Eyewitness to Revolution
life in the
While pro-democracy demonstrators gathered in Tahrir
Square in downtown Cairo in late January, Earlene Gentry
’ 71 was gathering firewood at her home in a suburb. She
was preparing to help her neighborhood watch group set up
barricades to keep away looters and thugs.
The 18-day revolt against the corrupt authoritarian government involved citizens of all ages, genders and classes and
succeeded in forcing President Hosni Mubarak from power
on Feb. 11.
Gentry said that life in Cairo — where she has lived for
more than 30 years with her husband, Atef Khalifa ’ 71, a
professor emeritus of statistics and demography at Cairo
University — continues to be unpredictable and even scary.
“There was hope in the air during the first days. Some of
my former students said it was very exciting, even exhilarating,” said Gentry, who works with Teachers of English to
Speakers of Other Languages and has written for an Arab-German trade magazine. “There were lots of bathroom
jokes. People were knocking on the doors of downtown
apartments asking to use the bathroom because who brings
a bathroom to a protest?”
Then things got rougher as rivalries developed among the
Power blackouts contributed to lawlessness. Criminals
stormed abandoned police stations, freed inmates and then
roamed the city looting and burning. Gentry described how
ATMs were stolen and how people were blocked from leaving workplaces until jewelry or bribes were handed over.
School buses were stopped and the children forced to pay
any money on hand or anything else of value.
For safety reasons, Gentry and her family left their apartment in downtown Cairo and relocated to a small, fenced-yard house in a neighborhood of 6th of October City, about
15 miles from Cairo. As Gentry followed the news, she
stocked up on oil, sugar, flour, dried beans and rice —
enough to last her family for about two weeks and ride out
Although far from the chanting crowds, Gentry’s family
coped with cell phone outages, no Internet, closed banks,
and gas stations and markets that were open only sporadically. Her daughter, Dalia, a pediatrician, worked unpaid double
shifts at the nearby hospital because other doctors could not