As crowds of protesters in Egypt erupted in anger, Egyptians in Chicago were glued to their televisions and computers as they grappled with what they called shocking news: The president of Egypt was not stepping down despite weeks of protests and hints that he would do so.
“It’s dangerous for the country for him to keep hold of the power,” said Amr Abdelkireem, 41, of Algonquin. “People will get angry, and there will be more problems.”
Shady Atia, of Des Plaines, said many in Chicago eagerly waited Thursday afternoon for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s televised speech.
“People were anticipating he was [stepping down],” Atia said.
But Mubarak refused to step down Thursday.
Despite the distance from their homeland, many local Egyptians said they are feeling the disappointment along with their countrymen.
“It affects us in every way,” said Atia, 33. “We’re Egyptians no matter what.”
Even before the president was finished speaking, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo chanting “Leave, leave” and “Down, down with Mubarak,” said Chicagoan Ahmed Rehab, speaking from the square.
“There’s a lot of anger and incredulousness,” Rehab said.
Rehab, a civil rights activist who heads the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is in Egypt to participate in the protests.
Rehab said Egyptians feel Mubarak’s decision to hand over some of his duties to Vice President Omar Suleiman is a compromise that comes “too little, too late.”
“Any concession they make now is meaningless,” he said. “They need to walk away.”
Many in Chicago fear violence will now erupt abroad.
“I’m not optimistic about the situation,” said Adbelkireem, a former Egyptian police officer.
Ahmed Attiah, 30, of Chicago said the only ethical thing for the president to do is leave office to “avoid further bloodshed.”
Rehab said protesters plan to continue demonstrating. “The people are not going to back down,” he said.
But Adbelkireem thinks it may be time for demonstrators to leave Tahrir Square and try new methods.
“They’ve accomplished a lot, but life needs to go on,” Abdelkireem said.