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Feb 8, 2011 5:30 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East End Residents Affected By Uprising In Egypt

Feb 8, 2011 5:30 PM

As the call for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak grow louder by the day in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and throughout the ancient North African nation of 80 million, its echoes are beginning to reverberate across the East End.

Local residents with ties to Egypt spoke this week of pride in the uprisings that have rocked their native country for more than two weeks. At the same time, they voiced concern about the lack of a viable opposition to Mubarak, who has reigned for 30 years. Meanwhile, East End residents who were living or traveling in Egypt when the uprisings broke out now find themselves back on the East End somewhat unexpectedly. Images of sword-wielding men and mobbed airports are mixed with their recollections of pyramids and the steely skyscrapers of Egypt’s largest cities.

Last Friday, Dr. Medhat Allam, a surgeon who lives with his family in Southampton Village, logged in to the video service Skype to speak with relatives in Cairo. Ever since the Egyptian government restored internet service last week after abruptly shutting it down during the peak of the protests, his laptop has served as his most reliable portal from his North Captains Neck Lane home to the Old World.

Dr. Allam, a native of Alexandria, who left Egypt as a 27-year-old in 1988 to escape the oppression of the Mubarak regime, said his goal is to get his sister, Mona Allam, her husband, Nehad Gaber, and their 13-year-old American-born daughter, Noha Gaber, out of the chaos. So far, they have met only roadblocks. Only one parent may leave with Noha, U.S. Embassy officials told him.

“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s breaking a family,” Dr. Allam said of that unpalatable option. With the exception of a trip to the airport, where they were turned back, his sister and her family have been stuck in their apartment.

Dr. Allam said he feels the anti-government protests are long overdue and compared Mr. Mubarak’s rule with the iron-fisted rule of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

His sister, Mona Allam, is in “extreme panic,” he said. Ms. Allam, speaking via Skype last week, said as an employee of a state-run radio station, she was forbidden from speaking with outside media.

Her daughter, however, shared a few words: “Yesterday, they broke into the Cairo museum, and people said they stole things,” Noha said calmly of the protesters last week, through Skype, the Egyptian sun streaming in from a window behind her, rendering her computer image as a shadow. “People started a fire in the museum and were throwing rocks at each other.”

Noha, like many Egyptian children, has not been to school in days as her country endures this potential turning point in its history. Two of Dr. Allam’s brothers, Hesham Allam and Tarek Allam, live in Alexandria and are out of internet contact, Dr. Allam said, though a brief phone conversation informed him that Hesham was participating in the demonstrations. He learned in an even briefer conversation only that Tarek was “safe.”

“It’s a situation where you can only do your best and you can, hopefully, succeed in helping them,” Dr. Allam said. “But at the same time, I don’t feel like living that experience is such a horrible thing. I think eventually whatever God wants to happen will happen—that’s the bottom line.”

While denouncing the violence that has erupted sporadically, another East End resident, like Dr. Allam, praised the youth for standing up for democracy.

“This is uprising in the most beautiful fashion. This is the youth that has had it with the old and is trying to change for the future,” remarked Bridgehampton resident Sal Shariff, also a native of Alexandria. “It is a breath of fresh air.”

Mr. Shariff said he left his native country on December 5, 1983, at 5 p.m. He remembers the exact time, because, he said, it was one of the best days of his life.

While cheering on the movement and brimming with hope, he said he hopes it stops soon, however, for the sake of food shortages and the economy. He also fears how peace with Israel might be affected, and what might become of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist group that has said it would not take over. Because Mubarak has quashed dissent for so long, there is no true opposition party that can step in, he said.

Mr. Shariff said he could sense the rumblings of an uprising simmering beneath the surface on his last visit to his homeland, about two months ago. “I could feel there would be a revolution within a year,” he said, citing the pressures on the street.

Those tensions were not evident to everyone, however.

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The Egyptian people opposing Mubarek have been extremely courageous and it does look as though their efforts to oust him may pay off, and soon. It is being reported today that the Obama administration is calling for Mubarek to step down immediately and not wait until September.

The fear of no viable leader to take over is a reasonable one. Mubarek's ouster will leave a void and the history of these types of revolutions shows us that this void is often filled by extreme groups or candidates ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 9, 11 4:45 PM
Mubarek is gone. Forced out by a peaceful revolution of youth. For all of those folks who scream and yell about guns and "second amendment remedies" a dictator was just overthrown without a gun being drawn or a shot being fired.
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Feb 11, 11 11:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
To captain amer, why would you attempt to denigrate what was clearly a peaceful revolution? An uprising against a tyrant by working class people just looking for a better way and all you can think to say is "They burned and looted"? A handful of incidents by a few misguided people out of the hundreds of thousands who gathered and "THEY burned and looted"?

As was widely reported during the two week uprising, any violence was committed against the protestors by Mubarak supporters. Muslims ...more
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 12, 11 4:58 PM
I have read a number of your postings- your intentions were clear. Given the opportunity to say anything you wanted you chose to focus on the least significant of all events that took place over those 18 days.

By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 12, 11 8:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
The world is changing Captn an there aint a thing you can do about it except exept the CHANGE baby. Khalifah is the promise that will not yeild!
By local 84 (353), riverhead on Feb 16, 11 4:13 PM
Not to cause more grief here but the Egyptians are NOT our friends!! They hate America, and all we stand for. Countries choose democracy because they are ready to embrace it. These guys want no part of it.
By **HBQueenBee** (46), Hampton Bays on Feb 18, 11 1:23 PM