A far cry from the images of the 2011 Arab Spring and 2013 overthrow of the Morsi government-- this view at noon in front of Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt.(REUTERS)
A far cry from the images of the 2011 Arab Spring and 2013 overthrow of the Morsi government-- this view at noon in front of Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt.(REUTERS)

Arab Spring exiles look back 10 years after Egypt uprising

A decade later, thousands are estimated to have fled abroad to escape the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi that is considered even more oppressive.
AP
PUBLISHED ON JAN 24, 2021 04:07 PM IST

The Egyptians who took to the streets on January 25, 2011, knew what they were doing. They knew they risked arrest and worse. But as their numbers swelled in Cairo's central Tahrir Square, they tasted success.

Police forces backed off, and within days, former President Hosni Mubarak agreed to demands to step down.

But events didn't turn out the way many of the protesters envisioned. A decade later, thousands are estimated to have fled abroad to escape the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi that is considered even more oppressive. The significant loss of academics, artists, journalists and other intellectuals has, along with a climate of fear, hobbled any political opposition.

Dr. Mohamed Aboelgheit was among those jailed in the southern city of Assiut in 2011 after joining calls for revolt against police brutality and Mubarak. He spent part of the uprising in a cramped cell.

Released amid the chaos, he reveled 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.

Interim military rulers followed Mubarak. In 2012, Mohamed Morsi, a member of Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected as the first civilian president in the country’s history. But his tenure proved divisive. Amid massive protests, the military — led by then-Defense Minister el-Sissi — removed Morsi in 2013, dissolved parliament and eventually banned the Brotherhood as a “terrorist group.” A crackdown on dissent ensued, and el-Sissi won two terms in elections that human rights groups criticized as undemocratic.

“I began to feel, by degree, more fear and threats,” Aboelgheit said. Friends were jailed, his writings critical of the government drew attention, and “I wasn’t going to wait until it happened to me,” he added.

After el-Sissi came to power, Aboelgheit left for London, where he's published investigative reports on other parts of the Arab world.

At his former home in Egypt, national security agents asked about him. When Aboelgheit’s wife last returned to visit relatives, she was summoned for questioning about his activities. The message was clear.

No one knows exactly how many Egyptians like Aboelgheit have fled political persecution.

Data from the World Bank shows an increase in emigres from Egypt since 2011. A total of 3,444,832 left in 2017 — nearly 60,000 more than in 2013, the years for which figures are available. But it’s impossible to tell economic migrants from political exiles.

They relocated to Berlin, Paris and London. Egyptians also have settled in Turkey, Qatar, Sudan and even Asian countries like 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, behind China and Turkey, in detaining journalists.

El-Sissi maintains Egypt has no political prisoners. The arrest of a journalist or a rights worker makes news roughly every month. Many people have been imprisoned on terrorism charges, for breaking a ban on protests or for disseminating false news. Others remain in indefinite pretrial detentions.

El-Sissi maintains Egypt is holding back Islamic extremism so it doesn't descend into chaos like its neighbors.

“Sissi wants not only to abrogate the rights of the opposition and to prevent any critical voice from being uttered, Sissi doesn’t actually believe, not only in the opposition, but he doesn’t believe in politics," said Khaled Fahmy, an Egyptian professor of modern Middle Eastern History at Cambridge University

Fahmy believes this is the worst period in Egypt’s modern history for personal rights.

“It’s much more serious, it’s much deeper and much darker, what Sissi has in mind,” he said.

Those abroad who could challenge el-Sissi have chosen to not return.

Taqadum al-Khatib, an academic who also worked in the nascent political scene after 2011, was researching 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 summoned al-Khatib for a meeting, and an official questioned him about his articles, social media posts and research. He was asked to hand over his passport but refused. Shortly thereafter, he was fired from his job at an Egyptian university. He feels lucky to be able to work toward his doctorate in Germany but misses Cairo’s bustle.

“It’s a very difficult situation. I couldn’t go back to my home,” al-Khatib said.

Fahmy said he’s seen outspoken expatriates have their Egyptian citizenship revoked.

A government press officer did not respond to a request for comment on targeting and intimidating Egyptians — either abroad or at home — based on their work as journalists, activists or academics, or for expressing political opinions.

Journalist Asma Khatib, 29, remembers the heady days of 2011, when young people thought they could bring change.

A reporter for a pro-Muslim Brotherhood news agency, Khatib covered Morsi’s short presidency amid criticism the group was using violence against opponents and seeking to monopolize power to make Egypt an Islamic state. After Morsi's ouster, his supporters held sit-ins for his reinstatement at a square in Cairo. A month later, the new military leaders forcibly cleared them out, and more than 600 people were killed.

