Revolution, or Grad School?

Shimaa Helmy (Photo:

By Ezra Silk

Last night, I drove south to San Jose to hear Egyptian Revolutionary Shimaa Helmy discuss the fact that American companies, with the help of the State Department, have been supplying tear gas canisters to the Egyptian military. The military is then using this potentially lethal stuf on Helmy’s friends.

Anyway, I found this bit of Helmy’s talk particularly inspiring:

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your personal transformation? Because it’s one thing to talk about externally getting involved with movements and activities organizing, but it’s a very personal journey, and I understand you have a degree, and you have probably personal ambitions, and what are some of your struggles with going into this?

Shimaa Helmy: Actually, before the Revolution started I wasn’t really proud of mentioning that I’m an Egyptian person. I would hide this in my university. My idea was I was just gonna leave this country forever. I would apply to grad school in the UK or the US. That’s why I did biotechnology in university, because I knew that I’m leaving anyways. In December 2010, I applied for an internship at a genomics institute in Cambridge, and I got shortlisted for the first stage and then the revolution happened and I had to drop my application, and I stayed in Egypt. So, I wouldn’t really imagine that I would ever do something like this, but after the revolution–

Noura Khouri: She went down there on the 25th to laugh at the–

Shimaa Helmy: Yeah, I didn’t really know that anything is gonna happen, you know? It was just I have so much [inaudible] and you feel like doing something related to what happened in Tunisia. But I didn’t really think anything was gonna happen. But still, I promoted the event on my Facebook pages, and when I came down I convinced my friends and my brother and my sister and me, and my life changed 180 degrees this day. I was detained by the military, I was in the middle of all of this craziness, I saw people getting shot and killed in front of me. I have never seen something like this in my life. So I left everything behind. I used to teach Arabic and translate. I quit my jobs. And I just invested my time and energy making this happen, because I knew that we are a minority. We are not a lot. We have, you know, the entire society is against us, we are fighting the U.S. government and the Egyptian military, and there are not a lot of people who are doing this. So, I’m still kind of like stuck in between whether I could pursue my education, apply for a grad school in genetic engineering, or just go back to Egypt. I mean, I’m still stuck in this actually.

Noura Khouri: A lot of her classmates didn’t believe her when she told them, for example, she was detained. And it’s hard to speak about these things.

Shimaa Helmy: Yeah. I mean, You don’t really speak in public about it. Most of my family members do not know much about my activity. They don’t really know that I’m here and involved in protests and Occupy and all this kind of stuff. So they don’t really know much about all of this. So, yeah it has been a big transformation on the personal level and it was tremendously overwhelming for me. And I’m just 23 years old, so it’s kind of hard.



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