Are Egypt’s Estranged Revolutionaries Moving Out?

“I’m counting the number of very close friends planning to move away next year and so far the toll is at 5. I really can’t bear it.”

Picture taken by Nadia El-Awady on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted

Picture taken by Nadia El-Awady on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted

These were the words of one of my friends on a Facebook status a few days ago.

Another wrote just one day earlier, “I am currently witnessing the largest mass emigration of friends and family from Egypt.”

The subject has become a common topic of conversation among family and friends. People leave, others announce they are leaving, yet others talk of their desire to leave.

Egyptians have been emigrating out of Egypt in large numbers since the early 1970s. According to the EU Neighborhood Migration Report 2013 published by the European University Institute, the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, and the Migration Policy Centre, there were 6.5 million Egyptian immigrants living in different parts of the world in 2009, 74 percent of whom were temporary migrants. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar were the highest receiving destination countries of temporary migrants that year while the U.S., U.K., Italy, France, and Canada were the highest receiving countries of permanent Egyptian migrants.

How these demographics are statistically changing after the January 25, 2011 Revolution and then later in 2013 as political upheaval has overtaken the country is yet to be seen. Yet it is clear that a change is indeed happening, if not in sheer numbers then in the reasons that are causing Egypt’s revolutionary youth to leave.

I asked several of my friends who have left or who are actively in the process of leaving Egypt – all active participants in the January 25, 2011 Revolution – to write a couple of paragraphs each, explaining their reasons for wanting to leave. I had originally planned to incorporate some of their words into an article on Egyptian emigration post-Revolution. But after reading their words I have decided to leave them as is (albeit translated from Arabic). You will see why.

In the process of translating, I hyperlinked some of the events mentioned by my friends to various news stories that will give the reader some background on these events.

It is important to note that mine are a select group of friends whose individual stories may or may not represent those of a larger group of Egyptians. But they are real stories. They are their stories. And in some ways, they are my story.

Hany Mahmoud

34-years-old

Journalist

Currently in Turkey looking for employment

As my children grow older and their needs increase, my financial responsibilities increase and the economic situation becomes more difficult almost on a daily basis.

Even so, I was hopeful [pre-revolution] that we could create change in our country and that things would get better. I was so hopeful that even though I experienced frequent and various kinds of pressure from the security apparatus to the extent that some people advised me to emigrate I would tell them, “We will not leave our lands for this gang to plunder.”

When the 2010 parliamentary elections ended [in December] and all dreams were shattered, I decided for the first time in my life to consider looking for work outside of Egypt. But when January came [with the January 25, 2011 Revolution] it revived a strong hope that we will get our country back. So I not only retracted all consideration of travelling abroad but I also suspended my job position for a period to give the main part of my time and effort to serve the Revolution. I believed the Revolution’s success was dependent on a minimal level of unity and cohesion within a patriotic group of people in order to pass through [the initial] stage of crisis and to lay the foundations of a modern state. For two years [following the ousting of Mubarak] I exerted every effort to achieve this.

After the events at the Ittihadiya [Palace] and when it became clear what path [former President] Morsi and his [Muslim] Brothers were taking, I gradually started losing hope. I started realizing that we were inevitably moving towards a black scenario – if even as an interim stage – so I began losing hope again. And I suddenly realized that my financial situation was becoming worse due to the passing of two and a half years without any real career or financial development at a time when my [family] responsibilities were increasing.

The idea of looking for work abroad returned after July 3, 2013 and the events that followed. My wife is Palestinian and she has been prevented from obtaining Egyptian citizenship for security reasons according to a decision of the Ministry of Interior [specific to her case] published in the Official Newspaper in 2010. Her residency in Egypt ended in May 2013. And after the political and security developments in the country I became fearful about her and my children remaining in Egypt. So I sent them to Nablus [in Palestine’s West Bank] to spend the school year. At the same time I decided to quickly look for work abroad so that I can bring them somewhere we can all be together for a period of time; somewhere we can catch our breath and to give me and my friends time focus on [figuring out] the role that we can play towards our country and the best means for it.

