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Egyptian Expats in Spain Anxiously Watch News From Back Home

A demonstrators holds a placard during a demonstration against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Sant Jaume square in Barcelona, Spain, January 29, 2011. The placard reads: "Free Egypt".
A demonstrators holds a placard during a demonstration against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Sant Jaume square in Barcelona, Spain, January 29, 2011. The placard reads: "Free Egypt".
Lauren Frayer

In the past 30 years, many Egyptians have left their native country, seeking jobs and a better life outside Egypt.  Now, the country's diaspora is watching footage of unrest in the streets of Cairo, wondering what it means for their future and whether they will ever return home.  

That might sound like Cairo, but listen carefully: the anti-Mubarak chants are in Spanish and this is Madrid.  Egyptians who live here in Spain have gathered at their home country's embassy to protest in the same way their relatives are doing back home.

For Egyptians abroad, the past week's events have been tough to watch.  Some want to be back in Cairo now, joining the protests.  Basel Ramsis just bought a plane ticket.

"It's my country and my people. I think any Egyptian person who has a relationship, a real relationship, with his people, you feel very bad if you're outside.  For that [reason], I'm going to Cairo," said Ramsis.

Most Egyptians here say they are excited about the prospect of a new government back home.  Many of them left Egypt because of lack of opportunities - jobs or money to go to university - under Mr. Mubarak's rule.

"I've been in Spain for 10 months now.  I'm doing my post-grad in a Spanish school here.   I'm doing my MBA.   I'm 31 years old and have been living in Egypt all my life," said Hussein Abdel-Karim.

He describes how he feels, watching television footage of his countrymen marching. "I'm so, so happy. This is the time and the only chance, that Egyptian people might restore their heroic actions and kindness. They've been repressed for 30 years now," he said.

But despite how happy he is, Abdel-Karim says it is hard for him to imagine - with Egypt changing so much - that he could go back and have a future there.

"You say, 'what if you finish your MBA here, would you like to go back to Cairo, or would you have more chances somewhere else?'  I mean, sometimes some education you need is somewhere else that's not available here.  You just seek it.  But then you go back to where you come from to put this education and to help in the rise of your nation.  But no, a lot of amazing and lovely Nobel prize-winning Egyptians are just outside of Egypt.  They are not accepted," he said.

Noureddin Essawi came to Spain from Cairo, six years ago.  He compares his life here - a fiancee, good job, free health care - to that of one of his cousins back home, who cannot afford any of those things.

"He doesn't have any kind of future, doesn't have a home, doesn't have nothing, nothing.  Here in this country, for example, I found a good chance for work.  Next month, I can get married.  I rent my own flat, found my own work.  I have medicine.  I can find everything I need here, for a normal person," he said.

Maha Azzam, a Middle East scholar at London's Chatham House think tank and an Egyptian expat, describes the plight of her countrymen abroad.

"Many of them have had to leave because they needed more opportunity," she said. "Some have left and are privileged.  But, whatever the case, I think they wanted to see an end to this authoritarian regime.  And, it's a very important moment for them, as it is for Egyptians in Egypt."

Azzam says, no matter how long someone has lived abroad, they never lose that link to their home country.

"The bond is very strong, and I think it opens the door for many Egyptians to return, if not immediately, then at the time when the system opens up politically," she said.

Many Egyptian expats hope that could be quite soon.






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