Egyptian Americans around Southern California celebrate revolution in homeland [Updated]
Egyptian Americans around Southern California were jubilant Friday over the news that embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was stepping down after two weeks of national protests.
Angie Awadalla, 31, of Cerritos has been glued to the TV all morning watching the news and reading celebratory tweets from friends and family.
“I can’t believe it’s really happening,” Awadalla said. “After his speech yesterday, it seemed like [Mubarak] was so stubborn and disconnected from the people.”
Awadalla’s brother, Joseph Fahim, is an editor for the English language Daily News Egypt in Cairo. Fahim has been corresponding with Awadalla since last week about the sights and sounds of the protests in the streets.
The night after Mubarak inflamed protesters by declining to step down as Egypt’s president, Awadalla said her brother was worried that the demonstrations would turn bloody. Friday’s news resulted in a much different outcome.
“He says it’s like one big concert,” Awadalla said. “Just watching the power of the people to get him out in 18 days was amazing to watch.”
Awadalla came to Los Angeles eight years ago with a college degree in English literature when she encountered a lack of opportunities in Egypt for Coptic Christians such as herself.
Today, Awadalla said she’s already making plans to go out Friday night with friends who’ve been tweeting and texting their excitement over the news about Mubarak.
“Today is definitely a day for celebration,” Awadalla said.
Dena Elbayoumy has also been glued to CNN, Al Jazeera and Facebook for the last 2 1/2 weeks following every step of the swelling protests in her family's homeland.
The 31-year-old Yorba Linda resident woke up Friday morning and turned on the television to see Vice President Omar Suleiman announcing Mubarak had stepped down. She was in disbelief.
"I felt absolute joy just watching people celebrate in the streets and seeing that all their work had paid off," she said. "You look at them and you see your brothers, cousins and sisters."
Elbayoumy's parents immigrated to the United States in their 20s and she was born here. But she has many relatives who lived for decades in fear of criticizing the government. Some of them, she said, "gave up on the idea of a better Egypt and the idea that their voices could be heard."
She says the largely peaceful protests, and the resignation they brought about, mean the Egyptian people will finally have a chance to speak their minds without fear of reprisals from a repressive regime.
"The government was basically acting as a cloud over the Egyptian people," she said. "Now, the culture of fear is evaporating."
Elbayoumy said she, her friends and family will watch with interest as the country forms a new government. Because the protests were held by a diverse cross-section of Egyptians, she feels confident it will be a majority-rules democracy that will also ensure protection of minority groups.
"I don't think anyone is doubting this is a real transformation and that real reforms are on the way," she said.
[Updated at 12:20 p.m.: Susanna Khalil, 27, of West L.A., said she burst into tears after hearing the news on TV as she was preparing for work Friday morning. She remembers being shocked at her reaction, given that she would’ve been OK with Mubarak staying in power until September.
“When [Mubarak] made the announcement yesterday, obviously he was being stubborn,” Khalil said. “But I wasn’t angry. As a Christian, we were taught to have faith and hope that things will get better.”
Immediately after hearing the news of Mubarak stepping down Friday, Khalil sent out an excited mass text to friends and family.
“It’s pretty incredible. Egypt is far from being free and they have a long road ahead but the fact they were able to accomplish this is huge,” Khalil said.
At least one of Khalil’s friends who was raised in Egypt said he remains apprehensive about what Mubarak stepping down will mean for the country now that people must focus on dealing with the political structures of democracy.
Later Friday, Khalil and a group of friends and family plan to gather at her house for a celebration and round table discussion about Friday’s news and what it means for the people of Egypt.
“I’m having this round table to honor our different opinions,” Khalil said. “Even if someone doesn’t want to celebrate what’s happening in Egypt, we can celebrate our ability to disagree with one another.”]
Hosni Mubarak resigns, military takes control after weeks of upheaval in Egypt
Egyptian American stuck in Cairo after being placed on no-fly list is allowed to return home
Egyptian Americans throughout Southern California speak out about embattled Mubarak regime
-- Nate Jackson and Tony Barboza
Photo: People protest against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Feb. 5 in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Credit: Eric Thayer / Getty Images