Notes from A Dialogue with Imma Vitelli
 
Monica Warek, NYU Florence Student
La Pietra Dialogues
February 13, 2012

The event started with a brief introduction by Executive Director of NYU Florence Ellyn Toscano followed by NYU professor Marcella Simoni.

Imma started the dialogue by briefly speaking about her experience in Egypt and her motivation for writing the book:

  • She described how what she saw and experienced was much different from her expectations.
  • She described seeing how much young people were struggling, how much everyone was struggling.
  • There was immense suffering, corruption and poverty.  People lived on $2/day in 2002.  When there is this much poverty how can people try to make ends meet and create a revolution? 
  • After Americans invaded there was a generation of youth who woke up and started doing amazing things.
  • The youth, especially the middle-class youth began writing and using social media to blog. They wrote about corruption, the police, and would post pictures of events.
  • No one expected middle class youth to be the ones reporting since they had generally good lives, felt they wouldn’t be the ones complaining, however they wanted civil rights and democracy. It was a revolution of human ethics, not to assert their power.
  • Imma wanted to know who these young people were and what their story was. 

The floor was then opened up for questions.

Questions were asked by a wide range of attendees varying from NYU professors, NYU graduate and undergraduate students, and citizens of Florence:

  • The 1st Question was asked by a women who was in Egypt at the time. She asked about how religious the culture was and the impact it had.
    • Imma discussed how yes Egypt is very religious and conservative and religion is the only strong identity and root that everyone shares but the ideology of the country is changing with the youth.
    • Political and religious Islam was the same thing and the Mosque was the only place a crowd of people could congregate without breaking a law and in Egypt the dynamics are the same
  • The 2nd Question was asked by PHD student: He asked about similarities/differences between Egypt and revolutions in Africa, like Libya, because the nations are very different but are going through similar situations.
    • Imma replied saying yes, both peoples are seeking a better life.  Both cultures have seen the trains passing by but couldn’t jump on.  People were getting married just to be able to buy a house.  People had no lives, no money.  There wasn’t any social justice.
    • When people would set themselves on fire, there was a common understanding as to why.
    • There was a realization that those actions of revolt meant more than their own lives.
    • She described an 18 year old who she interviewed who was put in solitary confinement for 2 months and who ate cockroaches in his spare time.  She?" asked "How did you not lose your mind and he replied “I did”
    • Corruption was the same in both countries, but Imma said the power centers were different.  In Egypt the army is in power and the revolution is still going on and that changing dictatorship takes an entire generation worth of work.
  • The 3rd Question was about the European Union’s role during the revolution
    • Imma says the EU did a little, it was not totally useless
  • The 4th Question was asked by a man from Lebanon who now lives in Florence.  He asked about the future of the Arab Spring and the hunger for democracy.
    • Imma replied that the people who made revolutions successful were the masses, the majority were middle-class or impoverished.  She talked to many people who were willing to die and to the youth who wouldn’t tell their parents they were going to rallies but they would keep their parents names in their pocks in case they died while fighting for democracy…. So yes very hungry for democracy.
  • The 5th Question was asked by a PHD student who wondered about the role of social media in the Arab Spring
    • Imma replied that Facebook was not censored because those in power believed the revolution would come from the poor, not the middle class who had and used computers.
    • The youth used social media heavily to share stories of children dying and being tortured by police.  They would make pages dedicating them to kdis who died and they received an immense amount of followers and attention.
  • The 6th Question was asked by an NYU professor: Who is going to pay for this?  What does it take for democracy to come together?  Where are the brave girls now who had “virgin” tests in public?
    • Imma said the people, specifically the youth realized that the price for freedom was very high.  We don’t realize how it feels to not have basic rights and what you would be willing to do to fight for those rights.  It’s too late to ask “was life better before” for the youth, they are too far into it and it’s not about that.  It’s about human rights, they were deprived of them and they will do anything to have them, something we have a hard time understanding.

The Dialogue ended with a small reception with food and drinks enabling event attendees and Imma to mingle further. 

                         
   

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