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Nobel Laureate and San Marino Resident Meets With Egyptian Leaders

Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel Prize winner and San Marino resident, met with Egyptian leaders this past week. Meanwhile, Egyptians with close ties to the San Gabriel Valley voice their opinions about the protests.

Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian-American and San Marino resident Ahmed Zewail went to Egypt and asked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

Zewail’s news conference came on the 13th day of protests in Cairo. The protests began as demonstrations against 30-year leader Mubarak and sparked opposing protests.

“My heart muscles have been super tight since day one, and I am sure I’ve suffered psychologically from being in a ‘war’ zone and having seen too many close friends wounded,” said Egyptian-American Sarah Girgis (in an exclusive Patch interview), who was born in Egypt and lived in Pasadena and Arcadia before moving to her current Cairo home in 2009.

Girgis, whose parents still live in Arcadia, said she heard gunshots throughout the first few nights, even in the elite neighborhood where she was staying, and tanks have rolled down the streets, ready to fire. Due to the curfew, Girgis said she feels like she’s been under house arrest and does not feel at ease.

“I think Egypt has proven how united they are as people and is showing the world they are defending themselves,” said Egyptian and San Marino resident Norma Mardelli, who wrote a last week about local neighbors needing to protect each other, as people have in Egypt. “The way they stood in those streets and defended their family and friends is amazing.”

Mardelli moved to the U.S. right before Mubarak took power in 1981, the year President Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated. “I’m not a politician,” said Mardelli, who thinks Mubarak probably should step down, "though perhaps in six months when there is hopefully less chaos".

"We are at a crossroads in Egypt and we need a clear vision," said Zewail, who teaches at Cal Tech and has previously called for political and educational reforms in Egypt, the AP reported.

Zewail, who lives in San Marino, also met with young protesters and government officials like Vice President Omar Suleiman, who is leading talks with the opposition for the government, according to the AP.

Girgis said Zewail, awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry, “is a very bright man who makes us all proud to call him Egyptian.”

While Girgis does not support Mubarak and said she wants “him tried at the UN criminal court in the Haag [because] he has violated major human rights laws, oppressed people, [and] killed millions,” she isn’t clinging to Zewail to save Egypt.

“His physical presence in Egypt can do no harm, however, we—the protestors—are all very wary of those who do not live in Egypt, hardly speak Arabic, and [are] out of touch with the culture who consider themselves saviors,” said Girgis, 27, who works as a banker in Cairo. “It’s noble, we appreciate it, but we dismissed it very quickly; to us, he’s not really Egyptian, he’s just another voice of reason and should not play hero now. Our heroes spent the night rioting and took bullets for us; they will stay here until things change and will exercise their right to vote very soon.”

Zewail also met with religious leaders and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, the AP reported, who is a potential presidential candidate that Girgis hopes will replace Mubarak.

The AP said Zewail “believed a solution would involve amending the constitution, setting a timeline for free elections, canceling emergency laws, freeing political prisoners and respecting press freedom.”

Girgis said these solutions are what the Egyptian people want.

“We will stay in Tahrir [Square] until they (current leaders) see the light,” said Girgis.

Paul Bois February 08, 2011 at 10:06 PM
I find it most interesting that Sarah Girgis and other Egyptians don't "cling" to Zewail as their savior. These are some of the most volatile times in modern Egypt and, while I do think Zewail's presence will spark a gleam of hope, I don't think Mubarak will step down anytime soon, not without a fight. For Sarah Girgis, I pray she makes it through this safely. Thank you for reporting this, Jessica.

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