Tag Archives: Egypt

Ridgewood woman recounts childhood abduction to Egypt, escape in YouTube video


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photos © Moral Courage Project 2014

She found the courage to escape. She then found the courage to share her story.

Nashwa El-Sayed was abducted to Egypt from Queens at the age of 2 by her father. After suffering from abuse, years of separation from her mother and an impending arranged marriage at the age of 17, she was finally able to leave the country and return to America.

El-Sayed, now 24, and living in Ridgewood, has since graduated from Queens College with a degree in international relations and recounted her tale, hoping others in her situation will do the same.

“Hopefully they see it as something that can change lives,” she said.

Though El-Sayed has shared her story before, she is telling it in a new medium: video.

The Moral Courage Project, an educational nonprofit started in 2008, posted a video of El-Sayed’s story, “Forced marriage in Egypt: How I escaped,” on its YouTube channel last month.

The nonprofit mentors, teaches and provides role models for people who want to build up moral courage, or do “the right thing in the face of your fears,” according to Adam Grannick, multimedia producer with the Moral Courage Project.

It showcases its role models through videos it creates for its YouTube channel, Moral Courage TV. They are “everyday people” from a middle-schooler facing a bully to corporate whistleblowers and everyone in between.

Launched in April 2012, the videos are accompanied by related social media posts to bring awareness to whatever issue they highlight and can each have their own look, depending on the story.

Since filmmakers didn’t have footage from El-Sayed’s childhood, her video featured animation.
“Animation usually takes away from the seriousness of a story, but this one was not the case,” El-Sayed said.

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El-Sayed’s story begins on Father’s Day 1993 — the day she was taken. She was living in Richmond Hill at the time, and her Egyptian father and American mother were in the process of filing for divorce.

“[My mother] knew deep down that she wasn’t going to see me again,” El-Sayed said in the video.

A couple of years after landing in Egypt, El-Sayed was living in Alexandria with her father and a stepmother who physically and emotionally abused her. She also had to be “a pious Muslim girl who should not be seen in public, who should not speak in public.”

At around age 9, she found some relief when her father divorced the woman. He soon married another woman who also tried to abuse El-Sayed, but she retaliated and the woman never tried it again.

Also at 9 years old, she saw her mother for the first time since she was abducted. That moment was when she knew there was another place she belonged to and that she could study what she wanted.

Her mother from then on would send her items from the U.S. — media, such as music from the Backstreet Boys; toys, such as Barbies; new gadgets, such as CD players; and school supplies, such as glitter.

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El-Sayed’s father promised she could go to college in America as long as she got good grades. But during her final year of high school, her father told her that he found her a husband and that she was going to meet him on her wedding day in four months.

“All of a sudden there is a major change in plans and that is when I decided it was time to go,” El-Sayed said.

She called her mother in April 2008, who contacted the appropriate authorities, and within a few months El-Sayed was touch with the FBI and American embassy to plan a way out of the country.

But after her father found out about a visit she made to the embassy, she was put on lockdown and became suicidal.

As she recounts in the video, El-Sayed, through luck and bravery, managed to escape while she was at a friend’s house in Cairo.

But El-Sayed’s story and her ups and downs didn’t end with her escape.

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Most of the Moral Courage Project videos are two to three minutes long, but El-Sayed’s is 10 minutes.

“I tried cutting it down but it just felt wrong to leave out a lot of it,” said Grannick, who wanted the video to discuss El-Sayed’s life after she returned to America.

Back living in Richmond Hill with her mother, El-Sayed went through a major depression the first year as she tried to figure out her purpose and why she went through what she did.

Her relationship with her mother, good for the first two years, became fractured when differences began to show between them, and they disagreed over El-Sayed’s publicly sharing her story, including a June 2013 Daily News article.

But she considers herself one of the lucky ones. Children around the world are abducted by parents every year, she said, and she is not only one of the few who has survived and is functional, but is one of the few who has also come out with her story and become an activist.

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After graduating from Queens College in the summer of 2013, El-Sayed now works with the school’s Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Program as the assistant manager. The program gives college students from a variety of religious backgrounds the opportunity to travel to the Middle East to interact with government officials, entrepreneurs, students, educators and philanthropists, create a dialogue and experience what the region is really like.

