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My Revolutionary Friends In Egypt

— As the story of the Egyptian revolution has played out in the media I’ve kept an eye out for the name “Shaath.” It’s the surname of an old university friend of mine whom I visited in Cairo about 20 years ago. I was reading an article in the New Yorker last week when I finally found what I was looking for.

My friend’s name is Randa and her little brother, Ramy Shaath, was the one who cropped up in the article. The Shaaths are members of a politically active family whose patriarch, Nabil, has been very active and highly placed in the Palestinian movement for several decades. It seems that Ramy, whom I knew when he was a teenager, takes after his father and he brought his revolutionary fervor to the battle to oust Mubarak.

Here’s how he was described in the New Yorker:

Ramy Shaath, half Palestinian and half Egyptian, had studied war strategy at King’s College, London, and spent time in demonstrations in Lebanon and Palestine during the second intifada. His day job is as a management consultant, but he has amassed experience dealing with barricades and tear gas. “It’s a hobby,” he said, smiling.

One thing Ramy has learned is that when you have to face tear gas, “Don’t use water, use Coke to wipe your eyes.”

There’s some irony in that because it reminds me of when I took Ramy and his brother to a Minnesota Twins game and they refused my offer of a Coke, as I headed to the concession stand, because Coca-Cola had a plant in Israel. They both wanted a Pepsi, which was not available, but agreed to drink a Sprite even though it was a Coke product and therefore a Zionist beverage.

I explained the game of baseball to Ramy that day as he methodically asked me questions. Are the pitcher and the batter on the same team? They’re not. What happens when a player in the field catches the ball? The batter’s out and the next one comes up. By the sixth inning this 14-year-old Egyptian kid fully understood baseball and seemed to enjoy it.

I have a favorable view of Arabs because the Shaaths are the kind that I know, and they are kind, educated and dedicated. Generous too. Ramy sent me home with his Arab drum, a doumbek, as a gift. Best of luck to them and good luck to Egypt as it faces the challenge and adventure of becoming a free country.

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