Arab Spring in LA: Watching a revolution from 8,000 miles away

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Grant Slater/KPCC

A Syrian woman holds a rose and a sign thanking the people of Egypt for continuing the wave of protests across the Middle East at a demonstration in Irvine, Calif., on May 7.

On Dec. 17, a Tunisian street vendor set himself alight and sparked protests that engulfed the Middle East. Six months and six countries later, the Arab Spring has swept from Tunisia to Cairo. And to California. The majority of state's nearly quarter-million Arab-Americans live in the Southland. That portion alone is more than in any other U.S. state. KPCC found out what it's like for them to watch a revolution from 8,000 miles away.

Free Tunisia
Bechir Blagui owns a rental car business in Hollywood. He's an elected member of the local neighborhood council. His business hosts concerts and gatherings. He also started and maintains Free Tunisia, one of the biggest Web sites dedicated to fall of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He learned democracy glad-handing in Hollywood and applied local organizing tactics to the Tunisian revolution.

Egypt's new chapter
We visit Habibi Cafe in Santa Monica where the hookah smoke is thick and Egyptians abound. Store manager Mostafa Said and advertising strategist Tamer Kattan walk us through the sense of optimism that Egyptians are feeling after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

From Alexandria to Mars
Wedad Abdou started her life in Alexandria. She unexpectedly received a scholarship to study in the U.S. decades ago and hasn't lived in Egypt since. Now she lives and works in Pasadena where she helps design satellites that monitor the climate of Mars. She discusses the feelings of dread Egyptians experienced at the height of the revolution and the sense of relief they feel today.

Doctors without borders
Two doctors from opposite ends of Los Angeles meet for the first time in a battlefield hospital in Benghazi. One, a young man, leaves behind his pregnant wife to help Libyan rebels. The other, a bit older, leaves because his wife, also a doctor, wouldn't have it any other way.

Yemen in Bakersfield
Faroq Almulaikey owns a 99-cent store in a run-down area of central Bakersfield. He and his brother take turns living with their parents in Yemen or running the store. Almulaikey feels something is changing in Yemen, where people are fed up with rampant corruption and squandered or stolen international aid. He wants to see President Saleh toppled and hopes for better use of Yemen's resources so he can retire to his home country.

Syrian unrest in the Southland
There is a split in the Syrian community between those who support the regime of Bashar al-Assad and protestors who gather at least twice a week on random street corners in Irvine, Anaheim and Long Beach: To revolt or not to revolt?

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