Former Fort Worth resident returns to front-row view of history in making in Egypt

Posted Sunday, Aug. 05, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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Mary Thornberry is watching history being made - again.

The former Fort Worth resident, who made national news last year after being trapped in her Cairo apartment by defending herself during violent political protests with a rolling pin before ultimately escaping the country, returned to Egypt earlier this year.

Now she finds she has a front-row seat to watch more history in the making, as a new Cabinet is being put in place around Mohammed Morsi, the first freely elected president in Egypt.

As many Egyptians experience power outages and a lack of running water, and frustration is growing, officials are promising that Egypt's new Cabinet will create a "people's government" amid worries that Islamists will dominate governmental power.

While the 78-year-old remains "incontrovertibly" glad she's back in Egypt, happily living in her tiny apartment near Tahrir Square, she has concerns.

"Copts especially are on tenterhooks as well as are women's groups, liberals and middle of the roaders," she said in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram. "Garbage, lack of police and general insecurity that does not get in the paper, thuggery, and so on still goes on."

Concerns about freedom

Thornberry said it feels safer in Cairo now than it did during last year's political protests against then-President Hosni Mubarak that included violence in Tahrir Square, such as attacks on news media and protesters throwing Molotov cocktails from rooftops.

Now, "Midan Tahrir remains THE place for gatherings on Fridays/Pray Days after the noon prayer and everyone is fired up," she said. "We remain relatively civilized here."

Thornberry said she doesn't think the new regime -- at least for now -- will create better living conditions for women in Egypt.

"If things go as verbalized by [the] Muslim Brotherhood, then the impact will be catastrophic," she wrote. "Depending on whose version of Sharia ... is followed will determine the full damage."

She said she fears honor killings will rise, as will "absolute control" being used by heads of families.

She said fewer women may participate in politics, and some women's freedoms may be restricted.

Maybe they won't be able to travel unless they are accompanied by men in their family; maybe some won't get permission from men in their family to leave their homes at all. "Religious police" may even roam the streets to enforce dress codes and report violations to police.

Even though Morsi has said he will name a female vice president, Thornberry doesn't believe that will happen. If it does, she said, the appointment would merely be "a scrap of paper. It will take two or more generations of reculturization before any semblance of full rights could blossom."

Looking back

Thornberry and her husband, James Derrick, lived in Fort Worth for about 20 years. James, who has since died, worked on the crew of a KC-135 aerial-refueling craft, and she was a nurse. She moved to Egypt about 15 years ago to study ancient Egyptian history.

She became a focus of the national news last year for defending herself and her Cairo apartment with her "armory" of a rolling pin and kitchen knife -- and for managing to leave the country to find safety

Her son, Phil Derrick, had alerted U.S. news media to his mother's plight last year as violent political protests trapped Thornberry in her apartment building.

Derrick, a former Grand Prairie resident who teaches at a high school in Cle Elum, Wash., asked for someone to help his mother, who couldn't leave her apartment building, much less the country, to seek safety. For days, she was believed to be the only tenant left in her apartment building overlooking Tahrir Square as activists took over the building.

Alone, she stood guard at her front door, preventing people from entering by using her "armory" to hit the hands reaching through shattered glass to unlock her door. Ultimately, an Egyptian man who works for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo helped Thornberry leave the building -- dressed in traditional garb, including a long skirt and hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women -- and travel to the airport, where she got on an evacuation flight.

After spending months at her son's home, she went back to Egypt to live earlier this year. Derrick has told the Star-Telegram that he wasn't surprised his mother returned to Egypt.

"She was determined not to be run out of the place," he said. "She dearly loves the place."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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