By Tara Bahrampour and Kevin Sieff
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 11:23 PM
For the past 19 days, a narrow stretch of asphalt in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington was Oussama El Masry's Tahrir Square. He came here periodically from Falls Church to lead chants and hold signs, inspired by telephone conversations with his brother, who camped in Tahrir for nearly three weeks.
"I felt terrible that I couldn't be there," Masry said. "They risked their lives, and they brought us democracy after so many years."
Just over 24 hours after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as Egypt's president, Masry and more than 200 others came here once more to sing and dance and hold children, who waved small Egyptian flags, over their shoulders. And, in quiet moments, they discussed the next chapter in the country's revolution: the transition from a waging a popular uprising to governing a nascent democracy.
"It won't be easy and it will take time," said Masry, who plans to vote in the presidential election - his first time ever voting - at the Egyptian Embassy. "We're starting to hear names emerging of potential leaders. But it's not about the names; it's about who has the right agenda. These are things that will come together in the coming months."
Some of the men and women celebrating have begun considering the possibility of returning to Egypt permanently, now that the Mubarak regime's reign appears to have ended.
"For many years, I felt more American than Egyptian. That changed yesterday," said Rafik Tarfa, 42, who moved to the United States from Egypt 20 years ago.
After Mubarak stepped down Friday, celebrations began to erupt across Washington like fireworks. For Egyptians in the region, the previous 24 hours had been a roller coaster, with the frustration of "Mubarak is digging in!" dissolving magically that morning into the euphoria of "He's resigning!"
Egyptians were delirious.
"There are parties all over town," said a smiling Amira El-Gawly, 26, who was celebrating with friends Friday night at Napoleon Bistro & Lounge in Adams Morgan. "Everyone's totally partying together. It's amazing!"
As it began to sink in Friday that protesters had managed to topple a 30-year regime in 18 days, Egyptian expats called around town to plan celebrations. Some converged in front of the Egyptian Embassy, singing patriotic songs and ecstatically waving flags as Arabic music played from portable amplifiers; others gathered at hookah bars in Virginia.
At Napoleon - where Karim Chrobog, a District-based Egyptian documentary filmmaker, and his friend Omar Popal, the restaurant's Afghan owner, had sent out word through Facebook - the party gained momentum as the evening progressed.
In the early hours of the morning, new groups were still arriving from other celebrations and squeezing into the downstairs lounge. They had awoken to the news or seen it flash in on text messages urging them to turn on the television.
"I got 100 texts saying Mubarak has resigned," said Emad Dawood, 41, an Egyptian photographer who lives in Falls Church. "I didn't think it was going to happen, but I was praying that it would happen."
The moment had swept in with searing immediacy. Just a day earlier, Gawly had been telling friends how disappointed she was that Mubarak was not leaving.
"I did not imagine that today would be newsworthy in any way," she said. "I was shocked by the news; tears just started streaming down my eyes."
But for her, as for many, the euphoria came tinged with trepidation as Egypt faces an uncertain future.
"The number one feeling is pride - I am so, so, so proud of everyone in the streets. I have a lot of friends who have been there since Day One, risking their lives, risking their comfort, and I'm so proud that their spirits were not broken," said Gawly, a Georgetown student who attended the American University in Cairo. "But, of course, at the same time it's the first step in a very long road."
Sherif Wahby, 37, an Egyptian executive recruiter who lives in Fairfax, added, "This first chapter was fueled by emotion; the next chapter has to be fueled by strategy and planning and collaboration between the old regime and the leaders of the opposition."
Chrobog, the party's organizer, agreed. "People are aware that the challenge is really what happens next," he said.
Those who travel regularly to Egypt said they had had no indication of what would soon happen. Gawly's brother Sameh, 31, was there in mid-January, days before the protests began. A doctor living in the District, he said he had decided that living in Egypt was not for him, especially after a young man was beaten to death in police custody. "I said to my mom, 'I have no faith in this society.' "
That has changed. "Because of what happened today," he said, "I want to spend more time there."
Masry, who brought his wife and two daughters to the embassy Saturday for the first time since Egypt's uprising began, remained cautiously optimistic. "We'll see how the next few months go,'' he said. "If I can find a job over there, I would love to move back.
"We found our rights. We're not going to lose them again."