El-Sayed also works, through the Epic Theatre Ensemble, with a women’s group regarding issues in the Arab American community, and continues to work with the FBI to bring awareness to the issue of childhood abduction by parents.

“It is possible for you to survive,” she says to end the video. “It is possible for you to leave behind the stigmas and actually carry on and make something of yourself.”

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Astoria Egyptians divided over unrest overseas


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

There is a split on Steinway Street.

Egyptian Americans on the commercial strip in Astoria, known by some as Little Egypt with its numerous cafes and hookah lounges, are divided on who should rule their home country as the unrest between the military and protestors rages on.

All, of course, are concerned for the well-being of their families and loved ones overseas, with hundreds killed and thousands injured.

“I tell them be careful, be safe and respect the law,” Astoria resident Mostafa Gad said, referring to his nephews obeying the 7 p.m. curfew in Egypt set by the military.

The tense situation started over a month ago when the Army took control of President Mohamed Morsi’s government by force and established an interim government.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood party, which Morsi belongs to, began rallies and sit-ins for his reinstitution, to which the Army responded with tear gas and bullets.

While some Egyptians around Astoria want the reinstallation of Morsi, who was elected last year in Egypt’s first-ever Democratic election, most identify with the Army, led by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

They believe that Morsi didn’t run the country well while in office and they hope the military drives the Brotherhood from power and gives Egypt a taste of religious freedom, much like America.

“I don’t want to be ruled by a Muslim government,” said Astoria resident Gamal Omram, who said he is Muslim. “They control you.”

Recently, Islamist protestors of Morsi’s ouster burned dozens of Christian churches, which is the religious minority in Egypt.

Morsi supporters may be in the minority in Little Egypt, but they don’t believe that they have lost the majority of Egyptian support in the country.

Supporters of the Brotherhood feel that since Morsi was Democratically elected what the Army is doing now is just a coup.

“How do you get to call that a revolution,” asked Astoria resident Ahmed Shafei, “Legitimacy is something that is voted upon, not what the Army chooses.”

President Barack Obama stopped short of calling the military takeover a coup in a recent speech, but suspended a joint military event. The U.S. government is also withholding more than $1 billion in annual aid to Egypt while the fighting persists.

Little Egypt is also divided on if America should respond. Those in support of the revolution want America to “let Egyptian people decide their destiny.”

But Morsi supporters are calling for the U.S. to stop the Army.

“We see that this is a bloody coup,” said Sherif Ahmed, who owns Zaitoun grocery store on Steinway Street and is the director of the New York chapter of Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights. “This is reminiscent of the [Hosni] Mubarak regime. This is the same system that is trying to take over again.”

One thing both sides agree on is that they don’t want the death toll to increase.

“We are all Egyptian,” Omram said. “I don’t want to see blood spilled both ways. It hurts me when I see somebody killed.”

 

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OpEd: ‘Disgraceful Killings of American Diplomats’


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has condemned the “disgraceful” killings of American diplomats in Libya and said that extremists must not be allowed to control the political and religious discourse worldwide.

Below is the statement of CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad:

We condemn the disgraceful killings of the American diplomats in Libya in the strongest terms possible. We also condemn the attack on our nation’s diplomatic facilities in Libya and Egypt. The actions of the attackers are totally inexcusable and un-Islamic.

We agree with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said that “violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.” The extremists who carried out these attacks deserve punishment, and the extremists who produced and promoted an intentionally inflammatory film deserve condemnation.

Islamic traditions include a number of instances in which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had the opportunity to retaliate against those who abused him, but refrained from doing so.

One tradition, or hadith, states: “You [Muhammad] do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Muslims are also taught the tradition of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.

In another tradition, the prophet was offered the opportunity to have God punish the people of a town near Mecca who refused the message of Islam and attacked him with stones. Again, the prophet did not choose to respond in kind to the abuse.

We must not let extremists control the political or religious discourse. That means that people of all beliefs should repudiate those who would commit acts of violence in response to intentional provocations and repudiate those whose only goal is offending religious sentiments.