Doaa El-shamy

31-years-old

Journalist

Currently working with Aljazeera in Qatar

I never considered travelling outside of Egypt after January [25, 2011 Revolution]. To the contrary, [as things worsened afterwards] all my friends would say let’s leave and emigrate and I would discuss with them and convince them that we must stay in Egypt.

After June 30 [and the events that followed] my outlook changed completely. I started considering travel abroad and even asked my husband that we leave Egypt so we can raise our children in a respectful manner and so we can live in the midst of clean societies that respect us.

My [eventual] decision to travel was related to my work to the first degree because there was a clear danger in continuing to work [as an Aljazeera Live Egypt journalist] in Egypt. I didn’t want to leave my work but this [situation] corresponded to my [general] desire to leave so it was the best option. All my friends told me that I left before things became terrible: the things that happened in Egypt after Rab’aa and Nahda Squares were evacuated. I left [Egypt] the same day that happened. Since then calls [from within] to emigrate [from Egypt] have increased significantly. Out of five of our dearest friends, three have already left and the rest are looking for opportunities to leave.

Ali Abdel Moneam Mansour

34-years-old

Journalist

Leaving Egypt on Wednesday to work for Aljazeera in Qatar

I remember the morning of February 12, 2011 when I woke up feeling as if I had just set my feet in heaven. We had removed a stubborn dictator and were looking forward to the removal of his tenacious iron regime. We all had hopes and dreams that almost touched the clouds. There was barely a place on this Earth big enough to hold our dreams. Each of us imagined scenarios and had dreams about how our country would be a year later. There was nothing to stop us from “the dream”. The moment Mubarak fell was the most dramatic moment in the history of this generation. We announced at that time that we are here to remain in this country and we will not leave it for a moment. We believed at that time that we – as a people – were meant to take care of this land. At that time, none of us thought that things were to return as they were and that the frustrations of the 30 years of a life of a young man like me would return anew.

The events of the coup of last July 3 and then the dispersal of the Rab’aa and Nahda sit-ins caused me to feel like I was a stranger in my own country and a stranger among my family and loved ones. Even human values became a point of conflict and disagreement. This led me to decide to leave this country in order to protect the love that remains in our hearts towards this land. I have been coerced and forced to decide to leave. It is not a hope or a dream [to leave]. In other words, I do not approve of my decision to leave but I am forced to take it. And I believe that my place is saved on this land if things get better.

Mariam Al Moatassem Bellah

32-years-old

Former journalist and wife of Ali Abdel Moneam Mansour (above)

Currently in Egypt and planning on joining her husband in Qatar once he has settled

My reasons for wanting to leave are a little bit different [from Ali’s]. Before the January 25 Revolution I wanted to travel outside of Egypt for pure economic reasons. Ali and I, when we married, were completely self-dependent. I discovered later that we would have to carve through rocks for the rest of our lives and be in debt and financially insecure if we wanted to buy an apartment or a car or if we wanted to put our future children through school and give them a good life. And that would be to simply fulfill our basic needs only and not to save money or have some luxuries. I did not want that for us. I used to always say to Ali, “Let’s work hard to improve our financial situation while we are young so we can be at ease when we are older. We can then also make things easy for those around us.” Meaning that having money isn’t just for our comfort. We can help others with it and make them happy as well.

