Last night, in one of the crowded hookah lounges that dot an Anaheim neighborhood known as Little Arabia, I came across a table of Egyptian immigrants tensely watching Al Jazeera via satellite, a group of friends grumbling over a shared smoke and many cups of hibiscus tea.
They were angry and frustrated, having hoped for a resignation announcement from Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak yesterday that turned, instead, into a declaration that he planned to stay in power. But not for long. This morning, those who had managed to sleep awoke to the news they had hoped for: Amid mounting protests, with hundreds of thousands crowding Cairo's Tahrir Square and unrest throughout Egypt, Mubarak finally resigned, ceding power to the military.
Since then, I've caught up with several of the same people I spoke with last night. Today is a new day, they said, and they are elated. For some, mixed in with the joy is a bit of fear of the unknown, magnified by distance as they watch the country they grew up in, and where many of their loved ones still live, begin the difficult transition toward what they hope will be genuine democracy.
But they're hoping for the best. Some of their thoughts:
Even though we were looking forward to this moment, it kind of took me by surprise. I was expecting him (Mubarak) to give up power, basically, but not that soon. After he delegated some of his power to the vice president, (I thought) that he might stay or try to stay to see how it plays out for maybe another week.
But it seems he looked at the big picture and finally, according to his calculations, found out that he would be out no matter when. He decided to cut it short. Obviously, the country was going into a complete hole.
I am optimistic in that we will see real democracy finally being practiced in Egypt. On the other hand, I am skeptical, because the rigged parliament is still in place. It’s not right to have the same people be deciding the future of the country.
I definitely wish I was there. Last night, they (my friends) were talking about seriously trying to get there quickly, like flying out today or tomorrow. And I said that unfortunately, I had my calendar full for the whole month.
- Ahmed Elzarie, 52, of Buena Park, a freelance interpreter who has lived in the U.S. for 21 years
I don't know what to say. I can't believe it. I have the TV on Al Jazeera English, the computer on another channel and another computer on another channel, as loud as I can, just to live the moment with them. Not only me, but everyone I have been talking to is saying "I wish I could be there right now."
We have made history, not only history for Egypt, but history for the Middle East, history for Africa, for the biggest revolution to be very peaceful. The violence came from the regime itself.
Last night, we were all depressed. The same mood was in Egypt, too. We were scared...we thought it could be bloody. Our feeling is that he (Mubarak) did not resign, that the army forced him out.
We are happy, happy, happy. Happy as can be.
- Ali Ibrahim, 59, of Fullerton, an importer of Egyptian hookahs who has lived in the U.S. for 32 years
This is one of the happiest days in my life. I was really surprised. I was sitting on the couch all night long in front of the TV. I was worried about the Republican Guard (the governmental defense troops), but I think he left after his speech yesterday. We put our trust in the army and they did a very good job, and we salute them.
What I want to come out of this is to get rid of the corruption, to get rid of a military government running the country with an iron fist that is terrorizing young people. If you go to any convenience store and find an Egyptian working there, he probably graduated from law school or medical school. The new generation, most of the leaders (of the protests) are from wealthy families. The were looking for freedom, and the rest of the population joined them looking for a better life, a better economic life.
Egyptian people are peaceful people. We just want to make it day by day, live in peace, come back home to have lunch or dinner with our families, go watch a soccer game. All they need is good leadership to guide them.
We are not a poor country. We can be like Switzerland, like France, like the United States. All we need is good rule and good law, to get rid of the corruption.
It is a new day, a great day. We are hoping that the U.S. government will finally get the message that leaders come and go, but the people, and the power and the voice of the people, will stay forever. The U.S. needs to change its policies and stop financing dictators around the world.
- Khalid El-Gabry, 54, of Cypress, the owner of a Los Angeles chicken slaughterhouse who studied law in Egypt, and who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years