CAIR called on Muslims in the Middle East to ignore the distribution of the “trashy” anti-Islam film, clips of which are circulating online, that resulted in the attacks in Libya and Egypt.

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

Queens’ Morning Roundup – 10/31/2011: Home sweet home for Ilan Grapel


| jlane@queenscourier.com

The Round Up

Home sweet home for Ilan Grael

Ilan Grapel, the Queens law student freed after five months in an Egyptian prison, made an emotional return to US soil Saturday. Grapel , a law student at Emory University, was in Egypt to volunteer with a legal- aid group. In June, he arrested and accused of spying for Israel after posting photos of himself in Israeli military garb on his Facebook page. Read More: New York Post

 

Ticket-Fix Cases May Spread

The Queens District Attorney on Sunday said he expected to hear this week from his Bronx counterpart if there are any ticket-fixing cases in his borough to prosecute. Richard A. Brown said his office has been in contact with Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson and the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau for “months,” regarding an investigation that resulted in the arrests of 16 officers on Friday, 11 on charges related to the common practice of making traffic tickets and other summonses disappear for family, friends and others. Read More: Wall Street Journal

Cleanup Continues In Wake Of Pre-Halloween Snowstorm

Record-breaking snowfall left 15,000 New Yorkers without power and downed trees strewn across the five boroughs Sunday, prompting major cleanup efforts from city workers and residents alike. City parks reopened Sunday afternoon after closing during the storm, but New Yorkers are urged to use caution because branches may still fall due to the extra weight from snow. Read More:  NY1

 

iPhone Slaying

A Queens teen was stabbed to death Saturday by a gang of thugs who wanted to steal his iPhone, police said. A group of four to six teens approached Patrick Dixon, 17, and demanded that he hand over his iPhone at around 11 a.m. on 142nd Street near Foch Boulevard in Jamaica, cops said. Dixon refused and fought back, and one of the teens slashed him in the neck. Read More: New York Post

 

Two off-duty NYPD officers in separate  DWI arrests 

Officer Ariel Rosa, 26, was busted on a DWI after he crashed into a parked car about 4:30 a.m. on Moffat St. between Knickerbocker and Wilson Aves. in Bushwick. He was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital determined to be drunk after a blood test at a local hospital where he was treated for a minor injury, police said. Another cop, Michael Botros, 29, was found asleep at 7:40 a.m. Friday inside his white Nissan with the keys still in the ignition in South Ozone Park, Queens. Police said he refused to take a Breathalyzer test and was arrested. Read More: Daily News

 

Ex-Councilman Allan Jennings sues Queens Chronicle, saying alleged ‘Asian-women’ mistruth cost him votes

Former city Councilman Allan Jennings is suing a weekly newspaper in Queens for defamation, saying it helped turn voters against him during last year’s Council race. Jennings said the Queens Chronicle erred in stating he had once put an advertisement in a Chinese-language newspaper “declaring his love for all Asian women.” He said the statement was made in an Oct. 28, 2010, article about his bid for his former 28th District seat. Ruben Wills won that special election. Read More: Daily News

 

Councilman lashes out with curse-filled rant at Queens auto business

A hot-headed City Councilman let loose a curse-filled tirade at a local car dealer last week that left stunned employees demanding an apology. Rothman received the brunt of two recent rants from Councilman Daniel Halloran, who says he’s fed up with noise from the repair shop that disturbs nearby residents. A video of Halloran’s visit to the shop last week shows the Queens Republican angrily threatening the shop with recriminations if it doesn’t keep its doors closed to control the noise. Read More: Daily News

 

Resorts World Opens

South Ozone Park’s Aqueduct Racino, reborn as Resorts World Casino New York City, officially opened its doors to an eager throng of thousands of gamers on Friday, October 28. Casino representatives and elected officials were on hand at the former Aqueduct Racino for the ribbon cutting, and to welcome those who came to play on opening day – a line which wrapped around the building, leaving visitors with at least a two hour wait. Read More: Queens Courier

Queens’ Morning Roundup – 10/28/2011: Ilan Grapel released from Egyptian prison, arrives in Israel


| jlane@queenscourier.com

The Round Up

Ilan Grapel released from Egyptian prison, arrives in Israel

A smiling Queens man and Israeli citizen imprisoned for months in Egypt on unsubstantiated suspicions of spying embraced his tearful mother, Irene, who traveled to Israel from her New York home to meet her son on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport after his release. Read More: NBC News

