UT professor Brian Barber has found himself in the wake of Egyptian protests and social unrest.
As the director and founder of the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence on campus, Barber shared his research and accounts Tuesday night in the International House Great Room. "From Rally to Revolution: Inside the
Minds of Egyptian Youth Activists" was sponsored with the Middle Eastern Student Association and the Issues Committee, drawing a diverse crowd.
"It was the collective whole of thousands of people together that ... bound me to the experience of this moment that uplifted the entire nation and united them across all sectors of society," Barber said.
Barber, who arrived in Egypt in February 2011, had followed news reports from the nation prior to his arrival, but said experiencing the turmoil first-hand was incomparable.
"Being on the ground that first evening in the square with hundreds of thousands of people and seeing their joy was indescribable," he said.
Barber was referencing the moment on Feb. 18 when former president Hosni Mubarak departed from his position. Barber now travels to Egypt every few months.
"To us it's important to get past the dramatic moments and see what day to day life is like and how it progresses over the long haul," Barber said. "And in this case, unfortunately, it's a very painful one."
Barber's research focuses on protesters he interviewed while visiting Tahrir Square. One particular woman named Kholoud was highlighted, explaining how she was a timid woman, but now finds herself shouting on the streets in protest. Kholoud also saw herself as a reformer, not a revolutionary. In his lecture, Barber pointed out the difference between the two. A reformer is one that wants to tweak the current government structure, while a revolutionary believes the structure of the government must be dismantled. Kholoud now views herself as a revolutionary after seeing the brutality of Egyptian policemen.
A few demonstration videos that Barber shared included a protest from November 2011, which showed toxic cans thrown by the Egyptian policemen. Barber explained that the policemen were former allies of the youth but are now enemies alongside the Egyptian military.
The police released an invisible gas that was more harmful than the cans, Barber said.
"I'd never want to experience that pain again," he explained.
Amira Sakella, a freshman and logistics major and member of the Middle Eastern Student Association, enjoyed the event.
"I like how Dr. Barber's studies are so personal with the youth there, and I'm Palestinian and have cousins that seem so similar to the kids he was talking about," Sakalla said.
"It makes me want to learn more about it because even though I'm Middle Eastern," she said. "I haven't studied the revolution."
Sakalla also said that in order to get to Palestine — where her family lives — it's necessary to enter through Egypt and knowing what's happening there is important.
Other topics that Barber brought up differentiated between layers of identity of those in the region. He said unity that is resulting from a shared cause is unfolding.
Barber is also a technical adviser to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. His trips are funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Jerusalem Fund and the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health. In addition, he teaches child and family studies and psychology at UT.
He currently has published two books on political violence. The event was free and available to all students.