Khatib documented the violence. Soon, colleagues started being arrested, and she fled Egypt — first to Malaysia, then to Indonesia and Turkey.

She was tried in absentia on espionage charges in 2015, convicted and sentenced to death. Now, she and her husband Ahmed Saad, also a journalist, and their two children are seeking asylum in South Korea.

They expect they’ll never return, but also realize they’re lucky to be free. On the day the ruling was announced, the journalist remembers telling herself: “You don’t have a country anymore.”

“I know that there are lots of others like me. I’m not any different from those who are in prison,” she said.

The exiles have had ample time to think about where Egypt's uprising failed. The broad alliance of protesters — from Islamists to secular activists — fractured without a common enemy like Mubarak, and the most extreme voices became the loudest. The role of religion in society remained largely unanswered, and liberal secular initiatives never gained traction. No one accounted for how many people would embrace former regime figures, especially in a crisis.

Most Egyptians abroad have not been politically active, fearing for family and friends back home. But some have continued on the path begun on Jan. 25, 2011.

Tamim Heikal, working in the corporate world when the protests erupted, had doubted the government could ever reform. But he soon became a communications manager for an emerging political party. Later, he watched others being locked up, and knew his turn had come when he got an invitation from intelligence officers in 2017 to “come have coffee.”

He booked a ticket to Paris and hasn’t gone back.

Now, at age 42, he wants to educate himself and others for when a popular movement re-emerges in Egypt. He makes ends meet by editing, translating and doing consulting work for rights groups, and tries to network among the diaspora.

“It’s as if I was infected with a virus, after the revolution,” he said. “I don’t know how to go back. I won’t be able to relax until change happens.”

Others try to cope in strange lands. Asma Khatib and her husband aren’t sure what to say to their young children when they ask where they’re from.

Abouelgheit, the doctor-turned-journalist, worries his son won’t speak Arabic after so much time in the United Kingdom.

He hopes to go home one day, but in the meantime, he’s considering returning to the medical profession.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Globally, 265 million doses of vaccines have been administered, with 80% in just 10 countries, WHO's top emergency expert Mike Ryan said on social media on Wednesday night.(AFP)
Globally, 265 million doses of vaccines have been administered, with 80% in just 10 countries, WHO's top emergency expert Mike Ryan said on social media on Wednesday night.(AFP)

Waive Covid vaccine patents to benefit poor nations, activists say

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 10:00 PM IST
Activists seeking a waiver of intellectual property rules unfurled a huge sign reading "No Covid Monopolies - Wealthy Countries Stop Blocking TRIPS Waiver" in the park next to World Trade Organization's (WTO's) headquarters on Lake Geneva.
Close
Pope Francis begins his historic trip to war-scarred Iraq tomorrow to comfort one of the world's oldest and most persecuted Christian communities.(AFP)
Pope Francis begins his historic trip to war-scarred Iraq tomorrow to comfort one of the world's oldest and most persecuted Christian communities.(AFP)

Iraq beefs up security for pope amid rising violence, pandemic

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Reuters, Baghdad
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 09:38 PM IST
Security forces and armoured vehicles filled otherwise empty streets surrounding two cordoned-off churches the pope is scheduled to go to in central Baghdad.
Close
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday he would seek a vote of confidence in the National Assembly this weekend to prove he still has the support of majority lawmakers despite the shock defeat of the finance minister in the Senate's elections.(File Photo/REUTERS)
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday he would seek a vote of confidence in the National Assembly this weekend to prove he still has the support of majority lawmakers despite the shock defeat of the finance minister in the Senate's elections.(File Photo/REUTERS)

‘If I lose, …’: PM Imran Khan’s emotional pitch ahead of trust vote this week

By HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 09:50 PM IST
  • Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted that he wouldn’t abandon his campaign against corruption even if loses the trust vote.
Close
From a high of 39,090 in 2010-11 to a low of 16,550 in 2016-17, there has been a steady downward spiral of Indian students coming to the UK, but for the first time in recent years, the number is on the upswing(Reuters/ Representative Image)
From a high of 39,090 in 2010-11 to a low of 16,550 in 2016-17, there has been a steady downward spiral of Indian students coming to the UK, but for the first time in recent years, the number is on the upswing(Reuters/ Representative Image)

New UK post-study graduate route to open for Indian students in July

PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 09:02 PM IST
  • The UK has also extended concessions for students unable to travel to the UK after getting admission to British educational institutions because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was done due to the continuing disruption in international travel.
Close
Sakae Kato plays with cats that he rescued, called Mokkun and Charm, who are both infected with feline leukemia virus, at his home, in a restricted zone in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.(Reuters)
Sakae Kato plays with cats that he rescued, called Mokkun and Charm, who are both infected with feline leukemia virus, at his home, in a restricted zone in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.(Reuters)