 

8 year old groped in Queens

Police say they are looking for a man accused of groping an 8-year-old girl inside a New York City store. The girl was shopping with her mother at a Queens clothing store when she wandered off to a book display. Police say the man then passed by her several times and grabbed her buttocks. Read More: Wall Street Journal

 

Ex-TSA agents admit to stealing cash from JFK bag

Two former Transportation Security Administration officers based at John F. Kennedy Airport have admitted to stealing $40,000 in cash from a checked bag. 44-year-old Coumar Persad, of Queens, and 31-year-old Davon Webb, of the Bronx, pleaded guilty on Thursday to grand larceny, obstructing governmental administration and official misconduct. They each face six months in jail and five years’ probation at their Jan. 10 sentencing. Read More: Wall Street Journal

Aqueduct racino opens in Queens; Controversial gambling zone anticipates big crowd on first day

A ribbon-cutting celebrating the completion of the first phase of the controversial race track gaming mecca will be held at 11 a.m. – and the doors open to the public at 1p.m. Inside are 2,300 video slot machines – and 2,000 electronic table games like baccarat and roulette, which some critics say oversteps the state ban on full-fledged casinos. Read More: Daily News

 

Couple fears returning to the streets, but says landlord is trying to push them out of Corona apt.

A formerly homeless Queens couple may end up back in a shelter system they thought they had escaped – despite paying their rent on time even though their city housing subsidy expired. , 48, and Cynthia Sepulveda, 41, said their landlord CI House harassed them to move out of their studio at 38-01 112th St. in Corona. Their lease is up for renewal next month and the building is under renovations to become market-rate apartments after many of their fellow subsidy recipients moved out. Read More: Daily News

[UPDATE] Grapel arrives in Queens


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Nargas Karimi.

[UPDATE] Ilan Grapel has arrived back in Queens, landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday after months in an Egyptian jail following allegations he was an Israeli spy.

 

[UPDATE: Thursday, October 27] Ilan Grapel has arrived in Israel. Congressmember Ackerman, joined by Ilan’s mother Irene, met Grapel on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. They will soon meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Details on his arrival back to New York will be announced as soon as they are confirmed.

 

[UPDATE] Congressmember Gary Ackerman has arrived in Israel to bring Ilan Grapel home. He is expected to be released tomorrow afternoon.

The date and time of their arrival in New York will be announced soon.

Ackerman, who had been assured by the highest levels in Israel that Grapel was not a spy, worked to secure his release by intervening with the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Prime Minister of Israel and the U.S. State Department. The 27-year-old Grapel holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

The Prime Minister of Israel announced that Ilan Grapel, the Oakland Gardens native and law student arrested during the Egyptian uprisings in June, will be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s office.

Grapel, 27, had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006. After returning home, he attended Emory Law School in Georgia and traveled to Egypt as part of a project involving African refugees. Grapel arrived early in an effort to experience the country when he was arrested and accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, and inciting the firebombing of an Egyptian police station. He has been held for four months despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

“Ilan’s release is terrific news,” said Ackerman. “We cannot be more relieved and gratified that Ilan will finally be freed and that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

Grapel worked with Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, as in intern in the summer of 2002.

“Ilan is a wonderful young man who loves Egypt and the Egyptian culture. He’s a person deeply committed to the cause of humanity and bringing people together, and just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Ackerman.

“I still reserve my emotional opinion because we have to wait until he actually crosses the line, before that nothing is 100 percent guaranteed until it actually happens,” said Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father.

After negotiations, Grapel’s parents were able to meet with their son in Egypt for three hours just before Rosh Hashana.

“Physically he’s okay, but mentally it’s hard to say exactly,” said his father.

Reports say that Israel’s Security Cabinet unanimously approved the deal to exchange 25 prisoners for Grapel with the swap taking place on Thursday, October 27 under intense security. The prisoners are said to be non-militant offenders held on charges of illegally entering Israel in search of work, asylum or with contraband.

