Cairo, Egypt is more than five thousand miles away from Astoria, Queens, but the outcome of Egypt’s first, democratic, presidential election was resonating on Steinway Street Monday. The newly-elected President is Mohammed Morsi, who was the candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood party.
“There’s concern about Egypt,” said café owner, Hani Agag, an Egyptian immigrant. “How is it going to be—an Islamist state or a civil state?” Morsi—who received an engineering degree here in the United States--has vowed to be a president for all Egyptians—Muslim and Christian.
“Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood has been sympathetic to Islamist groups who have been anti-Israel and anti-United States,” King said at his Long Island office Monday.
While Morsi—who edged out his opponent with 51 percent of the vote—now faces a power struggle with Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, King said he’s worried the United States may not get the same amount of intelligence information about terrorists that it received under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, who was thrown out of office last year after three decades, after a massive uprising.
“Even though there were problems with Mubarak, he was a great ally to the United States,” King said. “With Mubarak, we knew what Egypt got on Al Qaeda, we would get. I’m just concerned we’re not going to get that same level of cooperation now. That could make us more vulnerable to attack. That could open Israel to an attack.”
President-elect Morsi has pledged to honor the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel.
On Monday, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was diplomatic: “Israel respects the results of the election,” Netanyahu said, “and we look forward to working with the new government.”
We met Mohamad Gharib, who supported Morsi’s election, at the Jasmin Lounge in Astoria—a hookah café where many immigrants congregate. “He has been here in the United States,” he said of Morsi. “He has an open mind, he’s a great guy, he’s good with religion.”
Another customer, Mohammed Khafaga, told us he hoped his homeland of Egypt would not become an Islamist state. “I don’t want it to change, to see scarves all over the street, a focus just on religion,” Khafaga said. When I told Khafaga you could see scarves all along Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, he replied, “but not as much as over there.”
Morsi is the first, civilian President ever elected in Egypt’s seven thousand year history. Most people we met Monday, including Congressman King, said change might not come immediately in Egypt but could come incrementally….in the next year or two.