Senior Ismail Shoukry narrates his life in war-torn Egypt
He had everything: a supportive family, a group of lifelong friends, a sport that he loved, and a country which he called home. It was the best time of his life—all taken from him in a heartbeat.
He woke up in the morning to the sound of loud, chanting voices moving through the streets of the Cairo suburbs. The people’s voices. Filled with zeal, he rushed out of bed and scurried through his home in search of his parents, hoping they would let him go out to protest with the rest of the chanting voices.
Finally reaching the streets, he found himself at the center of chaos. Anger. Violence. Military tanks. Chanting voices.
By 2011, the Arab Spring had reached the confines of Egypt. Civilians, inspired by the Tunisian rebellions, protested tirelessly against President Hosni Mubarak’s totalitarian regime in hopes of regaining freedom. Mubarak, after 30 long years of excessive power, resigned the next month. Unfortunately, Egypt was still far from escaping political unrest. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was democratically elected the following year. Despite this hopeful change in Egyptian politics, Morsi eventually followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and gained absolute power over the government, leaving the people enraged and hungry for freedom once again. Charged with rage and disappointment, the riots resurfaced and the voices began chanting once more—this time, with Ismail among them.
Were you scared?
“No,” he chuckled. “I was excited. I would beg my parents to let me go. I actually [used to] go on top of the military tanks in the middle of the street.”
For the rest of us, the stories of the Arab Spring revolutions were simply news headlines. For Ismail Shoukry (12), an immigrant from Cairo, Egypt, they were a reality. They were his life, and they forced him out of his own home.
“In 2011, there was the Arab Spring,” he explained. “It was basically the spring of revolutions that took place in all the North African countries. I was there for that, and that was basically one of the best times of my life. I got to experience so many things and participate in a lot of protests.”
This period of gratification and hope, unfortunately, came to a halt when the Egyptian military “coup d’état” took place in 2013. Years of fighting, marching, and chanting voices—all transformed into meaningless noise in a matter of days.
“A couple years later, the military coup happened,” Shoukry said. “And it was as if all the protests never even happened. I was pretty devastated.”
His life would never be the same after the coup. Even in the midst of the devastation and even after his country was in shambles, his most challenging encounter was yet to come.
“I was just living my life over there, and one day, my dad said, ‘We’re leaving, we can’t live like this,’” Shoukry stated. “[After] the military coup, the country was under a dictatorship. We didn’t want to live in that kind of setting. We wanted to go somewhere where there was freedom.”
It was decided: the 14-year-old boy from the Cairo suburbs was going to live in the “Land of the Free.” In the beginning, it seemed like the perfect place.
“At first, I was pretty excited,” he explained. “I’ve been to America for vacations before, so I had this idea that my life here would be like a vacation. It was only good memories here.”
Little did he know that the America he knew during his vacations was nothing like the America that he would soon call home.
“Once I actually moved, it was a lot harder. I had a culture shock,” Shoukry said. “Everything was different: different language, different way of living. It took a while for me to settle and know how things work around here. It was like everything [flipped] 180 degrees.”
This “American vacation” life that he envisioned seemed to deteriorate as he soon realized that he left most of his life in Egypt: his family, his friends, and his culture. It would all have to change if he was going to live and prosper here.
“In Egypt, that’s where I spent my whole life,” he stated. “I was very used to the language. I felt comfortable because I had friends that I basically grew up with. I had family there. I had my life set. Everything was set. But when I came here, it was like I had to start everything over again. I had to leave all my friends and family and everything.”
Despite this difficulty of conforming to the American culture, Shoukry was able to gain wisdom from the change.
“It was obviously different [from what I thought it would be],” he said. “Because when you’re living everyday life, you always go through hard stuff, and so I kind of got to the other side of it. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I got to grow from that experience of having to cope with such a shock in my life.”
Shoukry was able to adapt to the liberation and diversity of American life and gained plenty of insight from the different groups of people here.
“In Egypt, everyone is Egyptian,” he said. “It’s much more diverse here, so I got to meet a bunch of different people. Even though we’re all Americans, everyone has different backgrounds, so I got to meet people from Africa, India, all parts of Asia, and even South America.”
Although the country which he called home is miles away, the “Home of the Brave” is now his home as well. The Cairo suburbs will always be a part of him, but only as a memory for now.
Would you ever go back to live there someday?
“Maybe one day,” he expressed. “It depends on how my life goes. I’m going to go to college here, maybe get a masters degree, and maybe start working in a couple years. I’ll see how things go, and then maybe I’ll go back there.”