Bay Area Arabs Follow Egypt Protests on Facebook, Twitter

Bay Area Arabs Follow Egypt Protests on Facebook, Twitter

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At the Alsabeel mosque on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, excitement over the possible overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is palpable.

In his sermon, Sheikh Safwat Morsy speaks of the importance of optimism, and the power of the youth, backed by new technologies like Facebook and Twitter, to change the world.

After the prayer, architect Rehab Said, 40, cheered the demonstrators who have taken to the streets and raised the possibility of an end to Mubarak’s 30 years of autocratic rule.

“I never dreamed that people would be able to freely express their opinions," he said. "Finally, we’ll have a president who truly represents the people.”

Said said the hope for change is keeping him up at night.

While the Egyptian government has tried to completely shut down the telephone grid and internet in response to the protest, Said said he continues to use “cell phones and Skype to get to the heart of the uprising” from his home in Benicia.

The protests in Egypt, coming weeks after the ouster of Tunisia’s long-ruling President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, have captivated the world and inspired Arabs and Muslims internationally.

“There is so much excitement around the Arab world. On Facebook and Twitter you see Saudis congratulating Egyptians, Iranians contratulating Tunisians,” said Asad Abu’Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University Stanislaus.

“A student at UC Davis just left everything and went to Egypt to join the revolution,” he said. “That’s the level of excitement.”

A protest in support of Egyptian demonstrators is scheduled for Saturday at noon in downtown San Francisco.

Lily Haskell, of the Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC), who plans to attend tomorrow's event,  organized by a coalition of individuals from various organizations including members of AROC and the ANSWER Coalition, said she hopes the street demonstrations spread to Morroco, where parts of her family still live.

“We still have a monarchy. It is more progressive, but it needs changes,” she said. “There is still high unemployment, for example, and there is still an occupation in the Western Sahara.”

Malihe Razazan, an Iranian American who hosts the program Voices of the Middle East and North Africa on KPFA Radio, said she has been glued to Arab news network Al Jazeera since the Tunisian uprising began.

Razazan said the network’s ability to continue broadcasting news out of Egypt despite a government crackdown “has had an immense influence, not only on getting the news in, but in getting the news out. All of us have Al Jazeera at home. It’s hard to find anyone from the Middle East who’s not checking out Al Jazeera 24-hours a day,” whether on their computer, their iPod, or satellite television.

But that excitement is mixed with some concern. In 1979, Razazan, took part in the early part of the Iranian Revolution but then had to flee the country when Ayatollah Khomeini seized control and turned the country, which had been secular, into an Islamic Republic.

Anser Hassan, managing editor of Illume Magazine, which is based in Newark, Calif., said he worried about the safety of the Egyptian people.

He also expressed a concern, heard widely among Arab Americans and in the Arab world, that “America wants Mubarak.”

Over the last 30 years, more U.S. military aid has gone to Egypt than to any other country besides Israel.

And while Pres. Barack Obama cheered the people of Tunisia for overthrowing Ben Ali in his state of the union address, he has been more measured in his remarks on the Egyptian protests.

“Americans favor governments and leaders they can influence,” Hassan said.

Back at the Alsabeel mosque in the Tenderloin, Dr. Mohab Mohamed is torn.

“I’m mostly worried,” the Egyptian-American doctor said. “Stability in Egypt is key to stability in the whole region.”

On the other hand, he said, “The people are fed up.”

With reporting by Aaron Glantz of Bay Citizen.