Women

06.29.13

Nanas for Revolution

Octogenarian Egyptian expats are urging their cyber-savvy grandchildren to get involved in the protests against President Mohamed Morsi.

Nelly Fahim moves swiftly across the living room, pouring steaming hot tea into two cups on the large red oak coffee table that accentuates the space. She sits on the sofa, peering briefly at the Pacific Ocean before excitement and frustration takes hold. For an 87-year-old woman, she is active and lucid and, she says, she has found her calling.

“I might not be on those social-media things that the young people are using these days, but I am, what is the word, plugged in, to what is happening in Egypt,” she tells The Daily Beast this week, ahead of the massive demonstrations planned for Sunday in Cairo, to protest the one-year anniversary of President Mohamed Morsi’s inauguration and the Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power.

For Fahim, who has grandchildren back in her native Egypt, the chaotic situation has hit close to home. And she wants to make a difference.

“I have been telling everyone I know about this new Tamarod group and the petition to impeach Morsi. I went to Egypt a few months ago to get a new national ID and signed the document because we need to continue the revolution,” she says, referring to the opposition grassroots movement, whose name means “Rebel” in Arabic.

Activism, she admits, is not something she ever believed would be part of her life again, after having been a “feminist during the women’s liberation movement here in America.” But today, two and a half years after the January 2011 uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak from power, activism is now at the forefront of her mind.

“For me, this is about change and creating a country where all of us Egyptians can live in peace, but it is a close topic because my three grandchildren are living in Egypt and they are women and we all know the struggles facing them today,” Fahim argues.

Fahim, who left Egypt after the 1952 military revolution that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, believes the situation facing the country is eerily similar to the early years of the Free Officers Coup.

“People were excited back then and today it is no different, but people know the cost of allowing oppressive dictatorship [to take] control. And I believe that supporting Tamarod and street action is the best way to create that change our youth wanted and started in January 2011,” she says.

June 30 is fast-approaching, and tensions are growing back in Egypt, where opposition groups and conservative Islamist parties—including Morsi’s Brotherhood—are battling for public approval. Tamarod has called for the impeachment of Morsi and an end to what they have repeatedly described as oppressive measures aimed at “Islamizing” the country. For his part, Morsi made an address to the nation on Wednesday night to denounce the opposition and warn of a “return of the old regime.”

The grassroots movement, which began last April, is behind the petition calls, and it seems to have taken control of the political scene in Egypt, galvanizing both street action and creating a media frenzy aimed at debating the future of the country. Millions of people are expected to take to the streets across the country on Sunday in a revival of the 2011 revolutionary spirit.

Fahim is not the only elderly Egyptian woman taking note of the happenings in her native country. Mona Hassan-Williams, an Egyptian-American woman who came to San Francisco in 1967, also is putting out the call for change and throwing her support behind Tamarod.

“We must make this happen or we will all face the ugly future of Islamic fascism and the return of Mubarak-style policies,” says the housewife turned ardent news follower.

“In many ways, the past two years has given me hope that Egypt can be different and can be a better place for all people, but we have to continue to fight against the tyranny of one group against others,” she continued, referencing the Muslim Brotherhood.

For Hassan-Williams, 76, the future is now. She knows the urgency of change all too well, seeing her family leave the country over the past four decades. But now, just like Fahim, her grandchildren have returned to Egypt and “they are really part of the activism right now.”

She wants to see change that will last. And Tamarod, she says, will be the outlet to make that a reality.

“We saw in the past two years the fracturing of the opposition and all these voices wanting to be heard, but now, for the first time, the majority are coming together to create ways all Egyptians can have their country back,” she added.

Like Fahim, Hassan-Williams has been calling her friends and family and is urging them to sign the petition in order to “end oppression in Egypt.”

Both women, while growing into their later years, are fervent in their newfound devotion to the cause and believe that they can help bring about concrete efforts for change in the new Egypt. Time will tell, but to these women and others like them across the world, who have rekindled their activism spirit, June 30 is to be a momentous day inside Egypt and out.