Pride, tears, joy: Egyptian-Americans celebrate Egypt's new beginning

In offices, online, and by phone, Egyptians across the US cheered events Friday in Egypt, as President Mubarak stepped aside. 'The tears kept gushing,' says one overjoyed Egyptian-American.

By , Correspondent

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    A woman has her face painted with the Egyptian flag as celebrations commence in Tahrir Square Friday following the announcement that Hosni Mubarak will step down as president.
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As Cairo exploded in jubilation upon hearing news of President Hosni Mubarak’s exit, Egyptians across the United States cheered alongside, through instant messaging, Facebook, and emotional phone calls to friends and family in Egypt.

As the news hit the airwaves, Egyptian-Americans report that they felt a range of emotions: disbelief, pride, but also concern over Egypt’s future.

“I will never forget this day,” says Noura Fadel, an Egyptian-born dentistry student in Rochester, N.Y. “For so long we didn’t have hope. Now we have hope.”

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Ms. Fadel, who grew up blocks from the Presidential Palace in Cairo, said she had heard rumors Mr. Mubarak might step down, so she spent the morning refreshing her Facebook page “every 30 seconds,” waiting to hear the news.

When she finally did, she says, “I called my mom [in Egypt], that’s the first thing I did, congratulated her…. I was in [the dentistry] clinic, I was crying, and they told me to go home … but I don’t feel like going home, I want to celebrate,” she says, continuing to send and receive text and Facebook messages as she spoke. She says her friends and fellow Egyptians across the world – Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Qatar – were celebrating and dancing in the streets.

“The first thing I’m doing, I’m going to the chapel to pray and meet my people, all the Egyptians…. We’ll get together and celebrate,” she says, adding that she will make kuneifa, an Arabic pastry, and distribute it to friends in congratulations.

In a mid-morning communiqué, Mubarak said he turned over all power to the military, and left the Egyptian capital for his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik. The announcement, delivered by Vice President Omar Suleiman on state television during evening prayers in Cairo, set off ecstatic celebrations in Cairo – and elsewhere around the world.

Soumaya Khalifa, an Egyptian-born American and founder of Khalifa Consulting in Atlanta, described the news as a miracle.

“What happened is beyond anybody’s imagination,” Ms. Khalifa says. “Everyone thought Egyptians were apathetic. That it happened in only 18 days, it’s a miracle.”

Khalifa said she woke up at 3 in the morning to check the news, but her husband told her to go back to sleep, “because nothing will change,” she says.

In the morning she heard the news on Al Jazeera.

“I started crying,” she says. “The tears kept gushing. I went on Facebook and put up a post and immediately people responded. The comments are still coming in, from all over world…. What was amazing was how everyone cared about what’s happening in Egypt, not just Egyptians,” she says.

Khalifa says she hopes the spirit that brought down the 30-year Mubarak regime will continue to propel the country forward.

“Democracy is not easy, but I hope that they continue on that momentum they have built and be able to select right leadership that is different than what they had … and make sure Egypt is a place for everyone – not for one ethnicity, one religion – for everyone.”

Groups in the Atlanta area that back the protesters had planned to hold a demonstration Saturday. Now, says Khalifa, the event will be a celebration.

“It’s very moving for me,” she says, choked with tears. “It’s amazing because the revolution has given people hope and dignity they were so yearning for and deserved.”

Legislators across the US praised Egyptians’ peaceful efforts for democracy and called for elections as soon as possible.

Vice President Joe Biden said Mubarak's resignation was a pivotal moment.

“It is a vivid demonstration of the times in which we live,” Mr. Biden said. “There are few generations that have an opportunity to bend history even just a little bit.”

Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada also congratulated Egyptians, but he cautioned against violence and said that the transition could be difficult. “We will be watching the situation closely,” he said in a statement. “We wish the Egyptian people the best in their next steps toward determining their own future under a democratic process.”

Tarek Saadawi, a professor at the City University of New York and a board member of the Alliance of Egyptian Americans in New Jersey, called Mubarak’s resignation “the beginning of a new era," and said it could set off a ripple of democracy movements throughout the region.

“After [Mubarak’s] disastrous speech last night, today is the beginning of a new era, for Egypt and for the free world,” Mr. Saadawi says. “It is a model not only for Egypt…. This revolution will spread across the Arab countries and gives hope to all oppressed and suppressed people.”

Saadawi, whose daughter is in Egypt and participated in the protests, says Egyptians have a lot of work ahead.

“The transition must begin immediately,” he says, adding that a document circulating in Cairo, the Tahrir Manifesto, has already addressed the next steps. Among them, he says, he wants to see parliament dissolved and a new constitution drawn.

Like many other Egyptian-Americans, Saadawi said Nobel laureate Mohamed El-Baradei is at the top of his list of viable leaders for Egypt.

“A lot of young people in Tahrir [Square] were inspired by him,” he says.

Reham El-Hennaway, a dentistry student in Rochester, N.Y., also mentioned Mr. El-Baradei as a potential future president, but she said, expressing concern about Egypt’s immediate future, that’s still a long way off.

“I’m happy but nervous,” says Ms. El-Hennaway. “I’m worried it might turn into Iraq…. I hope it doesn’t cause chaos.”

El-Hennaway, a Canadian citizen whose parents live in Egypt, says Mubarak’s resignation is a vindication for everyone who died in Egypt’s struggle. One of her own family members who was watching the protests was shot and killed when police started firing on the third day of the demonstrations, she says.

“[The protestors] were united, they stuck to their ground and didn’t go home, they showed their government and the entire world that they’re not going to be pushed over. It would have been a waste for him to give his life for nothing … the people who died in this revolution will be remembered for having made the change in this country,” she says. “I’m happy for them.”

Echoing the words of her countrymen here, she says she hopes Egyptians understand that democracy isn’t easy and change takes time.

“I’m worried that people are going to think that now that the government is changing, there’s going to be an overnight change in how the country is run. Change takes a lot of time, a lot of effort. People have to understand they have to work hard to make that change.”

And, she says, it’s not just the government that must change for Egypt to move forward; the people must change, too.

In Arabic, she quotes a line from the Quran, then translates, “ 'God will not change the condition of a nation until they change themselves.' I hope this will open the eyes of every Egyptian to act with the highest standards of ethics.”

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