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Local Expats React To Protests, Unrest In Egypt

NEW YORK (CBS 2/1010 WINS/AP) -- Chaos engulfed Egypt Friday as protesters seized the streets of its capital city Cairo, battling police with stones and firebombs, burning down the ruling party headquarters, and defying a night curfew enforced by a military deployment.

The developments were the peak of unrest posing the most dire threat to President Hosni Mubarak in his three decades of authoritarian rule.

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The protests have also touched a spirit of solidarity with Egyptian-Americans in our area. A group of people rallied in Jersey City's Journal Square Friday in support of the protesters challenging Mubarak's regime, shouting "no more Mubarak."

Hosni Mubarak
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (AP Photo/Egypt TV)

"We want people who know democracy. We somebody we voted for, we never vote for him. He just fake the election and they think this is freedom. This is not freedom," Aliaa Gouda told CBS 2's Christine Sloan.

Mubarak appeared on television for the first time since the protests erupted to defend the security force crackdown on protesters. He said that change could only be achieved through dialogue. Mubarak also asked his cabinet to resign and said he will commission a new government on Saturday.

President Barack Obama said he spoke with Mubarak Friday night and told him to take "concrete steps" to expand rights in Egypt and refrain from violence against the protesters.

"Surely, there will be difficult days to come, but the United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free and more hopeful,'' Obama told reporters Friday night.

Another woman at the Friday's rally in Journal Square said she had lived in Egypt for the last 11 years and was exited about the democratic uprising.

"I'm really stunned, amazed, proud of the bravery and the courage [that] the people are requesting the end to a dictatorship," Rania Elessawi said.

The Jersey City rally was organized by the Egyptian Association For Change. A spokesman for the group, Ahmed Lotfi, dismissed the idea that the protests were being spearheaded by Islamists.

Egypt Protest
Anti-government demonstrators protest in Cairo (AP Photo/Xinhua, Cai Yang)

Lotfi said those reports were being put out by the Egyptian government to "scare the west and other nations."

"But exactly like happened in Tunisia, exactly like happening in Egypt -- it is the people, all the people have spoken. It's all the people and the Islamists are a part of these people," Lotfi said.

Many at the rally said they haven't been able to call family or reach them through the internet. They also plan on taking their protest to the United Nations on Saturday.

As the unrest continued, there was growing concern on a stretch of Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens known as "Little Egypt."

Ali El Sayed, the chef at Cafe Kabab said he applauded the protests in his native country.

"I think it's wonderful what happened today.  I think it's time to change and it shows you that the system is collapsing," he told 1010 WINS' Kathleen Maloney.


1010 WINS' Kathleen Maloney speaks with Ali El Sayed about the protests

El Sayed said he was concerned about his family, but hoped the protests will bring them a better life.

"It's really bad.  It's really bad.  Unemployment is very high.  The younger generation have no hope," he said while talking about a recent trip to the country.

Engi Kamel and her mother carried the Egyptian flag Friday in honor of their family and friends, who they said were back home fighting for their basic rights.

"I'm just shocked that this is happening and it's happening now, but it's about time. I think we finally woke up and it's time to change," Kamel told CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez.

Engi Kamel
Engi Kamel (CBS 2)

Ahmed Fathi, Chairman of the Alliance of Egyptian Americans, said that while it was "extremely sad" to see the violence, he noted that "freedom has a price."

"We pay the price by blood of our people," Fathi said.

The unrest has also prompted many cruise and tour companies to cancel departures.  In addition, Delta Air Lines Inc., the only U.S. carrier that flies directly to Egypt, said its last flight out of Cairo for New York would leave Saturday, after which service would be "indefinitely suspended as a result of civil unrest."

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