Queens Egyptians keep tabs on crisis in Cairo

Queens Egyptians keep tabs on crisis in Cairo
AP Photo/Amr Nabil
By Chris Engelhardt

Following the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by the Middle East nation’s army, his countrymen living in Queens are calling for immediate action to end a growing international crisis.

Morsi was removed from power by Egypt’s military July 3, an event that has created extreme tensions between the military and Islamist supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood official. A three-hour battle in Cairo July 9 left at least 51 protesters and three members of security forces dead and crushed efforts to form a new government.

Supporters of Morsi accused the army of opening fire on worshipers at a sit-in after dawn prayers, claims the army vehemently disputed. About 435 people were injured in the incident.

Last week, Egypt’s military backed interim president, Hazem el-Beblawi, as prime minister and appointed Mohamed ElBaradei as a vice president. The interim leadership also issued a timetable to amend the country’s constitution and hold elections for a new parliament within seven months. A presidential election would follow afterward.

Moustafa Elshiekh, a prominent Egyptian community leader in Astoria and CEO of public relations firm Diversity Relations Inc., said with Egypt in crisis, immediate resolution is essential to save the country. The appointment of a new prime minister and vice president, Elshiekh said, are “good signs.”

“They have a plan,” Elshiekh said of the interim leadership. “I supported Morsi. Unfortunately, he managed the country poorly. Things have deteriorated.”

Morsi was the nation’s first democratically elected president after longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office by the Arab Spring movement.

Elshiekh, who lives in Astoria and has traveled to Egypt twice in the past six months, said prices for food, meats and milk have skyrocketed and there is “instability and insecurity” among residents.

“Everything you buy from the market has gone up, there’s poverty,” he said. “People were afraid to go to work. And tourism, a big part of revenue for the government, it’s a tombstone.”

Egypt is the largest and most influential country in the Arab world.

The United States said this week it still needs time to determine whether Morsi’s ousting was a coup. If the United States were to label his removal a coup, by law it would have to cease aid to the Egyptian military, which receives $1.5 billion annually in U.S. aid.

Ali Essa, a manager at Alfrha grocery store and tobacco shop on Steinway Street in Astoria, said he originally supported Morsi but had a change of heart after the country’s conditions worsened.

“We gave him the chance and everyone was supporting him,” Essa, who is Egyptian and lives in Astoria, said. “But the country is going from worse to worse.”

Nassef Youssef, an Egyptian who was shopping at Alfrha Monday and who has worked in Astoria for 22 years, said he also supports the interim leadership.

“Egypt was sinking,” Youssef said. “[U.S.] aid is nothing. Aid is not the goal, we have money. Liberty, stability is most important.”

Elshiekh echoed similar sentiments, and said he remains confident the interim leadership will get the country back on track.

“Once you are secure, I think economic prosperity will come,” he said. “It’s about improving the quality of life.”

Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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