Protests stir pride, optimism among Southland Egyptians

As looting began last week amid major political protests in several Egyptian cities, and the police disappeared from the streets, Ahmed Alfi started to look for a way out of the country. The 54-year-old venture capitalist, who lived in La Cañada Flintridge for 36 years before moving to Cairo five years ago, chartered a plane scheduled to depart Friday.

He never made it to the airport.

“The tear gas was so bad you couldn’t even drive through it,” Alfi said.

He tried again Saturday, leaving his home at dawn, beating the crowds and eventually securing a seat on a flight to London. Now, Alfi, like thousands of Egyptian expatriates and their children, is carefully following the protests from abroad. And like many, he is proud of what he sees.

“What is happening today is something unique in the last few decades in Egypt,” Alfi said. “All Egyptians have always loved Egypt, but they haven’t always felt that Egypt belonged to them. People are feeling empowered now; they have demonstrated together for their rights and have stood guard together over their homes and families, and they are responsible for Egypt now. It is theirs.”

Even as embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced Tuesday that he would step down after nearly 30 years in power, Egyptians said they were already looking forward to a bright future for their nation, starting with a fair and transparent election.

“If America could help and make sure all of the ballots are cast in a proper manner, and there is no cheating, it would be the best thing,” said Mark Attallah, 26, a Glendale resident and first-generation Egyptian American.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who serves on the U.S. Intelligence Committee, said he hopes for a peaceful change in leadership, but expected Mubarak, whom he’s met several times, to cling to power.

Seeing tear-gas canisters stamped with “Made in USA” being fired into crowds made him cringe, Schiff added.

“I think we should be doing everything we can to support the democratic aspirations of the people,” Schiff said. “I would like to see even stronger statements of support from the [Obama] administration … The U.S. needs to be on the right side of history.”

Attallah said he has maintained some communication with relatives in Cairo who have largely remained at home, venturing out only in the early morning to buy groceries.

“Everyone is just fighting for their lives,” Attallah said. “Much of the population is under 30, and they want their rights. They have all graduated and have degrees, but they can’t find jobs. They can’t live like that anymore.”

Glendale resident Ramy Hanna, 29, was born in Cairo and moved to Southern California when he was 9. The recent medical school graduate travels to Egypt frequently, and is in regular contact with family and friends there.

He has followed the demonstrations closely, and said the calls for government reform in Egypt show political maturity. Egyptians see the value in the separation of church and state and recognize science and progressive thinking as the way forward, Hanna said.

“For the first time in the country, people my age, who I went to school with, who have been fighting to make a life for themselves, those people are forming a democracy,” he said. “And it is proof positive to the United States that maybe democracy was the best weapon all along.”

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