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Tampa Bay area Egyptian-Americans watch protests with anxiety, delight

Neveen Nawawy, 19, an Egyptian-American attending USF, is watching the revolution in Egypt play out. Nawawy is worried about her relatives 
in Egypt.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Neveen Nawawy, 19, an Egyptian-American attending USF, is watching the revolution in Egypt play out. Nawawy is worried about her relatives in Egypt.

Neveen Nawawy got a message via Facebook on Tuesday from her cousin in Egypt: Make prayer for God to help us, he wrote. Egypt now is such a different country.

"Of course, I'm scared for them," said Nawawy, 19, of her cousins and aunts and uncles, whom she last saw in July. But she can be patient. "It's for the greater good. They've been waiting for this for so long."

Many Egyptian-Americans in the Tampa Bay area are intently watching developments in Egypt, including the massive protest in Cairo and President Hosni Mubarak's announcement that he would not seek re-election. Nawawy says there has been too much bloodshed to consider Mubarak's "compromise."

But not all want the same outcome.

David Girgis got married last month in Egypt. He is back in his Sarasota home, but left his new bride.

She hasn't been out of her home in Alexandria for the past week and told him Tuesday morning they were running out of food.

"Bread that usually cost one pound (20 cents) now costs five pounds," Girgis, 37, said. "That is, if you're lucky enough to find a place with bread for sale."

Girgis met his bride, whose name he doesn't want to divulge out of fear for her safety, through a friend at his church. He and his wife and his extended family in Cairo, where his parents immigrated from, are Christians. They are a minority in mostly Muslim Egypt.

Girgis says they worry that the country may be taken over by radical Islamists.

"Our hope is that Mubarak will stay in power and everything will go back to the way it was," he said.

Nawawy, who studies government and international affairs at the University of South Florida, spent last summer in Egypt studying at the American University, where many of her peers were protesting every day. She saw bruises on their arms from police batons.

She said her friends protested in Tahrir Square against the killing of a young man in Alexandria who had posted a YouTube video of police officers dividing the spoils of a drug bust. He was later dragged by police from an Internet cafe and beaten to death, Nawawy said. Pictures of his shattered face are posted online.

Nawawy, who was born in the United States, believes those early protests spurred today's revolution to oust Mubarak. Young bloggers in Egypt were at the core of the revolution, said Nawawy.

Nawawy didn't join the protests last summer. She feared repercussions to relatives who work as university professors. She feared she or they "could go missing."

Last week, she talked to a friend on Facebook who had been in her class. The friend had been locked in her home in a gated community in the suburbs of Cairo for two weeks. She was too scared to come out.

Ahmed Bedier, a civil rights activist who is the former head of the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, organized a protest in support of the Egyptian protesters through Facebook on a Tampa corner Saturday at Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard. About 150 people came with signs, he said.

Among them, Adel Eldin, a Tampa area cardiologist born in Alexandria, Egypt, and his wife. They brought their children hoping to teach them a lesson from Egyptians.

"You will be able to read in any history book how the youth of Egypt used technology, Twitter and Facebook and overthrew the regime with a peaceful movement," he said.

Bedier, who was last in Egypt in September, said Egypt has been simmering for years. Mubarak has been intoxicated with power. But Bedier didn't expect a revolt so soon.

People were fed up with the gap between rich and poor, he said. He saw extremes of poverty with people begging and living on streets, and then large guarded developments. An acquaintance Bedier spoke to inside one of the developments said it was only a matter of time before the people outside climbed the walls to get at them.

Bedier was born in Cairo and immigrated with his family when he was 8. The people's message to Mubarak is clear he said. "We don't want you."

His parents live in Egypt but are here visiting with return tickets for next week. They aren't sure they will use them.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Tampa Bay area Egyptian-Americans watch protests with anxiety, delight 02/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 6:38am]
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