[Tunisia and Egypt 2012] Amanda Reeve on the Growth of Democracy in North Africa
It was late August 2012, and I was in the middle of a very challenging re-election campaign to retain my seat in the state legislature, when I received a call from ACYPL asking me to be a member of the delegation scheduled to travel to Tunisia and Egypt in December. To this day, I honestly can not tell you what possessed me to give my immediate agreement to travel to two countries that have just experienced revolutions and were in the very delicate and uncertain process of establishing democratic governments, all while still experiencing the occasional uprising and continuing civil unrest. Even in light of the attacks on American embassies that occurred in both countries a short couple of weeks later, I still found myself hoping the trip would not be cancelled.
The day we flew out of D.C. and began our trek to Tunisia and Egypt, I knew I was going to have an unforgettable trip. However, I was not prepared for the fact that this would also be a life-altering and eye-opening experience that I will not soon forget.
While in Tunisia, we met with students at the South Mediterranean University/Mediterranean School of Business. During our meeting a student asked us how they can make a difference in their country when they have no one to represent them, no one to be their voice. How is it possible that this student did not know the answer to her own question? It was the highly educated, unemployed youth that sparked the revolution in Tunisia, had successfully overthrown their oppressive government regime, and demanded their freedom and a democratic government. How can she not understand that she is her own voice; and that it was her voice, multiplied by the voices of others like her, that have made it possible for her country to now be in the midst of developing a democratic government?
The following week, we met with the Egyptian Democratic Academy, whose mission is to bring varying faiths and political parties together and encourage healthy discourse. One of our delegates asked the students to briefly describe the dreams they have for themselves and for Egypt. One of the female students was clearly uncomfortable with the question. She told us that it was not fair of us to ask her this question, because she didn’t know she had the right to dream for herself. She said she had never before even been asked such a question and has never been allowed to give way to such thoughts. I sat there in stunned silence with tears welling up in my eyes.
I constantly thought about these two moments throughout the remainder of the trip…trying to digest and understand what these two women were really sharing with us…trying to grasp the reality of their comments. Finally, aboard my flight home from the trip, it hit me like a ton of bricks…the gravity of it all.
Just as my plane was beginning to taxi out onto the runway, the flight attendant made the announcement that we were in the company of many of America’s great heroes as they head home to their families in Arizona for the Holidays. I looked around and realized I was surrounded by U.S. Military members from the Air Force, Army, and Navy. Everyone on the plane gave hearty cheers and resounding claps of joy in support for our military heroes…and it was in this exact moment that all the pieces of the puzzle that I had been collecting over the past two weeks formed to make a most incredible realization.
I visited two countries that were only just beginning to realize the full meaning of freedom, the ability to dream, and to be able to act on those dreams thereby making a difference in the world. Yet, I found myself in disbelief of being asked how one can make a difference without someone else representing them and being their voice. I watched a young female struggle to answer the simple question of what dream she has for herself. She struggled, not because she couldn’t make up her mind as to which dream she wanted to share with us; but because she had never been allowed the freedom to dream, nor had she ever been asked such a question. In the U.S., not only are we asked that question frequently; but are habitually advised, encouraged, and inspired to pursue our dreams. We are taught to speak for ourselves and for what we believe.
“In the U.S…” As I looked around at our U.S. Heroes, my head being flooded with the above thoughts, these three words gave me pause, and with it, clarity. I have always been so proud of the fact that I do not take my freedom for granted. Yet, the fact that I struggled to understand the realities being presented in Tunisia and Egypt proves that I am guilty of doing just that!
It is impossible to put a market value on all that is gained through one’s travels as an ACYPL delegate. I learned far more than imaginable about the culture, history, socioeconomic environment, and the quest for democracy in two very different countries in a short period of time. Yet, the reason I will treasure this experience above all else, is the fact that I discovered even more about myself.
This trip came on the heels of me losing my re-election and finding myself unsure of what I was going to do next. However, as I sat on the plane, surrounded by the very individuals whom safeguard that all-too-precious freedom for every U.S.citizen, I found my answer. ACYPL has added even more fuel to the already roaring fire I have in my heart and soul to continue working towards ever improving our great country. I can not imagine a reality in which I am denied the ability to pursue my dreams…and that is because our veterans have a way of reminding us, as they did me this day, that freedom is not free!