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Seeking a sea change after fleeing corruption

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Abdel Wahab Ahmed is cheering on his fellow Egyptians from more than 5,500 miles away in Queens as they continue days of protests that led to the country’s president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, announcing he would not seek re-election.

“I’m happy to hear about the marches,” Ahmed, who has been living in Flushing for more than three months, said during a phone interview Monday.

“I came to the United States because of the corruption in Egypt,” Ahmed said. “There’s corruption everywhere.”

Ahmed, a frequent visitor to the Free Synagogue of Flushing, at 41-60 Kissena Blvd., and who is looking to convert from Islam to Judaism, said he is constantly praying “for my God to fight corruption in Egypt. It’s become a cancer.”

“We’ve been suffering from the pain of unemployment, the pain of injustice,” he said.

Ahmed’s countrymen have taken to the streets for days, calling for Mubarak’s ouster in a country with a high poverty rate fueling anger toward the country’s leadership.

The protests were partly inspired by a similar movement in Tunisia that led to the fall of the northern African country’s government.

Ahmed — who has a political science degree and quit his job as a sales manager in Alexandria because he said the leaders of his government-run company were corrupt, stole money and made his life “difficult” — said Mubarak’s leadership style is imitated throughout Egypt.

“The problem is not Hosni Mubarak as a dictator,” he said, “but somewhere everybody copies him in every location.”

Ahmed said the conditions in his homeland caused him to make dramatic changes in his life, including coming to Queens.

“I plan to change my culture, to change my religion, to change my life,” he said.

Ahmed said his family was not aware of his plans to convert to Judaism. He celebrated Hanukkah with the congregation of the Free Synagogue of Flushing and is eager to learn the Torah, the holy book of Judaism.

But Ahmed expressed hope that his family would be more secure under a new regime in Egypt and that they might join him in Queens.

“Maybe this time they will be free,” he said. “I think they will follow me.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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