After six years of marriage and as we near our seventh, I discovered that we haven’t made a single financial step forward. I thank God for choosing this time in particular [to leave] when Egypt is unfortunately at its worst. And despite all I’ve said I feel that we are being forced to leave the country and our families and our memories and the places that we love not just to improve our financial situation. No. The larger part of our [Ali and my] agreement to leave is our feelings related to security and belonging. How can I belong to a people that showed all this horribleness and inhumanity inside them? Just like Ali said, the January 25 Revolution raised our hopes and ambitions really really high, to the point that I felt the day Mubarak stepped down that I wanted to prostrate and kiss the cement. I was so strongly willing to do anything in order for the country to be good. I cried so much and I told myself that I love Egypt so much. Unfortunately the decisive day that changed all these feelings to severe hatred of the people themselves and my feeling that they do not deserve [my energy] and that God was angry with us was specifically the day the Rab’aa sit-in was dispersed. I felt that if I did not leave this country I would lose my humanity or lose my mind and become crazy. Divisiveness has reached the furthest limit and extremism in opinions has become indescribable. The country is going backwards at the speed of a rocket and I have been personally accused of not being patriotic or not being religious by a regime that is a million times worse than any previous regime. We are forced to leave, unfortunately, in order to live a human’s life and because any other country will respect us and take care of our needs and comfort more than our country that now accuses us of betrayal and kills us and kills our youth.

Heba Ahmed

30-years-old

Former journalist and current housewife

Currently in Egypt and working on applying for immigration to Canada

This wasn’t the first time for my husband and me to notice the online advertisements about immigrating to Canada but it is the first time for us to communicate with them and to seriously consider it. We never imagined we would do it.

We have always been settled in our country and we have been building and planning all our future projects based on one fact only: being settled in Egypt. But this is the first time for us to see the emigration of six of our dearest friends at the same time. These friends were our comrades in the dreams of the Revolution and in many of the events of the Revolution. They are friends we stayed up with till the early hours of the morning talking about politics. They all left for one reason: the political events after the coup and the restrictions they started facing at work. Two whole families from my extended family have also left.

Lately we haven’t been able to live with the economic problems and the security issues in the country even though we were able to before. I can no longer grasp the concept of saving all year long for my children to go to schools with a minimum amount of competence. I can no longer grasp the fact that I live in constant fear as we drive on our roads because of all the accidents there happen. I can no longer grasp the fact that I am unable to obtain healthcare if I face a big health problem. And I constantly worry about our future and the future of our children. We keep hearing about imprisonments and murders that happen randomly and for the most petty of reasons.

In short, I can summarize the reason of my emigration in my loss of hope and frustration and not feeling safe and feeling as a stranger in my own country. Certainly if I was able to let go of all these negative feelings that pursue me every day I might consider retracting the idea of emigrating.

 

Ahmed Refat El-Saadany

33-years-old

Business development

Currently in Egypt finalizing his departure procedures

My name is Ahmed. I am 33-years-old and I work in the field of business development. I am currently the regional director of a large company. Thanks to Allah my income is high compared to salaries in Egypt. I used to refuse the idea of working abroad to the extent that it was a condition I gave to my workplace not to send me to work at any of its branches outside of Egypt. I could, instead, travel from Egypt for days or weeks if need be to get any work done and then return to Egypt.

The revolution came and I became even more insistent to be a participant in the building of this country and I remained in Egypt even though an international company offered me a job in their branch in Dubai. I refused the offer without hesitation because I saw hope in Egypt and in Egyptians.

I was shocked as were so many Egyptians by the revolutionaries and by the Muslim Brotherhood and by the religious discourse [that ensued in the country]. Finally the Egyptian people shocked me and I lost hope in this country. Moral degradation has reached unprecedented levels and I can no longer safely leave my wife walk on the street without being sexually or verbally harassed. I am now fearful when I walk at night. It has become impossible to have a discussion with anyone who has an opposing view. The law of baltaga (bullying) dominates.

I used to be afraid that my son will be raised away from Egypt and thus would not love it as I do. Now I am afraid that he will be raised in Egypt and thus hate it the way Egyptians now do.

The dream of emigrating from this country is my dream and I have started on its road. I am now very close to leaving this country. I will leave Egypt and might have a smaller salary than my current salary and a position less than the one I now hold but I will leave behind me moral degradation and a people that curse their country day and night and hope to flee it while claiming to love it. I leave months of fear and insecurity and injustice. I leave a dream that turned into a nightmare. I leave Egypt after losing hope in Egyptians.

