YOUNGSTOWN - Walid El-Shalabi said he felt as if he had been born again on Friday when he received word that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned.
The Egyptian-born man, now a resident of Boardman, said he closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again to see the people in Cairo rejoicing at the news during television broadcasts of the historic event.
"It was a beautiful sight," he exclaimed Friday afternoon outside the Federal Courthouse building in downtown Youngstown. He was among some 30 people, including several representing the local Arab community, who gathered for a rally held in celebration of Mubarak's departure.
About 30 people rally for Egypt in downtown Youngstown on Friday, Feb. 11, singing "My country I giv
"It has been a very good day, the best day of my life," El-Shalabi said. "This is a day for celebration."
El-Shalabi, 36, has been in the United States 12 years the last 10 in the Youngstown area. He said he spoke with family members still living in his native city of Alexandria, Egypt, almost immediately after hearing of Mubarak's decision to step down.
"They were very happy and very relieved," he said. "It's been very hard for people in Egypt. They don't want violence or to harm anyone or see anyone harmed or in any danger. They want democracy. They want to be able to make choices, to have better lives. They have suffered for over 30 years now. It's time for change."
Amal Ilain, 65, of Youngstown, holding the banner on the left, a native Palestinian, Khaled Abdelnaby of Poland, holding the Egyptian flag on the left, Walid El-Shalabi of Boardman, holding the flag on the right, and Jaber Elwamni of Liberty, right, holding the banner, were among those singing Friday outside the Federal Building in Youngstown.
Photo by R. Michael Semple
Last month Egyptian people, calling for democracy, took to the streets in Cairo, protesting Mubarak's rule over their country and calling for his resignation. Earlier this week protesters in the city's central Tahrir Square, hoping for an announcement of the president's resignation, reacted in fury and disbelief when instead he announced intentions to hand his powers over to his vice president, Omar Suleiman.
In Youngstown, what had originally been scheduled as a demonstration for `Democracy in Egypt' on Friday became a joyful occasion as local residents, many of them members of the Arab American Community Center of Greater Youngstown, celebrated what they called a victory for Egypt. Displaying the Egyptian flag and signs that read `Egyptians Deserve Democracy,' they chanted "Long live the people of Egypt" and "The people united will never be defeated." They sang patriotic songs as passersby honked their horns and voiced their support.
I hope other countries follow along, said Amal Ilain, 65, of Youngstown, who was born in Palestine but moved to the area some 40 years ago. Next will be Jordan and so on. This is the start, the beginning of a wonderful thing.
Majihad Mahd, 63, who has lived in Howland for six years after arriving in the United States 15 years ago, said he came to the rally to show his support for all of his Arab brothers and sisters.
Were all family, he said. This is an important event for all of us. It is a very great, a very great day.
Khaled Abdelnaby, 28, who was born and raised in Alexandria, said he knew when he heard of the presidents plan the people at home would not find that acceptable. Abdelnaby, of Poland, has lived in the Youngstown close to two years, moving to the United States about three years ago.
Ive wanted to go home, but before now, I didnt think I would ever do that because it has been so hard to live there, he said. Theres been no adequate health system or education system or anything. The people have become very frustrated over the past 30 years because they have suffered and had to do without. It doesnt matter who you are, what religion, what background, none of that. Everyone suffered. Even the wealthier people have suffered.
Abdelnaby said many of his family and friends in Egypt had told him how stressful their lives have been.
The people have had enough of the government under President Mubarak, he said. I really never thought I would go home. But now, with this, I might. Its amazing to see everyone there so happy now. Its truly amazing. Its a wonderful thing. It is a day to celebrate.
Palestinian-born Maher Ramah, 40, of Austintown, said he was at Fridays rally to show his support for the Egyptian people and stood in hopes and anticipation of a chain-reaction throughout the Mid-East.
Ramah has been in the United States 30 years.
For two weeks weve been sitting and watching things on TV and nothing had been really moving, he said. But now, now theres a chance for real democracy, a chance for the people. This is very exciting for Egypt, but its also exciting for the entire Mid-East. We would like to see it spread. We like to see a real Democracy, with choices made by the people. Not just in words or titles or in theory, but real Democracy. This is a very exciting time. Its a time for Democracy.