Chicagoans express concern over Egyptian uprising

January 30, 2011 4:48:56 AM PST
Hundreds of Egyptian Americans and human rights activists rallied outside the Egyptian Consulate in Chicago Saturday to support the efforts of Egypt's pro-democracy activists.

There are thousands of Egyptian Americans living in the Chicago area, and many have relatives in Egypt.

Some say they feel conflicted about the events overseas. They support the protestors' desire for more freedom, but fear the chaos will threaten their loved-ones.

On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Egyptian Consulate in on Michigan Avenue with a message of change.

"We're asking the government there to either have reform, political and economic reform, and if that means they have to leave and someone else rule the country, then that would be it," said Ashraf Elessawy with the Council of Islamic Organizations.

Rally organizer Elessawy has family in Egypt and is worried for their safety.

"Only an hour ago we were able to get in touch with them, but they are doing fine," Elessawy said. "But they are inside their homes. They cannot leave their homes because of the riots and protestors outside."

Regina Fraser of Chicago shared a similar account. She's one of the stars of the PBS travel show "Grannies on Safari" and is in Egypt on vacation.

"We looked up and running down the hill toward us were 100's of people. We were afraid our bus was going to be tipped over.

Fraser, 68, says a freelance photographer is among those traveling with her and police nearly confiscated his camera.

She fears the violence will escalate.

"During the evening, we look over our balcony and heard tear gas canisters -- tear gas, actually -- We heard gunfire and screaming, great big booms," Fraser said.

As the events unfold, Hesham and Reem Hassaballa of west suburban Bloomingdale can only watch and wait.

They have several relatives in Egypt.

"My grandmother is old. She would not be able to defend herself if criminals broke into her home, so that makes me very worried about what's happening there," Hesham Hassaballa said.

Reem's parents who are from Chicago are currently in the region on a trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and she's worried they'll be stuck there.

"We empathize with the sentiments of the Egyptian people, but it's becoming a little chaotic right now. We didn't expect it to become that bad," Reem Hassaballa said.

In between sips of black tea Hands of Tunisian Rami and puffs of citrus-flavored hookah, customers at Alibaba Hookah Lounge in Albany Park are tuned into news reports from Egypt Saturday night.

"More people are losing their lives and more people are being injured, and I just hope everything settles down to the best interest of the Egyptian people," said Ahmad Safi.

"Egypt is peaceful most of the time, but now it's like a huge war going on," said Alia Attia, who has relatives in Egypt.

Akram Madbouli has a sister in Egypt and hadn't heard from her until Saturday.

"A lot of things that, if you don't know, you just think the worst," Madbouli said.

Organizers of Saturday's rally at the Egyptian Consulate say they're planning another demonstration next week.

Their message is aimed at the federal government as well, calling on the White House to put more pressure on Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

Egypt is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in the Middle East.