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Homeland Conflict Riles NYC's 'Little Egypt' from Afar

  • Adam Phillips

The mosque in Queens New York's Little Egypt neighborhood overflows for Friday prayers, Aug. 16, 2013. (Adam Phillips/VOA)

The mosque in Queens New York's Little Egypt neighborhood overflows for Friday prayers, Aug. 16, 2013. (Adam Phillips/VOA)

The Astoria neighborhood in Queens, New York, is home to thousands of Egyptian Americans and other groups.

Friday is the holiest day in the Muslim week, and many residents of the Little Egypt neighborhood of Astoria Queens took the day off to try to relax from the work week. For some, that meant more time at a crowded local mosque, where they listened to sermons.

The bloodshed in Egypt weighed heavily on the minds of many people. This past week, the Egyptian army stormed sit-ins by the Muslim Brotherhood, killing hundreds of protesters and wounding thousands.

A man, who had just come from prayer, described the coup and the violence as inhuman. “… when you play inhuman, disaster happens!” he said.

Mohamed, a Yemeni-American who works in a store across the street, agreed.

“First they elected Morsi, right? Now they don’t want him anymore. They just want to do what they want. So they fight over it. But thousands of people get killed every day. Like what I just saw on al-Jazeera. And when I just logged into Facebook, I saw these pictures of Egyptians dead on the street. It’s sad. What can I do about it? Little children who want a future and all that. They are dead. It’s not good,” said Mohamed.

Inside a traditional Muslim clothing shop, a young Turkish woman named Emel said that ousting President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was a setback for democracy.

“It seems pretty sad that people have to fight continuously when they could unite. I feel like if you vote for someone you kind of have to stick with it. He should have done his period of time, then they should just re-elect someone,“ she said.

She particularly abhored the recent violence by the Egyptian Army.

“I don’t think they should be going and just killing people at random," said Emel. "That’s what is leading people to use their own weapons against them, and it’s going to create an inner civil war. No army should be coming in and killing. This is happening right now in Egypt. But it happens in almost every country. The army, when they get the power, they take advantage…”

In a café down the street where men played backgammon and smoked water pipes beneath a television showing Egyptian news coverage, a patron named Mustafa asserted that the Army acted properly. He flatly denied Western media reports that Morsi supporters were demonstrating peaceably when the attack came.

"They carry a machine gun and you tell me a peaceful demonstration," said Mustafa. "They are no good. Who blew up the World Trade Center? The Islamic fanatics!

At a nearby table, a man named Nash said his community suffered directly from the Muslim Brotherhood while they were in power.

“They attack churches. I am a Coptic. I am a Christian," he said. "They attack churches. They kill everybody. They don’t care about Muslim or Christian. They don’t care about religion. Religion means peace and love. They don’t have no peace. They don’t have no love. What can I say more than that? And God bless America, God bless Egypt and save the people over there, our families and our friends. It’s a black time for Egypt.”

It is an open question as to whether the chaos and violence in Egypt will subside. One 10-year-old boy, whose uncle’s store back in Egypt has been robbed and looted by both sides in the conflict, put his wishes simply like this: “Stop the fighting. Stop the killing. Just be nice.”