Egyptian to S. Ogden students: We had hope, but situation is worsening

May 3 2013 - 11:59pm

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Sarah Nael, a native of Egypt and guest speaker this week at South Ogden Junior High School, gave student listeners an overview of her country’s culture and politics. (NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner)
Sarah Nael, a native of Egypt and guest speaker this week at South Ogden Junior High School, gave student listeners an overview of her country’s culture and politics. (NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner)

SOUTH OGDEN -- A visitor from Egypt talked to students at South Ogden Junior High this week, sharing beautiful images of a foreign land and views about a troubled political system.

Sarah Nael, 25 and a native of Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, first visited South Ogden Junior High two years back. After her talk, Nael returned home, just as political demonstrations and rioting began in opposition to the regime of Pres. Hosni Mubarak.

"The government was very corrupt," Nael said. "Mubarak stepped down 18 days later."

Nael was 24 the first time she voted, in an election that put Mohamed Morsi into office.

"I had never voted before because we all knew who was going to win," Nael said. "Mubarak was president for almost 30 years."

Nael spent the current school year studying at Western Michigan University, on a Fullbright Scholarship. She will return to Egypt next week. She has spoken to a few groups, but only returned to South Ogden Junior High. Nael's link to Utah is friends she made of University of Utah students who had traveled to Egypt as part of a study abroad program.

Nael asked the South Ogden Junior High students, most of them ninth graders, about their impressions of Egypt.

"Most of them thought it was full of pyramids," she said. "Most thought it was all deserts, just deserts with a few buildings, and people riding camels. I told them we also have a sea, and showed them pictures with lots of green, with people snorkeling, and with modern buildings. There are some pretty amazing neighborhoods, with amazing houses. Most kids have iPhones now, or Blackberrys, and its not that different. A lot depends on socioeconomic level, of course."

Nael showed students slides of Egypt's big cities, universities and cultural resources. She also talked about the 2011 uprising and revolution.

"When the police forces withdrew, people came out to protect their houses and each other," she said. "Curfew was at 3 (p.m.), and there were tanks in the street."

Nael said everyone was hopeful about the new president, but reform has not come.

"The president is not really that good, and we might have another one soon," she said. "It's worse than it was before we had a revolution. It was quiet for a long time, and people were very hopeful for a new beginning, a fresh start, basic rights. But the new president is not keeping up with any of his promises. It's going downhill. A friend of mine got shot in her leg recently. There is more violence."

Nael invited students who want to learn more to follow the news.

Paul Woodin, South Ogden Junior High media center specialist, said he jumped at the chance to have Nael back two years later, to talk about the changes in her country.

"I was impressed with her demeanor," Woodin said. "She seems so much wiser than her age, speaking four or five languages, having traveled the world. She is so humble, with all her experiences and all she's been through."

Woodin said it's hard to know how much information students will retain.

"I think they did get some of the politics involved, but their understanding may not be as deep as Sarah and the teachers might have been hoping. I did have students come in the next day saying her talks were really cool, and they appreciated the chance to hear her."

Woodin said some of the school's history teachers were moved by Nael's personal story.

"Jolynn Judd, who teaches history, was especially struck to hear Sarah voted for the first time at 24, and that there was no reason to vote any earlier. And I think the students liked hearing about how excited Sarah was to vote."

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