As the blows and electric shocks, the taunts and degradations rained down on him, Khaled Abou el Fadl never imagined that the perpetrator of his torture — the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — could ever be shaken.
Now, more than 25 years later, the UCLA law professor is awestruck and incredulous that the people of his native land have risen up in the biggest demonstrations ever against Mubarak and a government that seemed, for three long decades, all powerful and all pervasive.
“I never thought I would live to see this moment,” Abou el Fadl said, as he scanned Al Jazeera news coverage of the uprising during an interview at his Van Nuys home this week. “It is a historically transformative moment.”
As the revolt has transfixed the world, scores of Egyptian Americans throughout Southern California have also joined the call for the embattled Mubarak to step down.
They have demonstrated at the Egyptian Consulate in Los Angeles. They are fasting in solidarity with the protesters. They have written missives of support for the people, including Nobel laureate and Caltech professor Ahmed Zewail, who returned to Egypt this week and is widely seen as a leading candidate for a post-Mubarak government position.
They have stayed glued to their TVs and computers in search of news and flooded the phone lines with calls to loved ones.
And they have begun to dare to hope that freedom, at last, will come to Egypt.
“People are just fed up,” said Mokthar Shawky, a Santa Ana business consultant who fled the repression of another Egyptian strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Everyone wants him out.”
Suliman A. Suliman, a Los Angeles area banker, left Egypt a year after Mubarak took control and his government began cracking down on students protesting the country’s economic misery. After two of his friends were arrested, Suliman — then a high school student — left.
The current protests have stirred in him a sense of deja vu, but this time he believes they will actually transform the government. Suliman, president of the Los Angeles-based Society of Egyptian Americans, said he would be open to allowing Mubarak to step down at the end of his term this fall so long as his corrupt government officials were swept out and genuinely free and fair elections were held.
“Change is coming,” Suliman said. “Today or tomorrow — change is coming.”
But Angie Awadalla, a Cerritos fashion designer, said she can’t wait for tomorrow — she wants change now. Awadalla has joined a three-day solidarity fast called by Southern California members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. She is also posting information about the uprising on Twitter and Facebook accounts, funneled to her from her brother, editor of the English-language Daily News Egypt in Cairo.
Awadalla came to Los Angeles eight years ago with a college degree in English literature when she encountered a lack of opportunities in Egypt for Coptic Christians like her. Some Muslims, she said, would even refuse to shake her hand.
But even as she fears an Egypt taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist organizations, she said the status quo was unacceptable.
“He needs to go,” she said of Mubarak. “The country is falling apart.”
Like many others interviewed, Abou el Fadl said he has barely slept since the demonstrations began two weeks ago. TV images of government vehicles mowing down protesters and officers spraying high-powered water hoses at people prostrated in prayer have haunted him, stirring memories of the brutality he suffered in 1985.
He was a Yale University student back for a summer visit when security police picked him up at a mosque. With no explanation, they held him and tortured him for days, he said. They taunted him with pro-democracy poetry he had written, but even today Abou el Fadl does not know exactly why he was picked up. Maybe, he says, it was part of a terror policy to instill fear in people through apparently random targets.
Now, 25 years and what he estimates are tens of thousands of political prisoners later, it is long past time for the world to support the cries for freedom in Egypt, he said.
“If you put a price on liberty, the Arab people, Egyptians included, have more than paid their bill, because they’ve paid it in blood and suffering,” he said.