Egypt to release Queens native


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo by Nargas Karimi Daniel Grapel, Ilan's father, answered media inquiries outside his Oakland Gardens home.

The Prime Minister of Israel announced that Ilan Grapel, the Queens native and law student arrested during the Egyptian uprisings in June, will be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s office.

Grapel had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006. After returning home, he began attending Emory Law School in Georgia and travelled to Egypt as part of a project involving African refugees. Ilan arrived early in an effort to experience the country when he was arrested in June accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

“Ilan’s release is terrific news,” said Ackerman. “We cannot be more relieved and gratified that Ilan will finally be freed and that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

Grapel, 27, worked with Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, as in intern in the summer of 2002.

“Ilan is a wonderful young man who loves Egypt and the Egyptian culture. He’s a person deeply committed to the cause of humanity and bringing people together, and just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Ackerman.

“I still reserve my emotional opinion because we have to wait until he actually crosses the line, before that nothing is 100 percent guaranteed until it actually happens,” said Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father.

Details surrounding the timing of Grapel’s release have yet to be released.

Queens’ Morning Roundup – 10/25/2011: 8 Officers Charged With Gun Trafficking in U.S. Corruption Case


| jlane@queenscourier.com

The Round Up

Egypt to release Queens native

The Prime Minister of Israel announced that Ilan Grapel, the Queens native and law student arrested during the Egyptian uprisings in June, will be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s office. Read More: Queens Courier

 

Barbara Sheehan released from prison

According to published reports, the 50-year-old mother of two was released from Rikers Island earlier today, roughly two weeks after she was taken into custody. Barbara was in prison awaiting sentencing for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree for the shooting death of her husband, retired NYPD sergeant Raymond Sheehan, on the morning of February 18, 2008. Read More: Queens Courier

 

15-year-old held in rape attempts in Queens

A 15-year-old Queens youth has been arrested on charges that he tried to rape two women this month, part of what the authorities say is a pattern of five attacks in the borough’s southeastern section that began in late September. Read More: New York Times

 

 

Queens suspect forcibly grabs woman’s breast in subway station

A suspect is being sought in connection with yet another sex crime in Queens. Police said that last Thursday a suspect approached 22-year-old woman at the Seneca Avenue M Line subway station and grabbed her breast and private area.  The suspect then fled the station for the street. Read More: CBS News

 

 

8 Officers Charged With Gun Trafficking in U.S. Corruption Case

Eight current and former New York Police Department officers were arrested early Tuesday on federal charges including gun trafficking and conspiracy to smuggle cigarettes, according to people briefed on the case. Read More: New York Times

 

 

Egypt and Israel close to a deal for Queens resident


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s Office    Egyptian officials arrested Queens native Ilan Grapel in June and accused him of spying for the Israeli government.

An Oakland Gardens law student is close to a ticket home after being arrested on spy charges in Egypt during their uprisings this past summer.
As reported in The New York Times, Ilan Grapel, 27 – who has dual citizenship with the United States and Israel – would be exchanged for 80 Egyptians who had been arrested over the Israeli border on drug and other charges. The deal would be the second mass exchange after Israeli soldier, Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
According to Congressmember Gary Ackerman, the timing of the proposed trade for Grapel is not contingent on the success of the Israeli-Palestinian exchange but “makes it conducive to try to move these things within the same general time frame.”
“I can tell you that he is not a spy,” said Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “I’m doing everything I can on a daily basis to be sure he is being well treated and to convince the powers that be he is not a spy and to secure his release.”
Grapel had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006, according to reports. After returning home, he began attending Emory Law School in Georgia and travelled to Egypt as part of a project involving Sudanese refugees. He was arrested in June and accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the Egyptian uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
“We are grateful to the people that are holding him that he has not been mistreated,” said Ackerman, who once employed Grapel as an intern.
After being questioned whether or not Grapel’s family has had any contact with him, Ackerman took a long pause.
“I didn’t want to go this far. I was able to arrange for his parents to meet with him for what we thought was going to be an hour or so. It turned out to be three hours. We got them in and out of Cairo without notice [just before Rosh Hashana].”
While he would not say he was optimistic, Ackerman said he is “hopeful” that a deal will be made soon.