Previously: Egyptian-Sudanese Unity & Darfur in Diaspora (Part 1), Identity In An Egyptian Cafe & A Sudanese Restaurant (Part 2), Sudan’s Lost Generation (Part 3), and Sudanese Refugees and Civil Rights in Egypt (Part 4).
From 1996 to 1997, Abdel Rahman first lived as an exile in Libya. There, he bore witness to a bleak reality, where human rights held little to no ground. From the outset, he endured what he calls “the grim choice to stay and die, or leave and risk it!”
In Libya, there were continuous arrest campaigns, and arbitrary detentions and deportations of illegal and legal migrants. They were migrants who came to Libya at the request of Colonel Gaddafi, who had declared that his country welcomed all Arabs, as well as the oppressed and poor Africans.
According to the ideology of Gaddafi, he was not the president of the Libyan people. He was the leader of the international revolution. He would end the suffering of Third World people, as caused by international imperialism led by the United States of America, and its satellites in the West.
That was not true. There was permanent persecution and discrimination against black Libyan and Sudanese migrants in particular. The racism against blacks in Libya was a practice of the Libyan state, and society. They publicly called the Sudanese “slaves”, and if you tried to defend yourself you were beaten by every Libyan present at that moment. The police would not interfere to protect you because it was mentioned in “Holy Koran of the Arab Muslims” that the blacks are slaves of the Arabs.
The purpose of the persecution and the daily campaigns of arbitrary arrests by the police were meant to terrorize the Black African migrants, and the Arab workers. It was an intelligent strategy conceived by Gaddafi’s political advisers to prevent the Sudanese and the Arab workers from building real friendships and relations with their Libyan employers outside the work place.
They assumed that social relations might develop into political debate between the migrants and the Libyan nationals about the way Gaddafi ruled. He presided over one of the richest oil countries, while nationals were still poor compared to other oil-rich Arab gulf countries like Kuwait.
The Libyan people suffered because Gaddafi and his corrupt regime were using the oil revenues to kill innocent people outside Libya. They supported the IRA (Irish Republican Army) while many Libyans in the streets of the capital city of Tripoli begged the African workers to survive.
The Libyan security forces usually put migrants who discussed political issues in public places under close surveillance. Many Sudanese migrants were killed. Their dead bodies were thrown into the sea. There were a considerable number of disappearance cases for people who went out in the morning for work and never returned back to their friends or families. This included Libyan nationals.
I was personally under close surveillance for charges of consistently reading the Western newspapers published in London (e.g. The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph). I was not aware that they linked this to the presence of Libyan political opposition in London at that time.
After the announcement of the verdict from Scottish court at Kamp van Zeist on the Lockerbie case in 2000. The Libyan security apparatus carried out a massive killing campaign against the African workers in Libya in order to keep the Libyan public opinion uninformed about the verdict.
Many young Sudanese workers as well as Africans were killed in cold blood and thrown into the Mediterranean Sea on the shores of Tripoli. I was lucky to be in Syria at that time, when my friends told me all about the story of the massacres of African forced migrant in 2000 in Libya.
From August 20, 2001, until the present day, Abdel Rahman has lived in Egypt as a forced migrant, asylum seeker, and currently as an officially recognized refugee, designated formally as such by the UNHCR. Holding a university degree in English from his days as a student in Sudan, he has worked in Egypt as a translator, educator, and is a self-described Darfuri activist. Although Egypt may have a relatively high ranking in terms of its cooperation with the UN on refugee issues, African migrants living in Egypt relate more critical perspectives.
As Abdel Rahman has said, Egypt has been the very worst country he has ever lived as a migrant. It is worse than Libya, worse than Syria (prior to its civil war), though still not as chilling as Darfur. His homeland is a constant source of fear, complicated by a life lived in exile for nearly two decades.
When asked by a fellow Egyptian, “Are you married? Do you have a job? A family?” Abdel Rahman once responded, “This question was self-answered, as someone who has survived years of civil war.”
In Egypt, as in any other country dominated by Arab Sunni Islam, whether monarchies or republican states, national authorities completely deny the fundamental rights of their citizens.
During the now-defunct Mubarak regime, many Egyptians were severely tortured and beaten to death in police stations. In order to extract information from suspected detainees, the wives, and relatives of suspects were threatened with physical and sexual abuse if they didn’t cooperate with Mubarak’s state security investigation force.
One single self-evident event proving the indiscriminate occurrence of the gross violations of human rights in the area was the day I was forced to be at the state security branch in Ain Shams. A Norwegian English volunteer teacher at the El-Wafaa Refugee Cultural Center photographed people crossing the Ain Shams metro station. They walked to the other side of the neighborhood by walking over stones to avoid the stagnant water under the exit stairs of the station.
From 10:00PM until 4:00AM, the head of the state security office interrogated me. When they released us, we walked to sleep at my flat because it was too late for the Norwegian teacher to go to his hotel, where his room was inspected while we were under custody of the state security premises in Ain Shams.
