Astoria Egyptians divided over unrest overseas

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

There is a split on Steinway Street.

Egyptian Americans on the commercial strip in Astoria, known by some as Little Egypt with its numerous cafes and hookah lounges, are divided on who should rule their home country as the unrest between the military and protestors rages on.

All, of course, are concerned for the well-being of their families and loved ones overseas, with hundreds killed and thousands injured.

“I tell them be careful, be safe and respect the law,” Astoria resident Mostafa Gad said, referring to his nephews obeying the 7 p.m. curfew in Egypt set by the military.

The tense situation started over a month ago when the Army took control of President Mohamed Morsi’s government by force and established an interim government.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood party, which Morsi belongs to, began rallies and sit-ins for his reinstitution, to which the Army responded with tear gas and bullets.

While some Egyptians around Astoria want the reinstallation of Morsi, who was elected last year in Egypt’s first-ever Democratic election, most identify with the Army, led by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

They believe that Morsi didn’t run the country well while in office and they hope the military drives the Brotherhood from power and gives Egypt a taste of religious freedom, much like America.

“I don’t want to be ruled by a Muslim government,” said Astoria resident Gamal Omram, who said he is Muslim. “They control you.”

Recently, Islamist protestors of Morsi’s ouster burned dozens of Christian churches, which is the religious minority in Egypt.

Morsi supporters may be in the minority in Little Egypt, but they don’t believe that they have lost the majority of Egyptian support in the country.

Supporters of the Brotherhood feel that since Morsi was Democratically elected what the Army is doing now is just a coup.

“How do you get to call that a revolution,” asked Astoria resident Ahmed Shafei, “Legitimacy is something that is voted upon, not what the Army chooses.”

President Barack Obama stopped short of calling the military takeover a coup in a recent speech, but suspended a joint military event. The U.S. government is also withholding more than $1 billion in annual aid to Egypt while the fighting persists.

Little Egypt is also divided on if America should respond. Those in support of the revolution want America to “let Egyptian people decide their destiny.”

But Morsi supporters are calling for the U.S. to stop the Army.

“We see that this is a bloody coup,” said Sherif Ahmed, who owns Zaitoun grocery store on Steinway Street and is the director of the New York chapter of Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights. “This is reminiscent of the [Hosni] Mubarak regime. This is the same system that is trying to take over again.”

One thing both sides agree on is that they don’t want the death toll to increase.

“We are all Egyptian,” Omram said. “I don’t want to see blood spilled both ways. It hurts me when I see somebody killed.”



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