Kevin Cullen

Separation, and anxiety

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / February 8, 2011

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It is the lull between lunch and dinner when the phone at Hingham House of Pizza grows cold, so Akram Dous puts down the dough roller and pulls out his cellphone to call his wife in Egypt.

“I told her to stay inside,’’ he says of the woman he has rarely seen since they married four years ago. “It’s too dangerous to go out.’’

Akram Dous is 31 years old, five years in this country, and he watches the images of his native land in open revolt and is torn between wanting freedom for his country and freedom for his family. Those things aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but freedom for his wife and daughter must come first.

Akram Dous is a walking explanation of why Egyptians have taken to the streets. He got a college degree to teach but is making pizzas and submarine sandwiches in America because he lived in a country that can educate its young people but can’t put them to work.

One of his brothers is a pharmacist in Toronto. Another runs a gas station in Milan.

“There was nothing, nothing, after university,’’ he says. “So I came here. There is opportunity here. You can work.’’

He works six days a week, 10 hours a day.

“Sometimes 11,’’ he says.

He and his brothers are not mere economic migrants. They left behind something more insidious than chronic unemployment. They left behind bigotry and discrimination and menace.

Akram Dous, the pizza maker in Hingham, embodies the contradiction in all the hope in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He is Christian. His wife, a doctor, is Christian. While most Egyptians want to see the back side of President Hosni Mubarak, the 10 percent who are Christian wonder what will replace him.

The Mubarak regime is secular and has tried to control the growth of Islamic extremism. But for all its thuggery and authoritarianism, the regime hasn’t been able to protect Egypt’s Christians.

On New Year’s Day, a Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, was bombed, leaving 23 worshipers dead and dozens injured. There have been other attacks, and long before the prodemocracy promise of Tahrir Square, there were anti-Christian rallies in other parts of the country.

Some Muslims have come to the defense of Christians. And some lined up to donate blood after the church bombing. But many others are too afraid of, or agree with, the extremists.

“I want democracy for Egypt,’’ Akram Dous says. “Real democracy.’’

A real democracy protects minorities. Whether that emerges from Tahrir Square is anyone’s guess.

Akram Dous can’t afford to guess. He has been trying to get his wife, Christeen, here for years. That mission took on greater urgency after their daughter, Myrle, was born a year ago. Theirs is a family born during Akram’s trips back.

“I have held my daughter on maybe 10 days since she was born,’’ he says. “It makes my heart hurt.’’

US officials gave him a March deadline to get his wife and daughter a visa. But the US Embassy in Cairo has been shut down since the uprising began two weeks ago. I called the embassy yesterday and the woman who answered said they don’t know when they will reopen. “The paperwork is done,’’ Akram Dous says. “I tell my wife to sit tight. She can’t go out. There are no police.’’

So he makes pizza and prayers and uses the computer in the back of the shop to pipe in the Al Jazeera news.

The counter phone rings and he takes an order. In the background, the announcer says the banks in Cairo have reopened, but he doesn’t need a bank.

“Pickup,’’ Akram Dous says down the phone, “or delivery?’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at