How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Egypt's violent upheaval hits home in Southern California

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Families throughout Southern California’s Egyptian American community have been receiving disturbing news of deaths, injuries and other losses suffered by family friends and  loved ones in Egypt as violence there continues.

The news became worse for some after August 14, when the Egyptian military cracked down on protesters in the square surrounding Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. Several hundred deaths were reported in the aftermath.

Ebrahim Gehan’s brothers were at the protest. One suffered burns as tents in the area caught fire. He made it home, but another brother, an attorney, was arrested and jailed. The family says he's still in prison.

“I called him the night before that black day,” said Gehan, who lives with his family in Westminster. “I told him, why are you over there in this area? Go back home with your family.”

His brother didn’t heed the advice. Now, “every step now is harder than before...I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t continue with my work, I cant do anything because very bad news, very bad news.”

Gehan is the religious director of a mosque in Fountain Valley. He described his brothers as "regular guys" – one practicing law, the other a restaurant owner – who did not have any particularly strong religious or political ties.  But they were upset over what many Egyptians have come to perceive as the end of that country’s fledgling democracy.

Many civilians killed in recent protests have been Morsi supporters. But Egyptians who wanted Morsi out are also suffering, said Ahmed Younis, a Huntington Beach writer and former Gallup poll analyst who was raised in the U.S. and Egypt.

Younis said his cousin, her husband and their newborn baby had to flee their apartment in Rabaa Square when large numbers of protesters began camping out there last month.

He said they were among many residents displaced after the area became “uninhabitable.” After several weeks spent between their mothers’ homes, the couple returned recently to find their apartment occupied by armed Morsi supporters, Younis said.

“My cousin has not been to her home since the day Morsi was overthrown, and the day that they go back, they find that it’s become a makeshift locker room for guys with guns,” Younis said. “So the idea that the average Egyptian civilian is not negatively affected by what is happening…is absolutely not true.”

The ouster of Morsi last month pitted the government against the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which Morsi supported. Younis, who identifies as Muslim, said that while he and his family members in Egypt find the government’s use of force deplorable, they don’t support the Muslim Brotherhood’s involvement in the upheaval either. Like others, they are eager to see the protests and the violence end.

“The city is crippled,” he said. “These things affect people’s lives on a daily basis.”  

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