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As Egyptians Celebrate, Some Are Fearful

Anti-government protesters celebrate atop a tank in Tahrir Square after the announcement in Cairo of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11. Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had bowed to pressure from demonstrators in the streets and resigned, handing power to the army. (Photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters) 

14 Feb 2011 – by Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — With events changing by the moment, Egyptians were left feeling angry, frustrated and uncertain, said a Catholic priest in a phone interview Feb. 11 minutes before Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman announced President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

“They want Mubarak to go now, and all his government,” Father Shenouda Andraos told Catholic News Service from St. Leo Great Coptic Catholic Seminary in Cairo. “There is anger in the streets. We are waiting for someone to speak to the people. We never know what will happen. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. It is difficult to imagine.”

He noted that more than 1 million people had gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with many of the protesters marching on the presidential palace demanding Mubarak’s resignation and that a parliamentary tribunal of five or six parliament members take control of the government until the planned September election.

Father Andraos also said it was uncertain what role the military would take in the reconfigured government until the election.

Jason Belanger, country representative for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, told CNS in an e-mail exchange that pro-Mubarak loyalists had blamed outside forces, such as Israel and the United States, for fomenting the demonstrations, which he said, could pose a threat to foreigners in Egypt.

At the same time said Comboni Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella said in an e-mail exchange from Cairo a clear sense of fear remained in the Egyptian capital. She said Egyptian television only showed the protestors in Tahrir Square while ignoring the other 80 percent of the population that was not demonstrating.

“Have they the right to be considered? There are people all over Egypt who see that the transition time is necessary, to gradually prepare the nation to become a democratic country,” she wrote.

“At the moment, unfortunately, the role of the army is not clear: Are they going to support the vice president or not? If not, it will prolong the sense of insecurity and fear in which people have gone through in the last two weeks,” she explained.

She was especially concerned for Sudanese and Eritrean refugees living in Cairo. The lack of security during the protests placed them at risk of violence, she wrote.

“They don’t have the services as before, and have no protection because they are foreigners and have no possibility of going back to their countries,” said Sister Anna Maria, who has been in Egypt for eight years and worked in educational centers for about 1,200 Sudanese refugee students who are following their country’s curriculum.

Despite the risks, Sister Anna Maria said, classes remained in session for older students, who are scheduled to take exams from Khartoum in March.

“We hope that the way toward normalcy can go ahead so that they can succeed,” she said.

In Luxor, 320 miles south of Cairo, the atmosphere has been quiet, said Coptic Catholic Bishop Youhannes Zakaria, although he cited the economic hardship people have experienced because the flow of tourists — the primary business driver — had dwindled since the protests erupted Jan. 25.

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