See more photos in “Los Angeles Rally Shows Support for Egyptian Protesters.”
By: Liana Aghajanian
As protests calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak violently escalated on the streets of Egypt in what is now the fifth day of anti-government unrest, at least a thousand demonstrators in Los Angeles organized in front the Federal Building chanting for an end to the 30-year regime and carrying homemade signs in Arabic and English to stand in solidarity with their Egyptian counterparts thousands of miles away.
Demanding that Mubarak and his regime be replaced with freedom and democracy in the North African country, demonstrators, many who had family and relatives on the front lines of the protest in Egypt, grew exponentially over the course of a few hours and flooded Wilshire Boulevard waving Egyptian and American flags amid honks of support from traffic.
The passionate chants that made waves across a crowd full of varied backgrounds, including members of the Sudanese, Libyan, Iranian, Latino, Tunisian and Palestinian diasporas, were led by organizers like Amr Elshennawy, who stressed the event was not only to show support for Egypt, but to inspire Americans to pressure the U.S government, who has given 2 billion in economic and military aid to Egypt since 1979 according to the Congressional Research Service , to stop supporting the current regime.
“These are very basic human rights that people are just asking for,” he said. “Americans fought for freedom a long time go, so it's a basic right of Egyptians to have the same fight.”
Inspired by the protests that overthrew the government in Tunisia, Egyptians organized and took to the streets earlier this week to speak out against rising poverty, corruption and unemployment, which they say is a result of Mubarak's rule. Elshennawy's brother was one of them, and is currently at the demonstration in Tahrir Square, Cairo's bustling city center that's now become the iconic hub for protests.
“He's saying that right now the situation is a disaster and everybody knows that,” he said. “I'm ashamed I'm not there, but I'm doing my best.”
While signs like “Down with Mubarak, Up with the People” bopped between clenched fists and community leaders stepped up to have their say with speaker phones, hope and optimism of an impending regime change swept over demonstrators.
Magda Faraq, who immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt twenty years ago said Mubarak's resignation was imminent.
“People don't want him,” she said. “This is the first time people are screaming for their rights, to have the freedom to choose their own president and their own destiny.”
Faraq said she didn't have anyone in mind to take over because Mubarak didn't leave anyone a chance to be in the picture except him.
Opinions on Mubarak's address to the Egyptian people yesterday, where he called for his cabinet to resign, but stayed in power himself, echoed the same general discontent found on social networks across the world.
A 1979 immigrant from Egypt, Ahmad Zahran, laughed when asked what he thought of Mubarak's address.
“It was a joke,” he said, with a peeled tangerine in hand. “The message was loud and clear – get out of here, we don't need you anymore.”
Zahran who recited a poem in Arabic about struggling to achieve goals, said the situation in Egypt, where many earn less than a dollar a day, was dire.
“I urge all freedom loving people in the world to support the young people who are being killed right now in Egypt,” he said. Zahran managed to get through to family members two days ago, but was not able to reach anyone today, due to the government orders that shut down internet connection in the country.
High school student Yosef Diab, whose two brothers are in Egypt, said he had been spending up to $80 trying to call his family and was finally about to get through to a landline. Hailing from Arroyo Grande, a city in San Luis Obispo County, Diab, like many others, drove down from cities across California to join in the demonstration. With reports of prisoners escaping a South Cairo prison and looters loose in the city, the apartment complex where Diab's family lives is being safeguarded by men who've formed an ad-hoc security group to protect the women and children at home.
In between a sea of red and black, members of Iran's green movement with the memory of the 2009 protests and violent government crackdown after the Iranian Election still fresh in their minds assembled alongside others with signs reading “Today, Iran's Greens are all Egyptian.”
Green movement member Nasir Emami said that the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, where demonstrations led to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to exile, had made him optimistic about the possibility of what he called a “Middle Eastern Renaissance.”
He hoped that the movements would inspire Iranian people to become more determined in their cause for democracy and said freedom is generally appreciated by people who don't have it.
“Many people in this country and democratic countries, they take it for granted,” he said, adding that his family and friends in Iran were envious of those protesters pushing forward in Egypt. “It's the most precious thing on Earth and that's what all these movements are about.”
As the afternoon progressed, demonstrating families, couples and friends spread across both sides of Wilshire Boulevard to cover more ground in their quest for visibility of oncoming traffic. Soon after, loud cheers erupted, spreading news that Mubarak had fled the country, news which disappointingly turned out to be just a rumor. The crowds pressed on, hoping the news of their protest would somehow reach Egypt, as cars on the street honked to to the melody of “Hey, hey, ho,ho, Mubarak has to go.”
Demonstrations will also take place Sunday in front of the Egyptian Consulate, where protesters hope to have their voices heard.