Former Tri-Citian witnesses revolution in Egypt

Valerie and Alan Wicks of Kennewick have a daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Gordon Barnes, living smack dab in the middle of the Cairo revolution.

"We were very concerned for their safety," Valerie said. "The fact she was there with her husband and many friends helped us to be much more comfortable. We also were able to talk with her twice a day via Skype (internet phone)."

Elizabeth teaches kindergarten at a nonprofit Christian school for foreigners who can't afford to attend larger, more prestigious private schools in Cairo. Her husband is a graphic designer from Scotland.

Elizabeth, a Southridge High grad, and her husband have been teachers in Cairo the past few years.

"Gordon and I met here, fell in love here and got married here three years ago," Elizabeth told the Herald via e-mail. "We left Cairo in August 2009 for a job in Mongolia. We loved Egypt so much, we came back this past November, so we've been here a total of about three years."

Their outlook of the country's revolution during the past weeks is one of admiration for the Egyptian people.

"This has brought the best out in people," Elizabeth said. "It was a bit scary, but still amazing to see such unity born out of strife and conflict.

"We are the only school still open in the city, although most of our staff has left. There are six of us diehard adventure junkies left who aren't willing to duck and run at the slightest sign of trouble."

And never once during the upheaval did Valerie Wicks wonder if her daughter preferred to be home where it was safer.

"If she did, she would be," Valerie said. "Both she and Gordon feel (Egypt) is where they should be, and they don't feel they're in danger."

There was a deep sense of comraderie among the people who formed protection patrols in the city's neighborhoods to ward off looters when police no longer patrolled, Elizabeth said.

"When the police were taken off the streets two weeks ago and the prisons were opened, Egyptians and foreigners took to the streets (together) to protect their families and homes," she said. "Gordon joined our street vigilantes (on those patrols) with homemade weapons.

"There were rolling pins, whips, samurai swords, cleavers, shotguns, Tasers, big sticks and pretty much anything else that could be used as a weapon."

There were frightening moments, she added, like when a looter was caught next door to where they lived and was beaten after he shot one of the neighborhood patrollers.

But when President Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down Friday and turned the country over to the military, the Barneses joined the victory celebrations.

"It was amazing to see how the city transformed in less than 24 hours," she said. "After Mubarak gave his speech saying he would stay until September people were angry. ... Then to be rewarded by having the president step down was ecstatic. The city erupted in a loud roar as yelling, shouting, fireworks, gunshots, drums and car horns began the celebration.

"We joined the celebration, dancing in the streets and shouting, 'Long live Egypt!' "

But even though liberation is sweet, there is a pragmatic air many people feel about Egypt's future.

"If the secret police are truly dissolved and torture is banned and the emergency law is removed, then, yes, this country would begin to get better," she said. "If there aren't new leaders who stand up and say, 'Yes, I believe in a better Egypt,' an Egypt that promotes free speech, freedom of religion, and free elections, then this entire revolution was for nothing, and things will just return to the way they were, full of corruption and bribery."

And no matter the future of the country, she added, "We are so excited to be here in Egypt, in the middle of history. We'll stay for as long as we can."

* Dori O'Neal: 509-582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com