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Boston-area Egyptians show solidarity with protest march

Hundreds walk peacefully from Harvard Square

Ahmed Rashed (left) and his wife, Shaimaa Badr, were among hundreds who marched down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge to protest the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Ahmed Rashed (left) and his wife, Shaimaa Badr, were among hundreds who marched down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge to protest the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)
By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / January 30, 2011

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Some were angry; others fearful. Jubilant screams mixed with expressions of pain and worry. But the hundreds of demonstrators who marched from Cambridge to Boston were unified by a single sentiment: Egypt must be free.

“The United States is built around ideals and values. Your First Amendment freedom of speech, that’s what we want,’’ said Amr Ali, 31, a Cairo-born demonstrator who said he has lived in the United States for six years. “We’re asking for the US to stand by US values, and the Egyptian people.’’

The demonstrators marched in a peaceful column down Massachusetts Avenue, stopping traffic and drawing stares from passersby, before turning onto Boylston Street on their way to Government Center. Cambridge police, and then a half-dozen Boston police cruisers, escorted the group as horns blasted in approval from passing cars, some adorned with Egyptian flags.

Many Egyptians said their excitement for a free and self-determined Egypt has mixed with fear for family members. The reports from relatives in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities have darkened, they said.

Egyptian officials have acknowledged the deaths of nearly 80 people, but many expect the toll to be higher. Anxiety is pervasive, and demonstrators said friends and family in Egypt fear for their safety.

One woman said her relatives in the greater Cairo area had armed themselves. “So far, all are safe,’’ said Neveen Taher of Brookline, 31. “Everybody is trying to be safe and stay together and just try to secure their homes.’’

While some have begun to look toward the United States government for a response, other protesters were critical of this country’s support of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

“There will be mistrust of anything that the American government does because they’ve been such strong supporters of Mubarak,’’ said Liz Ismail, who marched with her husband, Massar. “I’m not sure the government here should get involved.’’

Marihan Hashesh of Boston, 23, who organized the demonstration on Facebook, said that while the United States’ historic support of Egypt complicates the situation for American officials, a free and democratic process in the Middle Eastern country could produce just as much cooperation.

“Mubarak isn’t the only one who can keep peace with Israel,’’ said Hashesh, as she marched on Boylston Street. “He’s just one person.’’

Similar demonstrations in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington were reported yesterday, as Egyptian-Americans banded together behind their countrymen overseas.

In Boston, the group was diverse; many of the Arabic-speaking protesters hailed from other Middle Eastern nations, saying that the struggle of Egyptians was symbolic. A few in the crowd sported Guy Fawkes masks, a hallmark of the online group Anonymous. Several people handed out socialist literature. A few members of a school bus drivers’ union turned out, saying the Egyptian struggle for self-determination is their fight too.

Mina Khalil, 27, a Harvard Law School student who screamed himself hoarse as he led the chants for Mubarak’s ouster, said he was doing research in Egypt and left the country only two days before the protests erupted last week. Now he is concerned about his family in Alexandria.

“They’re safe, but they don’t leave the house,’’ said Khalil, adding that word of the coming unrest had spread before he left the country.

One Egyptian-American, who asked that her name be withheld, said that middle-class anger there has swelled with unemployment and inflation.

“It’s an important moment in the history of the country,’’ said the woman, who stood with her husband and 5-month-old son. “The last election was such a sham. You can’t live a fairly decent life [in Egypt] without being rich.’’

Material from the Globe’s wire services was used in this report.

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