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Egyptians in US already looking toward the future

Egyptians in US already looking toward the future
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Friday, February 11, 2011 - 5:13pm

NEW YORK – Waves of celebration rippled out of Egypt and washed onto America's shores Friday, with Egyptian-Americans already looking to the future after the departure of President Hosni Mubarak and his three decades of authoritarian rule.

Three weeks after protests began in Cairo and for a time seemed futile, Sherine El-Abd found herself sobbing with joy at her home in Clifton, N.J. A board member of the Washington-based nonprofit Arab American Institute, she predicted that the military in Egypt will "oversee a clean, democratic election."

"Listen, if the person with the thickest skin and the densest brain in the world — Mubarak — got the message the military gave him, the message is loud and clear," El-Abd said.

Ayman El-Sawa, an activist from Highlands, N.J., who has helped organize protests including one in Times Square, fielded more than 50 celebratory phone calls in just the first half hour after Mubarak shocked his homeland by finally crumbling and resigning.

"But we should celebrate with one eye — and keep the other eye open for the next step: We have to be sure the army agrees with all the people's demands and does not repeat history," he said.

Among the calls El-Sawa took at home was one cancelling a no-longer-needed protest on Saturday at the White House.

Instead, dozens of cheering Egyptian Americans waved flags Friday after noon prayers in Queens, and activists were organizing gatherings, including one at the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations on Manhattan's East Side.

Gatherings were also planned Friday in Dearborn, Mich., in the heart of the nation's largest Arab-American community; in Los Angeles; and near the White House.

Close to 60,000 Egyptian-Americans live in the New York area, according to government figures. Community members say there are really twice as many. Nearly 200,000 U.S. residents identify themselves as Egyptian, according to a 2009 survey by the Census Bureau.

Omar Zaki, a 44-year-old insurance agency owner who lives in Riverside, Calif., said he couldn't believe his eyes when he read the caption under the television images of jubilant protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

"I almost had to pinch myself," he said. He believes the movement will ripple throughout the Middle East, noting the old Arabic saying that Egypt is the "mother of the world."

"What happens there makes a significant difference," he said.

In Brooklyn, Khaled Lamada got news about Mubarak on his cell phone while walking to noon prayers.

"I feel great, I feel honored, I feel proud to be Egyptian," said the physical therapist, who is president of the Virginia-based Egyptian-Americans for Development.

He said he believes the Egyptian army will ensure that elections lead to democratic reforms. Though most army officers consider the outgoing Egyptian president as "their godfather" and don't wish to harm him, he said, it was Egypt's army that pressured the president to step down amid protests by millions of people.

El-Abd, who said she has spent years fighting to bring democracy to her native land, said she broke down while watching the news about Mubarak on television. Still, other changes were already on her mind.

Though Omar Suleiman remains Egypt's vice president, she said, "in reality, he's history."

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