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Watching the revolt in Egypt, and waiting

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
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Family worried about relatives in Cairo
  • Hala Elnaggar's parents split their time between Cairo and New Jersey
  • Hala and her husband and college-age children are worried about their safety
  • Parents came to U.S. 30 years ago with $45, looking for a better life
  • The political upheaval in Egypt is long overdue, says Hala Elnaggar

Philadelphia (CNN) -- The first days of the protests in Egypt were torture for Hala Elnaggar.

"I waited two days and I finally heard my mom's voice," says Elnaggar, who lives just outside of Philadelphia with her husband, Ahmed. "And of course when I heard her voice I started crying, and screaming 'come home.'"

Her parents, Nafissa and Farouk Osman, live half the year in New Jersey, and the other half in Cairo, just 20 minutes from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of recent protests.

After days of not hearing from her parents, her worry turned to frustration. Random families answered her repeated phone calls because the telephones were getting crossed, she says.

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"I kept calling and calling," says Elnaggar, the youngest of three children, and the only one of her siblings to be born in the United States. "I had to purchase a calling card and that was the only way I could get through."

Elnaggar's parents immigrated to the United States with only $45 to their name more than 30 years ago.

They were in Cairo when the protests broke out, and have decided to remain in Cairo.

"She doesn't want to come home," Elnaggar says, referring to a recent phone conversation she had with her mother. " 'We need peaceful democracy Hala,' that's all she kept saying. 'It's a revolution and we want peaceful democracy. And I'm going to stay until its finished.' "

People across Egypt took to the streets on January 25 in demonstrations against corruption and failing economic policies partly inspired by similar January rallies that erupted in Tunisia.

Since the protests began, President Hosni Mubarak -- in power since 1981 -- has appointed a vice president for the first time, reshuffled his Cabinet and announced that he won't seek a new term in September.

Her concern increased after Mubarak's speech on Thursday, which many expected him to announce he was stepping down. Instead he said he was transferring some powers to the vice president. His decision to stay in office has further enraged protesters.

"My mom said that now it's getting really bad, and she hasn't complained this entire time," Hala said.

Hala says she doesn't expect the protests to end any time soon.

"They are not going to get off the street," she said. "If they can fast for 30 days and build the pyramids, they can do this."

As the chaos continues in Egypt, Hala's daughter, Rhonda, eagerly awaits her grandmother's return.

"I just wish she was here. Even though it's crazy, she doesn't want to leave, I don't get why, but she doesn't want to go," she says.

Rhonda says she supports the protesters, but not the violence.

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"I would rather them not be violent, and, I am worried about my family. This is an extremely serious thing. They (the people) don't act like this," she says. "So, I was surprised and worried."

A sophomore at Temple University, Rhonda first read about the protests on Twitter where she learned the internet was being shut down.

As the events escalated and gained more international interest, she was overwhelmed by the onslaught of questions from classmates.

"It's sad that people really didn't know anything about the way it was before. But I'm hoping this (uprising) will implement and bring changes for the better," she says.

Rhonda's brother Sherif, a freshman at Temple, says he would be among the protesters if he were in Egypt.

"Fighting for a free democracy is something that's great, they definitely deserve the right to do that," he says. "I feel like they should be protesting, they should be fighting for their county to get better, they should be wanting things to get better, because they deserve it, they want a better life."

A better life is what Hala and Ahmed Elnaggar were looking for when they came to the United States. The couple constantly stressed how blessed the family was to live in America, and told the children to take advantage of the opportunities before them, she says.

When things in Egypt began to settle down a bit last week, Hala said her parents tried to ease her fears by talking about everyday events.

"My mom said that the rabbits had 12 babies, and the pigeons had six babies, and the German shepherd is pregnant. So, that's my conversation with them, other than that, she says nothing to worry about," Elnaggar says, letting out a loud laugh.

Joking aside, she knows the seriousness of the events. The uprising is long overdue, she says.

"It's a blessing in disguise what's going on, this needs to be done," she says.

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