Samir Mahmoud

43-years-old

Currently a professor of journalism and electronic publication at Sultan Qaboos University, Oman

Before the Revolution I had numerous and overlapping reasons to travel. The most important and most prominent of them was that no matter how hard I ran like a beast while I was in Egypt, I could not achieve anything of notice or anything that fulfilled some of my ambition. It’s as if your destiny is tied to the desires of others: whether they be superiors in Al-Ahram [Newspaper] where I have been working for 20 years and where I have no presence on the administrative promotional map in addition to being forcibly prevented from being widely published. And for this reason I achieved all my successes, awards, and honors outside of the box that is the graveyard of Al-Ahram. The other thing is that corruption became widespread in 2010, the year I was compelled to work outside of Egypt for the first time in my life. I was 40 at the time. And just as it felt that Al-Ahram was limiting me it felt that Egypt was also limiting me. I wanted to chirp beyond the borders so I left [to Saudi Arabia] after I became certain that there was no use. By the way, I left in August 2010, only five months before the Revolution.

Immediately after the Revolution and specifically after Mubarak fell, I cried bitterly and out of jealousy that I wasn’t part of Freedom [Tahrir] Square that ousted the head of the corrupt regime. I wrote at the time on my Facebook page on February 11, 2011: “Our country is more worthy of us [than others].” And even though I was in a good job with a decent salary, my happiness with my country that was freed by the hands of the revolutionaries, those who began the journey of building the country, was indescribable.

I began preparing to leave and to return to my country Egypt. It was a matter of time to fulfill my ethical commitment to my contract. I finished it and prepared to leave, unwilling to renew my contract losing a big financial amount in returning home. But I gave myself hope for a larger gain that was my country.

After returning and trying to settle I went out into the streets and squares looking for the revolutionaries and the revolution and the country but I found nothing. Even the spontaneous graffiti had turned into dirtiness and pettiness and vulgarities on the walls. It was as if Egypt fell into a failed student’s art notebook. I felt at the time that I ran after a mirage. But because I have tolerance and ambitions large enough for two streets, I was patient. But everything was lost: hope, country, economy, security, politics. Accusations of betrayal and categorizing people and polarization became rampant. So I decided to travel once again, not even thinking what the financial return or anything else would be. This time my motive was to flee far away from the blood and the lost security and the emotional and financial distortion. I now dream every now and then of returning when my country is given back. I feel that even though everything has moved so rapidly, that movement has not been forward or backward. The regime of the Muslim Brotherhood will not return. The current regime moves in its place. And I still feel that a third wave of revolution might explode at any moment. It is then that I will return.

 

Mohamed El Banna

41-years-old

Director of business development and (former) small investor

Currently working in Saudi Arabia

I believe in the importance of traveling and movement in search of one’s livelihood and in search of knowledge, love, and life. But after the January 2011 Revolution I intended on staying in Egypt forever. It was the most beautiful event of my life. But three years after an incomplete revolution, one that continues to be stabbed and smeared, I now live outside of Egypt and I am working to remain outside of it for a long time for four reasons that are (in no certain order):

  • I have lost all the money that I invested in projects that stumbled because of the political and social events that followed the Revolution
  • I have lost many friends and relatives who were killed during the dispersal of the Rab’aa sit-in.
  • The current security harassments and the ambiguity about the future of regulations and laws on labor and investment in Egypt
  • The social and moral shock I experienced after I saw a large number of Egyptians – including some friends – exhibiting feelings that they had been avenged by killings and friends who support the concept of killing those who oppose them in thought and even call for more killing.

Mogahed Sharara

36-years-old

Presenter/reporter with Aljazeera Live Egypt

Currently working in Qatar

After the January Revolution [2011] I felt that this country was my country and that I had duties to fulfill towards it. I felt that I must participate in building a free country that lives on the values of justice and freedom.

