Osama Siblani (third from left) leads a meeting of the Congress of Arab-American Organizations at the Lebanese American Heritage Club Thursday, hours before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned.
Demonstration planned in Detroit
By DANIEL HERATY
DEARBORN — News of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation Friday following weeks of demonstrations in the Middle East country has brought strong reaction from Arab American leaders in metropolitan Detroit.
“We are witnessing history in the Arab world, the awakening of the Arab people and the beginning of democracy across the region,” Osama Siblani, Congress of Arab-American Organizations spokeperson, said in a statement following Mubarak’s announcement.
“As Arab-Americans we are extremely proud of the Egyptian people who stood up so courageously for their rights, and we are ecstatic that they were able to oust the dictator Mubarak. We will be celebrating this victory for a long, long time.”
Members of the CAAO met Thursday at the Lebanese American Heritage Club in Dearborn to discuss further actions to support the Egyptian people and their disdain for Mubarak.
“The man has absolutely no clue of what’s been happening outside his presidential palace,” said Siblani, who also is publisher of the Arab-American News.
The CAAO responded to last week’s developments by issuing a statement of support for the Egyptian people on Friday. It also called on President Barack Obama to come to a decision on where the United States stands.
“We’re going to ask our president to stop dancing around it,” said Siblani, “and for his administration to be consistent with our principles of democracy and freedom.” He said the people who have been lining the streets of Cairo numbering in the millions are demanding a change in their government.
“We as Arab-Americans are urging our administration to take a position that is clear and obvious and strong,” Siblani said, “supporting the rights and aspirations of the Egyptians.”
Siblani said it is important for the United States to have an honest relationship with the people of Egypt. He compared it to the situation with Iran, where this country backed the shah.
“When the shah went down, he took our interests with him,” Siblani said, “and now we have 60 million Iranians that are against us.”
Other attendees agreed that support for the freedom of the Egyptian people was the main goal of Thursday’s gathering.
“We taste it here, we live it, we experience it,” said Shereef Akeel, attorney and chairman of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee Michigan Advisory Board. “Today, they almost tasted it, like a starving man about to be given a bowl of food; it was taken away from them.”
Akeel said Mubarak “doesn’t get it” when it comes to listening and hearing what the people of Egypt want.
“He has not heard the voices of a people that are expressing the will to be free,” he said. “We should be angry with that response.”
“This is a people movement, and my family (is) very much part of it,” said Akeel, an Egyptian whose family members are participating in the demonstrations. He said much has been accomplished already in the 17 days since the protests began, and that the protests have been the culmination of many building issues.
“It’s getting bigger and bigger, and there’s no letdown,” he said.
People in Egypt, Akeel said, have started to now recognize their opportunites.
“When I was in Egypt, I talked to a taxi driver and he turned out to be an eye surgeon,” he said. “And he said he makes more money driving a taxi.
“I talked to a doorman; he happened to be a lawyer. So you had people who did what they had to do to better themselves, but they never had the opportunity to realize what we realize.
“So that was a mounting frustration.”
Teacher Abraham Harajli said the meeting was effective and reiterated its goal.
“We want what the people want, and that’s democracy,” he said.
CAAO officials plan further demonstrations, including one in downtown Detroit, scheduled for Friday in front of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building, 477 Michigan Ave.