Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Jubilant New York Egyptians Flood Streets of Astoria
Friday, February 11, 2011
A wave of hundreds of Egyptians flooded on to the streets of Little Egypt in Astoria, Queens, on Friday following news that President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
The celebration reached a fever pitch Friday at the end of midday prayers at Al-Iman Masjid, a mosque on Steinway Street, when a stream of worshippers joined the gathering crowds. Both lanes on Steinway were clogged as Egyptians ecstatically waved flags, honked car horns, sang the national anthem and chanted about their hope for a democratic Egypt.
"From the Nile to the sea -- Egypt, Egypt is free!" celebrators echoed down the street.
Other chanters flung insults at Mubarak, screaming "To hell with Mubarak!" and "Mubarak is a low life!"
But the future was on people's mind. Several said they wanted to move back to the new Egypt, to see what a new regime would bring. The revelry drew a swath of Egyptians who united across religion lines, profession and age. Coptic Christians marched next to Muslims. Elderly men walked alongside housewives wearing Egyptian flags across their shoulders. Taxi drivers sang with scientists and business owners.
“Now finally, our money is going to be for us, our land is going to be for us, and we’re going to do it," said Sahar Amin, an Astoria resident. "We’re going to talk, we’re going to feel free, like here. This day is like Fourth of July to us.”
Even non-Egyptians joined in on the celebrating. Abe Jaffer, who owns Triboro Printing on Steinway Street, was printing and handing anti-Mubarak signs.
"Today, I'm Egyptian," said Jaffer, who's originally from Kenya.
People said they were fully confident this was truly the end for Mubarak, who had said only a day earlier that he was not going to resign. And repeatedly, individuals in the crowd said they believed the military would have the Egyptian people's interests at heart.
“The military is part of the public, of the people. I think they will do good things to Egypt, " said Yasser Noureldin, who left Egypt for Astoria 12 years ago. Noureldin and his toddler daughter walked side-by-side, each clutching an Egyptian flag
Down the street, Ahmed El Shahad spoke excitedly on his cell phone and he followed the crowd.
"My whole body's numb. I just happy. Just very happy," said El Shahad, who emigrated from a small town near Cairo 12 years ago. He owns two hot dog vending carts in Astoria, and said today, he could now truly say his life is blessed.
"I even feel more happy than when we win Algeria in the World Cup," said El Shahad.
El-Shahad credits the young generation in Egypt for bringing about this change -- what he calls the "Facebook generation." He said it took the young to teach the old how to demand democracy.
Twenty-four-year-old Mariam Allam agreed, but said many youths there had grown used to living in fear. Allam was born and raised in Astoria and said the oppressiveness of Mubarak's regime was palpable when she would visit her cousins in Egypt -- they always instructed her not to speak badly of Mubarak.
"I couldn't say a word about him. And as soon as I did, my cousins shut me up because I could have been in a lot of trouble," said Allam, now a student at Baruch College. "But right now, I can go back and proudly say what I feel and what I believe and nobody can ever tell me what and what not to say."
With reporting from Lisha Arino.