To Be a Syrian Refugee in Egypt

Published on Latitude, an Int. NYT’s Blog, by Ursula Lindsey, Oct 16, 2013.

CAIRO — Of the two million Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country, 200,000 to 300,000 have ended up in Egypt. They were welcome at first, but lately they have become scapegoats in Egypt’s latest political crisis, accused of being allies of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. 

On the ground floor of a house in Sixth of October City, a middle-class suburb in the desert outside Cairo, a Syrian teacher is giving free Arabic lessons to three Syrian teenagers. This is the home of Nadia El Bana, and in the next room the former agricultural engineer — who quit her job to run this informal relief center — is collecting the names, phone numbers and details of a group of Syrian refugees.

El Bana gathers food and donations for them, tracks their cases with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and tries to help with a slew of day-to-day problems. The women say the stores that accept U.N.H.C.R. ration cards routinely overcharge them. They struggle to assemble the documents needed to enroll their children in Egypt’s overcrowded, underfunded schools. Their husbands and sons who stayed behind in Syria cannot obtain visas to join them.

“Single women, here with their children,” El Bana said. “If they can’t find food, housing and free schooling for their children, they have three options: to steal, beg or go astray.”

El Bana told me that once-generous donations have dried up. “We haven’t received a bag of rice in months. People say: ‘Why should we help the Syrians, when they stabbed us in the back?’ ” The notion that the refugees are ungrateful and dangerous allies of the Muslim Brotherhood is now widespread.

In fact, it’s Egypt that has betrayed the Syrians who took refuge here. Faced with the impossible choice of siding with the regime or the rebels at home, they fled, only to become casualties in the messy aftermath of Egypt’s coup this summer.

While it was in power, the Muslim Brotherhood espoused the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad, opening Egypt to Syrian refugees. President Mohamed Morsi announced Egypt’s support for the insurgents at a rally during which preachers called for jihad in Syria. In Sixth of October, Syrian families were housed for free in cheap apartments run by a Brotherhood-connected preacher.

But then the refugees became enmeshed in the Brotherhood’s downfall. The Egyptian media began depicting all Syrians as fifth columnists and terrorists bent on bringing their country’s violence to Egypt. One notorious TV presenter threatened to tear down their homes if they stood with the Brothers … //

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Rights group adds to criticism of Egypt’s draft protest law, on ahram online, Oct 16, 2013: Draft protest law is reminiscent of policies implemented by Hosni Mubarak and Habib El-Adly, says Egyptian rights group …;

Salafist leader criticises draft protest law, on ahram online, Oct 16, 2013:
Nour Party head says national dialogue necessary before adoption of controversial protest law that has also been criticised by revolutionary forces …;

Egypt’s Justice Ministry to draft anti-terrorism law, on ahram online, Oct 16, 2013: With penalties possibly reaching execution, the suggestions for the legislation stipulate it should not be used as an oppressive tool …;

Egypt’s April 6 (Democratic Front) denounces draft protest law, on ahram online, Oct 14, 2013: Youth movement says draft law will restrict freedom of assembly and is not supported by serious initiatives to reform police and carry out transitional justice …;

The General’s message, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Amira Howeidy, Oct 9, 2013: Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s profile is eclipsing all other political players. Many find it inconceivable that Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will not be Egypt’s next president. In the first three months following the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi from power it is Al-Sisi, not interim President Mansour Adli nor Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi, who has dominated the new political order …;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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