After the July [3] coup and what happened [afterwards] regarding the direct targeting of those working in Aljazeera, I decided – after having had to leave my apartment [it was burnt twice by saboteurs] for a month-and-a-half – to travel for a time until things calm down in the country. Unfortunately, things have not calmed down and I am still away. Returning to the homeland is a hope I hold dear to me. But it is an elusive hope that lies in the shadow of accusations of betrayal and insults and judging people as traitors. Unfortunately, we live in a time when we do not feel socially secure or safe after the methodological smear campaigns against us [at Aljazeera Live Egypt].

Are you an Egyptian who has left or plans to leave Egypt? Tell us your story in the comments section below.

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2 comments

  1. I would not consider myself a ‘ revolutionary’, I believed in the revolution but for the most part from the safety of my flat I had my reasons but that isn’t the point. I had such hopes, hopes that we would be seeing the birth of the ideals of equality, a death to the classism and racism and pure ignorance (and I am not talking illiteracy I mean wilful belligerent ignorance of our fellow human beings and our responsibility to society).
    Now I am reminded of the conclusion I came to as a teenager, Egypt kills your soul and the only way to keep from collapsing under the terrible weight of it is to close your eyes, stuff your fingers in your ears and keep stubbornly elbowing on.

    I remember coming home from school at 13 after driving past the ‘city of the dead’ and seeing the living conditions of some people walking into our reception and having the guilt and self loathing for the injustice and imbalance in Cairo hit me so hard I was throwing up on and off for days. I was 13 and I didn’t see what I could do helping one person wasn’t going to fix anything so my solution was to retreat I stopped going out or interacting with people outside my family eventually I just stopped getting out of bed. I couldn’t understand how people could go through their lives unaffected and then I realised the only way to live with it is to pretend it doesn’t happen.

    Now I am an adult and I get by in Egypt, in truth I make a very good salary but at what price? I HATE the idea of private schools yet I work for one and help feed the class divide. I would never send my any of my hypothetical future children to a government run school here unless MAJOR change happened, major change I have now lost hope anytime in my professional life.

    I am tired. I am tired of having to fight for everything. I am tired of being told you can’t treat workers with any form of civility or humanity or they will rob you blind, of being told you have to insult them to get them to work. I am tired of pretending child abuse doesn’t happen of knowingly sending children home to more because a) ‘it doesn’t happen in upper classes’, b) my “dirty western mind is seeing things that aren’t there” c)beating a 5 years old black and blue with a belt is teaching him to be a good man “spare the rod spoil the child you know?” I am tired of never knowing how to act around poorer people, I am tired of pretending not to understand comments about bo5l aganib and of ‘foreigners coming to stare at us and mock us”. I am tired of the racism of having little girls who are slightly darker skinned tell me everything brown is yucky and can only be bad guys I am tired of seeing so much endless suffering and not being given a nice concrete plan do X to make it better.

    Last Wednesday I was stuck in traffic and on the side of the road was a seemingly naked man a teenage boy really barely wrapped in a blanket sobbing his heart out with his hand out begging. It took me a few minutes but I jumped out of the taxi leaving behind my cat and ran out and gave the guy everything in my pockets, he didn’t even blink. I should have stopped I should have asked how I could help it wasn’t till afterwards I thought I should have given him my coat but traffic had started moving and I was kind of freaked out by the whole nakedness thing.

    On the 19th of March 2011 I was in a taxi with 5 strangers in a Delta city we had just voted in the referendum, 4 of us had voted No the last person in the cab was a woman she screamed at us and she said (this which shocked and horrified us but I now come to see epitomizes so much of the general Egyptian mentality) :

    “I pray everynight that God sends a Strong man like Gadaffi to Egypt because you all have no respect, this is a people who only understand the rule of the might you all need to be bullwhipped to be happy”

    I am not saying she is right I am saying I have sadly concluded too many Egyptians think like her. So now I am thinking of leaving, not this year, maybe not next but I no longer feel like I can make Egypt my forever home I have sadly come to the conclusion that I have no desire to see any of my future kids born or put in schools here.

  2. Actually no that isn’t fair I am just having a very bad month, I don’t think kills your soul is right terminology I mean it desensitises you to the suffering of others. Yes that is what I mean.

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