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Uncertainty touches isle Egyptians, travelers


Egyptians in Hawaii and Hawaii residents hoping to travel to Egypt have been caught up in the political upheaval unfolding nearly 9,000 miles away.

Tarek Guiguis, owner of the Pyramids restaurant on Kapahulu Avenue, grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, and has been trying to stay up to date with cousins back home via e-mail.

"Everybody is scared," Guiguis said. "Everybody is staying at home."

His friends and family say residents — sometimes 50 or 60 strong — are guarding their apartment buildings.

"They don’t sleep at all," Guiguis said. "They’ve told me it’s really, really bad."

As demonstrators continued to protest in the streets of Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced yesterday that he will oversee a peaceful transfer of power following elections of a new government in September.

The unrest led Honolulu-based Royal Adventure Travel to cancel its "Treasures of Egypt" tour scheduled to depart Feb. 12.

But European World Travel Service still hopes to send 26 Hawaii travelers to Egypt for 17 days beginning on March 11 — or at least get customers refunds on their nonrefundable $4,550 cost, said manager Alex Dold, whose parents own the business.

"Right now it’s sit and wait until they (airlines and Egyptian tour companies) declare they can get a full refund," Dold said.

If the situation in Egypt still seems unsafe in a few weeks, Dold said, "even if it came to a money loss, we would pull out of the tour for safety reasons. Safety is definitely a factor."

Roy Oshiro, former executive director of the Housing Finance and Development Corp., is booked on the trip with his companion, sister and brother-in-law.

The visit would be the first for everyone in the group, and Oshiro was particularly looking forward to seeing the pyramids and sailing down the Nile on a seven-night cruise.

"Egypt is a place I’ve always wanted to see," said Oshiro, 70. "But if people are still leaving the country, I would rather not go and be in harm’s way."

Carol and Thomas Toyama, both 65 of Pearl City, signed up for the tour on the advice of friends, who called it "an interesting place," Carol said.

They were looking forward to gazing at the pyramids and imagining their construction.

Now one of their sons is pleading with them not to go, Carol Toyama said, "and from reading the newspaper and the Internet, it sounds like even if they do get a new government, the country will still be in chaos. It seems like it will be a long time until we can visit the country again because of all of the unrest."

Egypt is home to Hala Ghoname, 26. She grew up in Cairo and moved to Hawaii last year to pursue her master’s degree in art history at the University of Hawaii.

Ghoname had been trained at Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, often known simply as the Egyptian Museum, to earn her undergraduate degree in historic preservation.

Watching television in Honolulu last week, Ghoname saw the museum on fire and being looted.

"I was crying," Ghoname said. "I was imagining the chaos, imagining that my country was in danger, that my history was in danger. I was feeling so bad because it could have been saved."

When Ghoname finally got through to one of her friends in Egypt on the phone Sunday, the friend reminded Ghoname of why she left Egypt in the first place.

"She said, ‘You have a mission to finish,’" Ghoname said. "’Go and get your master’s (degree) and come back to Egypt so you can teach our new generation about art, about civilization. You are in the U.S. for Egypt as well. … You will come back and see a new Egypt.’"


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