Marylanders with ties to Egypt feel uneasy

Egyptian Pizza owner Mohamed Mahmoud is reconsidering his trip to Egypt next month.

Mahmoud, 55, who has owned the Belvedere Square restaurant since 1990, was planning to fly to Cairo in February to visit family but might be forced to cancel his trip as the country continues to erupt in violent unrest. More than a hundred people have died since the anti-government protests began five days ago.

Mahmoud, who came to the United States in the mid-1980s and settled in Baltimore, said he frequently returns to Egypt to visit family. But with the recent violence in Cairo, where he still has five cousins, the restaurant owner said he's concerned that conditions will only get worse.

"They feel like enough is enough. They think Mubarak has to go," he said, referring to President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule. "They feel he is corrupt and we need some change in Egypt."

Mahmoud said his trip is scheduled for Saturday, but the State Department has warned U.S. citizens to cancel nonessential trips to Egypt until the unrest ends.

"I want to see how it goes," said Mahmoud, but he predicted that tensions will continue to mount. "It's going to get ugly."

Shibley Telhami, a professor who holds the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the unrest is atypical for Egyptians.

"[It's] a new phenomenon in Egypt. We've never seen an uprising on this scale," Telhami said.

The Sadat chair was established to preserve the legacy of the late Egyptian president through an endowment from his wife, Dr. Jehan Sadat, who is a fellow at the university. She was in Cairo and could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The University of Maryland has seven students studying in Egypt this semester, but four are traveling outside the country. One is in Cairo, another is in Alexandria and one is enrolled at the American University of Cairo. All have been in contact except the student in Alexandria.

Telhami said the last major change in power in the country occurred in 1952 and was, for the most part, peaceful. But he said that the past week marks a significant change.

The unpredictability of this uprising is causing concern, Telhami said, explaining that he had spoken to a friend in Egypt who said he and others had been forced to defend their neighborhood using guns.

"We've never seen an explosion on this scale," Telhami said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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