By Jeremy B. White
Egyptians in Bay Ridge gathered on the street this morning in an impromptu celebration of President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, joining themselves to the ebullient protesters surging through the streets of Cairo.
After noon prayer services concluded at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge on 67th Street and 5th Avenue, people poured onto the sidewalk and began an ecstatic rally. They waved Egyptian flags and alternated Arabic chants of “God is great” and “Long live Egypt” with emotional renditions of the Egyptian national anthem. Traffic slowed in the street as cars, many of them with Egyptian flags waving out of the windows, stopped to honk their horns and shout encouragement.
“Sooner or later this would come,” said Ashraf El-Sayed, a 48-year-old cab driver. “We suffered a lot for 30 years. We were very afraid of this guy — he’s a tyrant.”
Nearby, Marwa Sayed seemed on the verge of tears. She told of speaking to her mother in Egypt on Skype last night, both of them in disbelief. Her brother, a doctor in Cairo, has been active in the protests.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “He told me people are protesting, people can die — I can’t believe this is my brother he’s speaking!”
Zouleikha Ben Aicha, an Algerian woman standing nearby, called Mubarak’s fall a “big victory for the whole universe.”
“Everyone in this world, we are against dictators,” she said. “The people are more powerful than [Mubarak], and we are so proud of the youth in Egypt.”
When the euphoria of Mubarak stepping down subsides, Egyptians will find themselves in an uncertain situation after 30 years of one-man rule; questions persist, for example, of the role the army will take in weeks to come. But Sayed did not seem concerned.
“Nothing worse can happen than what we were in,” she said. “What could happen?”
But not everyone was as optimistic. Mohamed Nour, a 19-year-old City University of New York student wearing a homemade shirt with the words “Support Protestors In Egypt” surrounding a drawing of the Egyptian flag, said “the hard part is coming up.
“I thought nine month and an easy transition would be better than the army taking over,” Nour said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Nour’s friend Mohamed Negem, a 21-year-old student at John Jay College draped in an Egyptian flag, said he was worried about the prospect of foreign intervention, drawing a parallel to America’s invasion of Iraq. He also said the protests were propelled purely by Egyptians, noting what he characterized as President Barack Obama’s reluctance to take a firm stand.
“We did it by ourselves,” he said. “The international media helped, definitely, but now we just want to do it ourselves.”
For some people at the rally, the symbolism of the moment transcended Egypt and offered the prospect of broader regional transformation. Abe Mahmoud, a 26-year old Palestinian-American who arrived before the end of services with a stack of “Arab Voice” newspapers and later became one of the central figures leading chants, characterized it this way: “Two down, twenty to go.”
“This is the wakeup call for the Arab nation — not just the Muslim nation,” he said. “This is not about something Islamic — there are Christians in Egypt — this is about a revolution for democracy.”