Oakland County residents, leaders react to Egyptian violence
Published: Friday, January 28, 2011
By CAROL HOPKINS
Of The Oakland Press
The current chaos and protests happening in Egypt are being monitored by many in Oakland County.
“I knew last summer things were getting pretty grim,” said Laura Landolt, Oakland University assistant professor of politics.
Landolt has traveled to Egypt for a decade in her study of human rights.
“The government simply refuses to reform, and at the same time it is having no success in economic development. The people are really frustrated.”
Landolt said Egyptians rioted in the late 1970s, but there has been nothing to match what took place in Cairo Friday when thousands of protesters rioted in what is being called a major escalation in the challenge to authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit in Bloomfield Hills, said Egypt is an important U.S. ally.
“Members of the Jewish community and the community at large are following events in Egypt because that country is so central to what happens in the Middle East,” he said.
“Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.”
Dawud Walid, an American Muslim and executive director of Southfield-based Council on American Islamic Relations, said people should get on the phone to elected officials.
“We should be calling them to urge a strong stance with the (dictatorial) Egyptian government, and telling them to allow the people to protest peacefully and mandate that Egypt bring about immediate (changes) to allow freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of religion,” said Walid, an imam who also urged people to pray for the Egyptians.
He said no free elections have occurred under Mubarak for three decades.
“The people there — Muslims and Christians — have suffered oppression,” he said.
“As Americans, we should uphold democratic aspirations of all people.
“We should know this is a messy process. Our own wasn’t neat and clean.”
Walid said he was following news of the protests on Twitter until the Egyptian government shut down Internet service.
“There is no doubt that social media has given voices to the voiceless,” he said.
“There isn’t one single organization or leader calling people to protest. It’s facilitated by common people active on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.”
Walid was concerned because he had been following a Cairo friend’s Tweets.
“He hasn’t sent anything in several hours,” Walid said Friday.
Roqaya Ashmawey, former editor of the Oakland University Post and former resident of Rochester Hills now living in California, said she has family in Alexandria, Egypt. “We’ve been in touch with them through landlines, since cell phones and Internet usage is out.”
But despite her concerns for their safety, she said, “I am proud of the Egyptians for finally standing up for themselves absent a foreign – specifically U.S. – intervention, demanding democracy.”
She said she was disappointed that Vice President Joe Biden said Mubarak is not a dictator. She said democratic leaders do not turn off access to the Internet and mobile phones and arrest opposition leaders.
Young man beaten
An incident last summer hasn’t been forgotten by Egyptians, said Landolt.
“A middle-class, 20-something kid, Khaled Saeed, was at an Internet cafe in Alexandria, uploading images of Egyptian police sharing drugs they’d just seized,” said Landolt.
Landolt said as Saeed was on the Web, police came into the cafe and dragged him into the street.
“They beat him to death in front of everybody,” she said.
Landolt estimated the government has 20,000 political prisoners
“The government is very brutal but they never did this to a middle-class person in broad daylight.”
She said human rights activists make up the heart of the protesters.
Saeed’s death brought home the fact that “this could happen to any of us,” Landolt said.
Another factor in the protests is the continuation of “emergency law,” in effect 30 years, she said.
The law suspends all civil and political rights.
Landolt said the U.S. has backed Mubarak during his regime.
“We prefer stability over democracy,” she said.
Landolt said President George W. Bush pressured Egypt to allow democratic reforms.
She wonders if Mubarak may be facing overthrow.
“I think it’s too late for him now (to offer reforms),” she said.
“He could very well be out of power next week.”
Metro residents riveted as turmoil ensnarls Egypt
Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News
As a nation in the midst of a revolution captivated the world, Aly Lela worried Friday about his family in Egypt, especially his sister, who joined protesters despite being five months pregnant.
Lela, a Rochester Hills resident, tried to discourage his sister from joining the thousands of people demonstrating against the 30-year regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But she said she could not stay home.
“I understood because today is a historical day in modern Egypt,” said Lela, who migrated to the United States 11 years ago. “This day — Jan. 28 — will be remembered for centuries to come.”
For days, widespread turmoil has engulfed Egypt, as residents protested, police swarmed the streets and the government imposed a curfew. Officials shut down Internet access Friday. Violence erupted and killed one person Friday, bringing the death toll to eight this week.
Many local Egyptians were preparing to demonstrate today in front of Dearborn City Hall as they hailed Friday as one of the happiest in their community.
“You’re talking about a 30-year dictatorship rule, and finally the people have had enough and are speaking,” said Shereef Akeel, a Rochester Hills resident and civil rights attorney. “Many people have come here for a better life and have tasted democracy, have tasted what freedom is all about. To see this uprising of a people expressing their will for a change … it is so momentous.”
Democracy in Egypt is also critical to the nation’s future, Akeel added.
“If Egypt is to grow and excel,” he said, “it must be governed by the people, and not a person.”
The violence in Egypt led the United States to issue travel alerts. Many airlines canceled flights to Cairo, the Arab nation’s capital. A Delta Air Lines flight on Friday from Detroit was heading first to New York, but the leg to Cairo was canceled, an airline representative said. However, an Air France flight from Detroit that stopped first in Paris before heading to Cairo was still on schedule late Friday.
“Everybody is scared to go over there,” said Alex Itani, manager of Rayan Travel, a Dearborn-based agency specializing in Middle East travel.
“It’s terrible over there right now.”
Waleed Saudi has been calling his elderly mother every day since the unrest unfolded in Cairo. Saudi, who teaches at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, says his mother lives about an hour from a protest site, but he is still worried about her safety.
His mother, he said, is “just hoping for a peaceful change in the country.”
He’s concerned government officials are trying to portray the protesters as poor people and religious extremists, but he says many of the demonstrators are well-off Egyptians seeking reform.
That’s why Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, encouraged people to write their lawmakers so they would lobby President Barack Obama to pressure the Egyptian government to institute immediate democratic reforms, including freedoms to exercise religion, speak freely, vote and peacefully assemble.
“It’s human aspiration,” Walid said. “All people want to be free.”