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N.Va. cafe becomes destination for gossip and debate over Egypt's fate

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Brothers Ahmed Awad and Mohamed Ibrahim moved to Virginia from Egypt over a decade ago. One way they keep connected to their home country, and the current uprising, is the Cairo Cafe in Alexandria.

"Once one Middle Eastern government gets involved, all others get involved," said Laurene Ghaleb, 24, a Lebanese woman who lives not far from the cafe. "Middle Eastern people in general, they all stand by each other. Everyone in Lebanon is concerned about what consequences it brings to our government."

And, she added, "they want to make sure that the Egyptians really do overthrow their government."

Mohammad Mehdi, 37, an Iraqi journalist living in Alexandria, looked up from his backgammon board with a big grin. "We are very happy to see all these dominoes fall," he said, "starting with Tunisia," where President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was swept from power a few weeks ago by mass demonstrations.

Even among Egyptians here, Awad and Ibrahim admit they are a minority. Most of their Egyptian friends here are elated, they said, and the fierce arguments they've had have led to "a dead end."

Now, sipping Nescafe and puffing on a guava-flavored hookah, Awad said he just wants it to be over "so people don't die."

Across the United States, Egyptians described a range of emotions. Patricia Mechael, an international affairs professor at Columbia University, has been in daily contact with relatives holed up in their apartment one block from Tahrir Square, the center of the uprising.

While Mechael said she is excited for Egypt, her relatives' experience has been "petrifying."

"One of my cousins' cars was lit on fire," she said, adding that food was running out and banks were being robbed. "My cousin is saying, 'We haven't showered in days, we're glued to the TV, we're looking out the window to see what is happening.' "

Mechael said her family, which is Christian, fears a takeover by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and is considering leaving the country. "It depends on the process, on if they feel they have a voice or not," she said.

Others longed to head to Egypt, not flee it.

Karim Chrobog, 32, an Egyptian German documentary filmmaker who lives in the District, said several of his friends there are taking part in the demonstrations. He and other ex-pats are envious.

"If we had a chance just to be there, to be part of it," Chrobog said. "But it's a pipe dream - most of the flights are canceled. It's history in the making, so you'd like to be there."


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