What a great week! Well, at least for an Egyptian living in New York. Several young Egyptian activists who helped plan the protests and were prominent participants in the revolution that toppled the 30-year-regime of former President Hosni Mubarak were here this week.
It started off on Monday with Jon Stewart's interview with political activist Gigi Ibrahim.
The infamous Wael Ghonim was also in New York. Ghonim was on top of Time Magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The 30-year-old former Google executive created one of the key Facebook groups which called for the January 25 protests. Two days into the uprising he was arrested by state security and disappeared for 10 days. His TV interview after his release is often credited for reigniting the protests.
Last but definitely not least Ahmed Maher and Waleed Rashed of the April 6 Youth Movement. The group was a key contributor to the revolution. I had the pleasure of meeting them. They told me incredible stories about the meticulous planning for the protests, including sending teams with stopwatches to calculate the time it would take to reach Tahrir Square from different points in Cairo. The group was featured in a Frontline documentary ''Revolution in Cairo."
U.S.-Made Tear Gas
The U.S.-made tear gas used by Mubarak's security forces against the peaceful protesters was a recurring theme. It was mentioned by Ibrahim on The Daily Show. Rashed even brought some tear gas with the "made in the U.S." on it to show to audiences during his presentations.
The young activists were critical of the U.S.'s long support of Mubarak. Some were also wary of its present and future role. "The U.S. only supports democracy when it serves its interests," said Rashed. Ghonim recently tweeted a statement that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made three days into the uprising saying the U.S. "wishes to maintain its partnership with the Egyptian government."
April 6 Denies Getting U.S. Support
The April 6 movement is also taking the visit as a chance to refute information about receiving U.S. support prior to the revolution, as published in a New York Times article on April 14, based on a Wikileaks document.
"This is our revolution," insisted Rashed. "Was Mubarak a friend or an enemy of the U.S.?" he asks sarcastically, hinting that the U.S. would not have supported an uprising against the former president.
Not Scared of the Islamists
The fear of the role of Islamists in the new Egypt was also a recurring question.
There seems to be agreement on two things when it comes to the political Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned under Mubarak's regime: they have the right to be part of the process and they are not as powerful as many believe. "They are like any Christian party in Europe. They can't be dangerous if there is a strong political system and constitution," said Maher of the April 6 movement. He adds that the group was attractive during Mubarak's regime, as it was a way to reject the existing system, but now there are other options.
Many analysts believe the group would get between 20 and 30 percent in the parliamentary elections.
Marketing A Revolution Through Taxis
Some of the most intriguing information I learned from the April 6 movement was on how they "marketed" the January 25 protest.
In addition to using social media, graffiti and distributing flyers, they resorted to other creative tactics to spread the word. Anyone who's lived in Egypt knows how chatty its taxi drivers are. The April 6 movement decided it was an asset to be used. The group sent teams to ride cabs. Instead of directly telling the driver about the protest, they would start talking about it on the phone, knowing that the driver was listening and would pass on the information to other riders.
Now What? Maher: 'Worried And Optimistic'
Maher admits there are challenges facing Egypt, but is optimistic that the country will get there in time -- two to three years, he estimates. As for the April 6 movement, it won't become a political party and will not join one, but will be a "political pressure group." Maher said they will work on raising political awareness through campaigns like the "Know Your Right" one they have launched. He said the group would support candidates, but right now it's "more interested in the how and not the who."
Ghonim recently announced he was leaving Google to start an non-governmental organization to "help fight poverty and foster education in Egypt." He spoke passionately about his project at the event this week.
It was energizing to get a taste of what's happening in Egypt here in New York. I sensed tremendous dedication, focus and determination that I feel will ensure a bright future for Egypt.