By Lee Hermiston, The Iowa City Press-Citizen.
Last year, University of Iowa student Dan Olinghouse left for Egypt to study political science.
He ended up taking part in political history.
After returning to Cairo on Jan. 21, the Ankeny native took part in the protests that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s departure. From Iowa on Friday, he shared in the Egyptian people’s victory.
“I’m really excited for all the people in Egypt,” Olinghouse said Friday. “I’m really hopeful they continue to stick it out and get the things they need.”
“It’s kind of hitting me now. Not only did it unfold in front of me, I unfolded with it.”
A political science and Arabic student who is focusing on Arab and Muslim cultures, Olinghouse traveled to Egypt last semester as part of a study abroad program to immerse himself in the culture, history and language. The experience, Olinghouse said, was nothing short of amazing.
“It’s really hard, coming from Iowa, to wrap your head around some of the stuff you saw,” he said.
Olinghouse went home for the holidays and returned a few days before the political upheaval began. His flat in Cairo was just a few blocks from Tarhir Square, the epicenter of the protests. Olinghouse said he went to a café near the square on January 25 and when the protest began, he “jumped in,” taking videos and photos and participating in the protests.
It wasn’t until later that Olinghouse realized that history was happening around him.
“It’s kind of hitting me now,” he said. “Not only did it unfold in front of me, I unfolded with it.”
Then the violence escalated. Olinghouse said he was hit with a water cannon on a number of occasions when the police stepped in. The smell of tear gas and the sound of weapons firing filled the air. By February, Olinghouse began to think it was time to get out. After waking up to the sound of gunshots and seeing violence right outside his window, Olinghouse quickly grabbed his stuff, left a note for his roommate, made a dash to a cab and went to the airport.
Back in Iowa, Olinghouse said he was disappointed Thursday when Mubarak didn’t step down, but overjoyed when the 30-year dictator eventually left office.
“I immediately said to my brother, ‘I want to go back now,’” he said.
“It’s really hard, coming from Iowa, to wrap your head around some of the stuff you saw.”
Retired teacher and writer Hani Elkadi said Friday he is thankful his countrymen avoided the massacre he predicted would ensue following Mubarak’s initial refusal to leave office, but he said questions remain. Namely, he said, what’s next?
“This should not be the end of the road,” said Elkadi, who left Egypt more than 30 years ago. “This should be the beginning.”
Elkadi said it’s important that Mubarak is not replaced by an “American puppet,” adding he does not support former Vice President Omar Suleiman, Egyptian diplomat Amr Moussa or Egyptian Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei – one of the faces of the revolution.
“We have to make sure we’re going to get a leader that’s going to be selected by the Egyptian people and not imposed on the Egyptian people,” he said.