Boston-Area Egyptians Look Ahead With Resolve

By Jess Bidgood

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Feb. 14, 2011

Tom Arabia, an activist living in Roslindale, hugged a friend as Egyptians and supporters gathered at MIT to celebrate the departure of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak on Friday. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)


BOSTON — This weekend began a new chapter for the people of Egypt. After President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years in power on Friday morning, the people of Cairo celebrated – and then took to the streets to clean Tahrir Square, the main center of the 18 days of protests that forced him out. The Egyptian military scheduled elections for six months from now as some holdout protesters kept up demands of democracy and security. And Egyptians began to take in what it all means for their country.

Murad Alim photographed Fatma Elshobokshy, an Egyptian who works at Lesley University. He's creating a Facebook album for people in Egypt to see. (Jess Bidgood/ WGBH)

The thousands of Egyptians living in the Boston area joined their countrymen in processing the joy, challenges and questions left behind by the Egyptian revolution.

For some 100 or so Egyptians and supporters, that process began at MIT, where a forum originally planned to examine the ongoing protests there morphed into a party. Egyptians wore pins that proudly professed their nationality; adults hugged and children scampered at their ankles. People squeezed in to celebrate, mixing Arabic and English, laughter and tears.
 
Karim Elembabi, a 24-year-old with piercing green eyes who studies psychology at Bunker Hill Community College, was still stunned by the news of Mubarak’s departure. He said no one expected it to happen after Mubarak refused to step down in a speech he made Thursday.

“I woke up today, with my brother shouting, like, ‘Karim Karim Karim, he’s gone, he stepped down, come see the TV!’“ Elembabi said he turned on CNN, pulled up Al Jazeera on his computer, and tried to reach a friend in Cairo. “He Skyped me right away, like, ‘It’s happening, dude.’”
 
Elembabi left Egypt several years ago, never wanting to return because he didn’t think he could be free there. But over the past few weeks, he couldn’t stand being so far away from the protests. “Two, three weeks, I really can’t focus well. My mind, what’s going on in Egypt, what’s happened to my friends,” he recalled.
 
For Elembabi, part of celebrating the idea of a new Egypt was just getting used to it. “For me, what happened in Egypt is a changing point for me,” he said. “I’m not going to be the same. I’m asking for more rights, every small right.”

Over 100 people celebrated Mubarak's departure on Friday at MIT. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

Across the hall, near dozens of attendees eating falafal and foul sandwiches, Murad Alim was taking as many pictures as he could of people holding a poster that read ‘Thank you Egypt, you inspired the world.’

Those pictures are going straight to Facebook. “We wanted to send some message back to Egypt,” he said, to give something back after the weeks he and his friends here have spent reading the Tweets and Facebook status of Egyptians at home.
 
Wrapped in the Egyptian flag, Ahmed Ashour was actually preparing to get himself back to Egypt, too. He was only in Boston for a few days, looking at business schools. He said that when he left Egypt on this trip, he had no idea he’d be returning to a changed country. “I never thought it would turn out that (Mubarak) would leave today,” Ashour said.
 
Ashour’s joy steeled into a hard anticipation of the challenges he’ll face when he gets home. “We’ll start the new era, the difficult one to build a new Egypt.”

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