By Emily Flitter
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C., Feb 21 – Elhamy Ibrahim, 62, is a Muslim who does not like very many other Muslims these days, but loves Donald Trump.
The Egyptian-born businessman who came to the United States in 1979 and became a citizen two decades later said in an interview on Friday that he was alarmed by changes in Egypt, where, in his view, high unemployment and poverty have driven many young Egyptians to religious extremism.
He strongly backs Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until authorities can determine if they pose a threat, even though such a ban could bring hassles for him if he traveled abroad.
That is one reason why Ibrahim, who says he does not attend a mosque regularly, approached the real estate mogul after a rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and called out “I’m a Muslim and I love you!”
NBC News published a video of the exchange, which took place the evening before Saturday’s Republican primary in South Carolina. Ibrahim proudly posted the video to his Facebook page.
Trump has stirred outrage not just in the U.S. but around the world for comments that his critics say are anti-Muslim. But Trump’s fans, including Ibrahim, say Trump’s rhetoric, rather than being insensitive and exclusionary, addresses their fears of the violence they see occurring halfway across the globe.
“If he stopped me coming into the U.S., I’d say ‘fine’,” Ibrahim said. “If he said he wanted a loyalty test, I’d be the first to sign it.”
As a university student, Ibrahim was jailed twice by the security services of the late President Anwar Sadat, then drafted to fight in Egypt’s 1973 war against Israel, where he was wounded by an explosion that left him blind in one eye.
He said Egyptian security officials ripped his toenails out with pliers because he had protested Sadat’s peace talks with Israel.
After finishing his degree, he went to Yemen and became friends with the U.S. Consul General in Sana’a, who persuaded him to come to the United States. He lived first in New York, then Baltimore, where he began buying real estate, and eventually moved to Myrtle Beach.
Despite the torture he suffered, Ibrahim is comfortable with Trump’s call to “bring back waterboarding and much worse” when interrogating terror suspects.
“Torture is being used all over the world, today, tomorrow and yesterday,” Ibrahim said. “At least he’s saying it in public.”
His favorite thing about Trump is his business background.
“He’ll bring America back—I want to see America that I used to know, not the one that (President Barack) Obama and (former President) George W. Bush destroyed.”
He also wants a president who sees Muslims the way he does. His mother and sister, who grew up wearing high heels and mid-length skirts, began to wear head scarves in the early 1990s to avoid harassment on the streets of Cairo. Egypt became a more conservative place.
“The media there, they make America seem evil,” he said. “They destroy the spirit of the younger generation, they make them stuck in religion like a bunch of sheep in a flock.”