Arm in arm
Egypt's large American diaspora is galvanised to contribute to building a new homeland for their compatriots, says Anayat Durrani
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Egyptians gathered near the United Nations headquarters in New York celebrating Mubarak's resignation following 18 days of protests
There is power in numbers. Egyptians proved to the world that a popular uprising can take on an apparatus of repression and corruption and triumph. While the brave demonstrators remained steadfast in their commitment to unseat 30 years of rule by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, thousands of miles away Egyptian-Americans lived every moment in solidarity with their brethren. There are at least 200,000 Egyptian- Americans according to US Census figures. Other estimates put the number closer to two million.
Once the news broke of Mubarak's departure, said Tarek Saadawi, an Egyptian-born professor at the City University of New York and board member of the Alliance of Egyptian Americans, "the Egyptian American community exploded in happiness and joy. We attended demonstrations in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles supporting our brothers and sisters in their struggle for freedom, social justice and their aspirations for a democratic Egypt."
In San Francisco, native Egyptian Mohamed Salama, assistant professor at San Francisco State University, organised and participated in rallies, using "all kinds of technology", including Facebook, to get the world to support the Egyptian revolution. He spoke at rallies, wrote articles, had radio and television interviews and moderated panels at the university. He was also among 3,000 scholars in the US who signed a letter to President Obama urging his administration to support Egyptians in their quest for democracy. "My work in the US as an active advocate for Egyptian democracy is far from over."
For Sherif Zaafran, president of the Egyptian American Society in Houston, Texas, the past several weeks have been "a roller coaster of emotions". Up until the last day when it looked like Mubarak would not leave, "our Facebook discussions were filled with outrage at the stubbornness we had just witnessed."
Los Angeles-based Egyptian-American Angie Awadalla monitored the news and was constantly on the Internet keeping track of the latest developments. Then the news came that Mubarak was stepping down. "I was tweeting and Facebooking like a mad woman, reading everyone's comments, watching CNN to make sure it is really true," said Awadalla, who moved to the US from Egypt in 2002.
She called her brother in Egypt who was out in the streets celebrating. Awadalla said even though she saw the images on TV of Egyptians celebrating, it didn't sink in until she talked to her brother. "When I called him and heard it over the phone I couldn't help but cry. I wanted to be there so bad," said Awadalla. "It was truly a moment where I felt that I'm proud to be an Egyptian and even more proud of people my age voicing their opinion and in a cause that they truly believed in."
The resignation of Mubarak was a historic moment that thrilled Egyptian-Americans as they celebrated a change many felt would never come in their lifetime.
Zaafran, who travels to Egypt once a year, said he "jumped with elation" when he heard the news and immediately changed plans to demonstrate in front of the Egyptian Consulate to join in celebrations with his fellow Egyptians.
Many Egyptian-Americans left for the US because of high unemployment, poor living conditions, and to escape a repressive and corrupt regime. Salama said no matter where Egyptian expatriates live, Egypt has always remained in their hearts. Those Egyptians who left home, he explained, "did not do so because we hated it, but because we love it. We had to choose between two difficult options: to be exiled at home, or to be at home in exile." Now, he said, there is hope for all Egyptians to live in dignity in their own homeland and added that Egyptians should never lose sight "of the wonderful possibilities that the future holds for our children in a free democratic society".
Awadalla said the beauty of the revolution was that it brought communities and people together; rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, educated and illiterate. "I think the New Egypt is going to be the best in the history of our whole civilisation. After all, we built the Pyramids and now have had a peaceful revolution that the whole entire world will keep talking about."
Egyptian-Americans have already begun serious discussion about how they can contribute to the process. "There are many talented Egyptians all around the world, and we feel it is our duty now to help in the process of rebuilding," said Zaafran. "We are now in the process of organising ourselves to help by gathering our talent pool, coming up with specific goals, reaching out to our friends in Egypt to find out what are their short-term needs, as well as their long-term needs."
The one thing that is universal among Egyptians, at home and abroad, said Zaafran, is their "tremendous national pride in being Egyptian that many of us felt was lost". Zaafran said he hopes to channel this renewed energy towards helping the building process in Egypt move forward. "We are so immensely proud of what the youth have done in Egypt, and we will not let their efforts go in vain," said Zaafran.
"After more than half a century of oligarchic rule, with no tolerance for civil dialogue, no freedom of expression, my fellow Egyptians now yearn for a bottom-up reform so that the revolution achieves its aims and becomes an example to other countries," said Salama. "We have inspired the world and made it possible to see idealism and hope triumphant over cynicism and the status-quo. History begins for Egypt now."