NY's Little Egypt Joins in Chorus of Cairo Unrest

Demonstration planned for Friday afternoon in Times Square

Steinway Street in Queens has become a stage for the rising chorus of Egyptian-American voices, raging to remove Egypt's president as they watch bloody scenes from Cairo unfold on Arab-language television.

They're part of the nation's largest community of Egyptian-Americans. Close to 60,000 live in the tristate area — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — and more than 21,000 of them in New York City, according to U.S. government figures.

Community members say there are actually more than twice as many here.

Some planned to show up for a Friday afternoon demonstration in Times Square, coinciding with what dissident forces in Egypt vowed would be intensified protests to push out President Hosni Mubarak.

On Thursday, as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians converged on Cairo for the tenth day of protests, New York's Egyptian immigrants sat in Little Egypt's coffee shops and restaurants glued to Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, the most influential broadcast network in the Arab world, and the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.

"Oh, my God — a police vehicle is driving over the people!" yelled Ahmed Fathy, a limo driver sipping traditional Arabian coffee from a glass at the Egyptian Coffee Shop in Astoria. "They're killing people. How come?"

He said his 11-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son are holed up in their Cairo apartment with his ex-wife, terrified. He was able to reach them on a landline telephone and told them not to go to school or out into the streets.

Fathy, 47, had been sending money to his children through Western Union until last week, when the government shut down communications, including cell phones and the Internet. Communication services have since been restored.

"Mubarak must go," he said.

It's not the first time that Egyptians in Astoria have taken a stand against a leader they accuse of repressing citizen freedoms. In the 1960s, hundreds of Egyptians fleeing the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser settled in Astoria, planting the seeds of today's community.

Nearly 200,000 U.S. residents identify themselves as Egyptian, according to the 2009 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. But this official tally of ethnic Americans is based on random samples and does not reflect the far larger Egyptian-American population, said Sherine El-Abd, a board member of the Washington-based, nonprofit Arab American Institute.

According to institute figures, there are at least twice as many Egyptian-Americans nationwide.

"The Egyptians in New York are the most influential in the country because we've been here as a community since the 1960s," said Hossam Abdel Maksoud, a businessman who has been visiting Egypt regularly to help modernize the country's pharmaceutical industry.

A native of Port Said, he started his Manhasset, Long Island-based American Pharmaceutical Consultants after immigrating here in 1984.

He's part of a New York community that includes Maged Riad, a Manhattan attorney and legal counsel to Pope Shenouda III, the Christian head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria. A New Year's Day suicide bombing in that Mediterranean port killed 21 people.

What's missing among America's Egyptians is a strong lobby in Washington, D.C., "to help the cause of Egypt, to get the U.S. to support political and social reform," Riad said.

He said he's concerned that if the Mubarak government falls, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood — now banned in Egypt — could take power. The Muslim Brotherhood calls for an Islamic state in Egypt.

Egyptian-Americans, Riad said, should have been making a bigger lobbying effort "to make sure the U.S. doesn't lose Egypt as an ally."

Maksoud said he and other U.S. Egyptians have raised more than $25,000 for the Coptic church in Alexandria, where the family of 58-year-old Ataf Abdul Rouse lives.

As a coffee shop employee in Little Egypt, Rouse helps prepare hookahs, the water pipes smoked by customers, as he watches the clashes in Cairo on TV.

"Every day, the mafia of the president kills my people; it's murder," he said softly, adding that he's afraid for his family back home: four sisters, three brothers and their father.

They had traveled to Cairo to visit a sister, and it's been too dangerous for them to return to Alexandria. Rouse said he didn't know if they were safe because he hasn't been able to reach them since last week.

But he was sure of one thing, he said, suddenly raising his voice: "This is the end, the end, the end! Mubarak must go by Friday!"

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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