration. That said, compared to the numbers of people who went to the streets on June 30, their numbers are incomparable.

Emerald: How is Egypt different now compared to when you left for school in Oregon?

Hagrass: It’s a lot different. Eugene was beautiful, calm, green, small, academic and so forth. Cairo is the exact opposite. It’s beautiful but never calm, there’s a lot if pollution. It’s a gigantic city, and since I started work it’s not as fun as when I was in school.

Emerald: You were here when the Occupy and Tea Party movements were at their respective heights. Any comparisons you can draw between civil unrest in the states and in Egypt?

Hagrass: There’s not much similarity. I remember checking in on the sit-ins and knew that the Occupy movement would not draw enough attention — youth were not playing a strong enough role in it.

In Egypt the middle class and the upper class were the stronghold of the demonstrations. I didn’t see many wealthy people joining the movement in Eugene and when it happened, take Kayne West participating in New York for example: he started making money out of it by selling shirts with his name on them. This was not the case here.

Emerald: What were your personal thoughts of Morsi and his time in office?

Hagrass: I believe he was a puppet. I voted for him just to avoid voting for an old regime loyalist, Ahmed Shafik. At the beginning, he took a few good steps and showed good will. But as time went on, it was clear he was trying to kill political plurality in the country and extend the Muslim Brotherhood’s power. The constitutional declaration Morsi set up in November was an alarm that things were going the wrong direction. It was one of the main reasons why people went to the streets on the 30th.

Emerald: Any lessons we can learn in America from the civic activism in Egypt? Why should we pay attention to something happening so far away?

Hagrass: America is the strongest economic and military power on Earth. People of America, in my opinion, do not know that American foreign policy is so messed up that it actually prohibits democracy in many countries. A good example would be the backing of five successive administrations to Hosni Mubarak, a dictator who did not allow any form of democracy to occur in Egypt.

People around the world have no problems with American people.

We — Arabs — actually love them. On the other hand, we despise how American administrations insist in meddling with our internal affairs.

I am not an expert in American politics but I can assure you that activism plays a very important role in the society. It will always work as a social judge to the government, raise awareness, reveal corruption and so forth. I believe that civic activism is taking important steps forward but is still missing major factors that could make it stronger and really influential.


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Eder Campuzano

Eder Campuzano

Eder is the Emerald's director of audience engagement. His work has appeared in The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal and the News-Register in McMinnville. He was also a founding member of the University of Oregon's competitive Pokémon league.