Chicagoans React to Turmoil in Egypt

Alex AttiaIn restaurants and in their homes, Chicago’s Egyptian Americans have spent much of the last two weeks watching their televisions and computer screens as dramatic change once again sweeps over Egypt.

Most in the group at Ali Baba Hookah Cafe on West Lawrence Avenue have family back in Egypt and are intensely concerned about developments there. The cafe's owner Alex Attia left Egypt over 20 years ago, but he talks with friends and relatives daily. He supported President Mohammed Morsi initially -- but no longer.

“We vote for Morsi and we expect him to do something good. We just let it go and we give him a chance,” said Attia. “But, for the last year, everything has gone bad. He didn’t do any good: economy, even politics-wise, he didn’t do any good. Everything is going bad in the country.”

IT consultant Islam Eldewek has dual U.S. and Egyptian citizenship, and voted for Morsi. But, he too, was bitterly disappointed. He was in favor of the military ousting Morsi and was not surprised by the violence that followed.

“I think it was unfortunately expected. We saw the last 48 hours when the ultimatum was given, which was basically sink or swim. And what we were hearing then, and after Morsi was taken out, some of the conversations that took place,” he said. “Their call for violence, the call for people threatening the country, it was really a relief to see that the people who are really aware of what’s happening, they took actions. Even though the constitution didn’t allow it, it was really overruled by the people on the streets.”

Eldewek says some of his best information has come from Egyptian American friends who are currently in Egypt on vacation. Photos shot the night Morsi was removed from power show joyous crowds in Alexandria. Eldewek’s friends report little support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Though, he says, the Brotherhood must be included in any new government.

“One of the key things that they did was that they did not ban the Muslim Brotherhood from future elections,” said Eldewek. “I think that opens the door to more moderate, more thoughtful leadership in place.”

Today, the Egyptian army stressed the importance of following a nine-month road map to a new government laid out by the interim president, Adly Mansour.

Chicago's Egyptian Consul General Maged Refaat says the plan should work.

“The road map is clearly aimed at delivering, creating the democratic structures that is needed in any country,” he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the road map, but prominent Egyptian American lawyer Cherif Bassiouni says the objection is a matter of political tactics.

“I think that the Muslim Brotherhood’s initial reaction is a negative one only so that they can get a better negotiating position with the military, so they are sure they are able to participate in the elections,” he said. “I think dialogue should be established between the MBs and the military.”

Bassiouni says Egypt's future is critical for American interests.

“This is a very, very critical situation for the U.S. If the U.S. loses its influence with Egypt, it will lose its influence in most of the Arab world,” he said.

Most Egyptian Americans we spoke with in Chicago are now anti-Morsi, and most are more optimistic than pessimistic about Egypt’s future.

“I’m optimistic. I think that the MBs have tried the violent route, or let’s go with the confrontational route. They saw the military reacting very sternly. This is not a fight that the MBs can win. It would not serve their purpose to continue to destabilize the country,” said Bassiouni.

“I am very optimistic, unlike some Egyptians. The reason being, there are two key things that happened as part of this change. One is that for the first time, the military, the police, and the people are on the same page,” said Edelwek.

But all were very worried about the next few weeks as the tensions continue to escalate between the army, the interim government, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The transition government was active today, announcing a new Prime Minister and new Deputy to the President, responsible for foreign affairs.