Wider Image: The man who saves forgotten cats in Fukushima's nuclear zone

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:54 PM IST
The 57-year-old, a small construction business owner in his former life, says his decision to stay as 160,000 other people evacuated the area was spurred in part by the shock of finding dead pets in abandoned houses he helped demolish.
Close
A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo(Reuters)
A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo(Reuters)

Thai military denies involvement in network removed by Facebook

Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:42 PM IST
  • Marking the first time it had taken down Thai accounts alleged to be linked to the government, Facebook said on Wednesday it had removed a Thailand-based network that included 77 accounts, 72 pages and 18 groups on Facebook and 18 accounts on Instagram, citing "coordinated inauthentic behaviour".
Close
A parking sign for electric vehicles. (Reuters)
A parking sign for electric vehicles. (Reuters)

Singapore won’t allow new diesel cars and cabs from 2025

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:39 PM IST
About 2.9% of passenger cars in Singapore run on diesel, while the proportion is as high as 41.5% for taxis, according to Land Transport Authority figures. Most goods vehicles and buses in the city-state run on diesel and won’t be affected by the new rule, announced Thursday by the government.
Close
A UN report released on Thursday, March 4, 2021 estimates 17% of the food produced globally each year is wasted.(AP)
A UN report released on Thursday, March 4, 2021 estimates 17% of the food produced globally each year is wasted.(AP)

UN report says 17% of food wasted at consumer level

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:38 PM IST
The report, produced jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WRAP, also found that consumer waste was broadly similar in rich and poor countries.
Close
Indian diaspora hold 'Tiranga Yatra' against Republic Day violence, in Vancouver on January 26, 2021. (ANI/FILE)
Indian diaspora hold 'Tiranga Yatra' against Republic Day violence, in Vancouver on January 26, 2021. (ANI/FILE)

India calls on Canada to ensure safety of Indo-Canadians

UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:35 PM IST
This communication comes in the wake of reports of threat and intimidation against Indo-Canadians by pro-Khalistani elements in the country
Close
Police officer stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred.(AP / File Photo)
Police officer stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, where one of two mass shootings occurred.(AP / File Photo)

New Zealand police charge man after threat against mosques attacked in 2019

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Reuters
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:28 PM IST
Police said an online threat was made this week on the 4chan website against the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre.
Close
European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.(Reuters)
European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.(Reuters)

EU wants employers to report pay levels to fix gender gap

AP
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:27 PM IST
  • Even though the gender pay gap across the 27-nation bloc has been reduced to 14% for people doing exactly the same work, the European Commission wants to eliminate the disparity by imposing specific rules to make pay levels public.
Close
Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose by 9,000 from the previous week.(AP)
Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose by 9,000 from the previous week.(AP)

US jobless claims tick up to 745,000 as layoffs remain high

AP
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:25 PM IST
  • 4.3 million Americans are receiving traditional state unemployment benefits. Counting supplemental federal unemployment programs that were established to soften the economic damage from the virus, an estimated 18 million people are collecting some form of jobless aid.
Close
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street in London, Britain March 3, 2021.(REUTERS)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street in London, Britain March 3, 2021.(REUTERS)

Boris Johnson gives up ‘late-night cheese’ to lose 14 pounds

Posted by Kunal Gaurav | Bloomberg, London
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:23 PM IST
In a video posted on Instagram, Johnson said he had lost “quite a lot” of weight by eating fewer carbohydrates and going for early-morning runs.
Close
While Biden has called for a ban on assault weapons, any new gun legislation will likely face an uphill climb given the political polarization that has tripped up past administrations.(AP)
While Biden has called for a ban on assault weapons, any new gun legislation will likely face an uphill climb given the political polarization that has tripped up past administrations.(AP)

GOP state lawmakers seek to nullify federal gun limits

Posted by Harshit Sabarwal | AP
PUBLISHED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:16 PM IST
Legislation in at least a dozen states seeks to nullify any new restrictions, such as ammunition limits or a ban on certain types of weapons. Some bills would make it a crime for local police officers to enforce federal gun laws.
Close
The earthquake triggered warnings of a possible hazardous tsunami.(HT Archive)
The earthquake triggered warnings of a possible hazardous tsunami.(HT Archive)

Strong 7.2 magnitude earthquake shakes New Zealand, tsunami warning issued

Reuters, Wellington
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2021 08:26 PM IST
Tsunami waves were possible within 300 km (180 miles) of the quake's epicentre, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP