When the Egyptians first took to the streets on January 25, 2011, their numbers swelled rapidly in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, state security forces backed off, and in less than three weeks, President Hosni Mubarak resigned. But a decade later, thousands are estimated to have fled abroad to escape President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom many consider even more oppressive.
The loss of academics, artists, journalists and other intellectuals, together with a climate of fear, has hindered any political opposition.
Interim military rulers followed Mubarak. Since 2012, Mohamed Morsi, a member of Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been elected the first civilian president in the country’s history. But his tenure proved unpopular with many Egyptians who opposed Islamism.
During massive protests, the military – led by then-Defense Minister Sisi – removed Morsi in 2013, disbanded parliament and eventually banned the fraternity as a “terrorist group”. A counterattack of disagreement occurred and Sisi won two terms in elections that human rights groups criticized for being undemocratic.
Among those jailed in early 2011 were protests by Dr Mohamed Aboelgheit, who was jailed for calling for police brutality and Mubarak in the southern city of Assiut. He spent part of the uprising in a cramped cell.
Released in the midst of chaos, he immersed himself in the atmosphere of political freedom in the Arab world’s most populous country – protesting, working as a journalist and joining a campaign for a moderate presidential candidate. But it did not last.
“I began to feel more fear and threat,” Aboelgheit told the AP. Friends were imprisoned and his writings critical of the government drew attention. “I was not going to wait until it happened to me,” he added.
After Sisi came to power, Aboelgheit left for London, where he has published investigative reports on other parts of the Arab world.
In his former home in Egypt, national security agents asked about him. When Aboelgheit’s wife last returned to visit relatives, she was called to inquire about his activities.
‘A very difficult situation’
It is unknown exactly how many Egyptians like Aboelgheit have escaped political persecution.
Data from the World Bank show that emigration from Egypt has increased since 2011. A total of 3,444,832 remained in 2017 – almost 60,000 more than in 2013, the years for which figures are available. But it is impossible to tell economic migrants from political refugees.
They moved to Berlin, Paris and London. Egypt has also settled in Turkey, Qatar, Sudan and even Asian countries such as Malaysia and South Korea.
Human Rights Watch estimated in 2019 that there were 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Egypt third, after China and Turkey, in capturing journalists.
Sisi claims that Egypt has no political prisoners. The arrest of a journalist or a rights worker makes news about every month. Many have been imprisoned for terrorism, for violating a ban on protests or for spreading false news. Others are detained indefinitely.
Sisi claims that Egypt is holding back Islamic extremism to prevent the country from falling into chaos as other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including neighboring Libya, which fell into anarchy and civil war after a NATO intervention helped remove dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Many Egyptians abroad who may have criticized Sisi from within the country have chosen not to return.
Taqadum al-Khatib, an academic who also worked in the emerging political scene after 2011, examined Egypt’s former Jewish community in Germany when he learned that returning to his homeland was no longer an option.
The Egyptian cultural attaché in Berlin called al-Khatib to a meeting and an official questioned him about his articles, posts on social media and research. He was asked to hand over his passport but refused. Shortly afterwards, he was fired from his job at an Egyptian university. He felt happy to be able to work towards his doctorate in Germany but lacks the Cairo movement.
“It is a very difficult situation. “I could not go back to my home,” al-Khatib told the Associated Press.
A government press officer did not respond to the AP’s request for comment on targeting and intimidating Egyptians – neither abroad nor at home – based on their work as journalists, activists or academics or to express political views.
‘You have no country’
Journalist Asma Khatib, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood journalist, covered Morsi’s brief presidency amid criticism that the group used force against opponents and sought to monopolize power to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. After Morsi was removed, his supporters held sit-ins for his resumption at a square in Cairo. One month later, the new military leaders forcibly cleansed them, killing more than 600 people.
Khatib documented the violence. Colleagues soon began to be arrested and she fled Egypt – first to Malaysia, then to Indonesia and Turkey.
She was tried in the absence of espionage charges in 2015, convicted and sentenced to death. Now she and her husband Ahmed Saad, a journalist, and their two children are seeking asylum in South Korea.
They said they expect to never return, but also say they are lucky to be free. On the day the decision was announced, the journalist remembered saying to herself: “You no longer have a country.”
“I know there are many others like me. “I do not differ from those who are in prison,” she told the AP.
( Jowharwith AP)