Egyptians at US rallies hopeful about future

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Egyptians gathered in major cities across the U.S. on Saturday for a second day of celebration after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, with many expressing hope about the future and some pledging to return to help in the Middle Eastern nation’s transition.

The weekend rallies held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities followed spontaneous demonstrations that broke out Friday when Mubarak agreed to step down, after three weeks of sometimes-violent protests across Egypt that many feared would end in futility. On Saturday, the ruling military pledged to eventually hand power to an elected civilian government.

Waving Egyptian flags and yelling “freedom,” about 200 people rallied outside city hall in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb at the center of one of the largest Arab-American communities in the U.S. They cheered the end of Mubarak’s rule, pledging to support Egypt as it goes through what could be a painful rebuilding process.

“Happy does not even describe it,” said graduate student Ola Elsaid, a native of Egypt now living near Detroit. “We hope for a democracy in Egypt. We hope for a smooth transition. We don’t want any violence. We just hope for free and fair elections.”

Elsaid plans to return to Egypt this summer after completing her business degree at Oakland University “to see how I can contribute to rebuilding the country,” she said. “We the Egyptian people, we made this happen.”

The news elicited similar joy and a sense of expectation at rallies nationwide, even as a leading human rights group said major reforms are still needed in Egypt.

Dozens of Egyptian-Americans gathered outside the Egyptian consulate on Chicago’s iconic Michigan Avenue. They waved Egyptian flags as cars driving along the city’s best-known shopping promenade honked in support.

Ahmed Attidah, a 30-year-old Internet technology consultant, said Mubarak’s departure has made him seriously consider for the first time in his life moving back to his ancestral homeland.

“They need new minds and new blood,” said Attidah, who was born in Chicago but spent much of his childhood in Egypt. “And going there, you would also be building a nation. That’s exciting.”

Fellow rally goer Maggy Shamekh referred to the ’80s hit song by the Bangles, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” as she thanked the mass movement in Egypt that toppled Mubarak. Since then, Shamekh told the crowd, the whole world has learned to walk like an Egyptian: “It is the walk of freedom,” she said.

Two demonstrations near the United Nations in New York drew almost 200 people, including one led by human rights group Amnesty International outside the Egyptian Mission. Members of the group called on Egyptian authorities to lift the state of emergency immediately and enact other reforms such as protecting the rights of religious minorities.

In the heart of downtown Indianapolis, about a dozen demonstrators gathered in Monument Circle holding a red, white and black cardboard Egyptian flag. They watched the outdoor news ticker of a nearby radio station for the latest word from Egypt.

Ahmed Elessawy, 29, of Indianapolis, said he left Egypt more than two years ago with his wife because he couldn’t support his family on a pharmacist’s salary of no more than $500 per month. He’s now a pharmacy intern and taking exams to earn his Indiana license.

“I had to leave Egypt,” said Elessawy, the son of a retired deputy minister in the governments of Mubarak and his assassinated predecessor, Anwar Sadat.

With the revolution, he said he hopes he can create a business that will let him work in both the U.S. and the Egypt, where he still has family in greater Cairo.

Chants of “Long live Egypt” were accompanied by tambourine and drum music as about 100 people, some carrying Egyptian flags, gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall for a rally organized by Amnesty International.

“I feel like a newborn,” said Mohammed Elgebaly, a 38-year-old who emigrated to the U.S. from Egypt.

Elgebaly carried a board with photos of two people he said died during the protests in Egypt; about 300 people have been killed in Egypt amid the turmoil. He said Egyptians have a new sense of power and would likely resume protests if reforms are not implemented.

Graduate student Rusha Latif, 29, said she’d hardly slept in weeks as the protest continued. She could now hear the joy in the voices of her relatives in Egypt, a different tone from when she was studying and working there several years ago.

“The mood was so hopeless in Egypt then,” she said. “There wasn’t a sense of optimism about the future.”

About 50 people gathered outside the White House on Saturday afternoon chanting, “Human Rights Now.” Some held signs supporting the protesters in Egypt and across the Middle East that read “Peaceful Protest Is A Right.”

In Atlanta, people painted their faces with the colors of the Egyptian flag and wrote messages such as “Goodbyle Mubarak” on their vehicles. The rally was planned before Mubarak’s resignation to support the Egyptian people in their fight, but it was instead a celebration.

Amna Awad, a 21-year-old philosophy student who spent her first 10 years in Egypt, said she organized the Indianapolis rally in solidarity with Egyptians who demonstrated on the streets of Cairo and other cities during the past few weeks.

“To see this movement occurring is so inspiring, so motivational,” said Awad, the daughter of Palestinian and Egyptian parents. “It gives you hope for the future.”

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Associated Press writers Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis; Michael Tarm in Chicago; and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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