They checked about my status at the UNHCR office and told me that what I had mentioned in my application to the UNHCR office in 2002 was no longer happening in Sudan. This meant that the state security and investigation forces during the time of the former President Hosni Mubarak had access to the contents of the asylum seekers and refugees files!
Such illegal practices constitute a clear breach of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention provisions protecting the confidentiality and privacy of information shared by refugees and asylum seekers with UNHCR offices around the world
Since then, the state security in Egypt classified me as a person who interacts with foreigners and works against the Islamic Arab interests in Africa. They usually linked such paranoid polices with the presence of Israeli humanitarian aid agencies in Darfur since 2004. The Sudan intelligence and security services provides its counterparts’ security agencies in the neighboring Arab Sunni Islamic dominant states with incorrect information about the Darfur’s activists, linking their activities with the Arab rival and traditional historical enemy, Israel.
The state security agencies in Arab countries believe in the information passed to them by the Sudanese security services. In response, the Arab society and the state security forces start blocking and aborting the activities of the non-Arab African groups operating in their countries. That policy complies with the prevailing, and consistent national Arab policy in Africa and in the Middle East.
It is a policy of the oppression and suppression of non-Muslim groups, and the exclusion of Indigenous people and minorities, to monopolize power and wealth interminably. The untimely close of the El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center was an example of discrimination, and racist polices towards Darfuri activists in diaspora.
The owner of the flat, where the El-Wafaa Center was housed, increased the rent in an unreasonable manner. The people in the neighborhood of Ain Shams turned from friends into enemies of El-Wafaa staff in one day, although there were also Egyptian students taking classes at the El-wafaa Center.
People were incited by the security informants to attack us, on occasion putting matchsticks in the outside locks of the Center to prevent entry. They targeted us because we wanted to empower the African refugee population in an inhospitable host country, and raise awareness about fundamental economic, social, cultural and political rights.
I first registered at the UNHCR office on the 27 of August 2001 and undertook my first RSD interview in 2003. The result of my refugee status determination should have been after six months, or at the very most into 2004, but they intentionally postponed it to June 2005. That was the time when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between North Sudan [Government of the Republic of the Sudan] and South Sudan[Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army].
Automatically refugees were forced to repatriate to Sudan because the Agreement signaled that there would be no further military hostilities between North Sudan and South Sudan. An unidentified underground Arab Islamic coalition working against the interests of the Sudanese, and Indigenous African asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt had postponed my interview result date from 2004 to 2005. They knew that a Comprehensive Peace Agreement would be signed between North Sudan and the South Sudan in 2005.
By 2005, they would have started their repatriation program, leaving me without the advantage to be resettled to a third country. I am resourceful, knowledgeable and an articulate person, comfortable in the English language, and strongly believe in the secularism of the state and society. At the same time, I do not tolerate the ideas and ideologies of the establishment of the Islamic Arab Sunni dominant state, as seen with the dogmatic state of ISIL in Iraq now.
If my first interview result date appeared in 2004 I would have received a resettlement slip. I am a hundred percent sure that I would have been resettled in one of the countries where I would have accesses to basic services, treated on equal basis and probably have the right to be naturalized. Such a proposition is what upset the anti-African racist coalition based in Sudan, as well as in Egypt.
Another example of the existence of the racist Arab Sunni mafia coalition was the theft of my UNHCR Blue Card in 2007. At the time, I began the process of registering the El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center in the Ain shams area for educational purposes.
The secret agents and informants of the racist Arab coalition in Cairo stole my Blue Card with the intention of depriving me from exercising my civil rights, as stated in the international convention of the civil rights of a refugee formally recognized by the UNHCR. Such rights concern those refugees who have stayed permanently for 3 years in a host country. After which, they have the right to establish an NGO.
That is why they stole my Blue Card in 2007, because the center would grow, with time, into a powerful NGO with a wide support base from African refugee members, and supporters in Egypt. If my initiative had succeeded in Ain Shams, they feared that other African refugee activists would start establishing their own viable NGOs to maintain self-reliance, and survive with dignity and integrity in Egypt. I am a witness and victim at the same time.
Ain Shams translates from the Arabic as “the eye of the sun.” As unforgiving as it sounds, the neighborhood is about a forty-five minute metro ride from downtown Cairo. Down a dusty concrete stairwell, a small television light casts over a decrepit café, as overweight men drink caffeinated sugar beside burnt trash heaps. Scavenging wild dogs trot over a defunct railway, leading from an unpaved, outdoor square into the residential area. Local men and women, Egyptians and Sudanese alike, sell groceries together with toys for children under harsh, dangling lamplight, as makeshift as almost everything else in the vicinity. It is a community disaffected with poverty as visible as its minorities, an economy tyranny shared by Egyptians, as with the large African migrant community.
After 40 years of isolation, Abdel Rahman brought volunteers from Student Action for Refugees, a student club at the American University of Cairo to the impoverished, outlying Cairo neighborhood. His purposes, to facilitate English courses for refugees and asylum seekers from Africa living in Egypt, were very welcome by the African migrant community, and at least initially, by the Egyptians as well.
When the El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center opened in 2007, as Abdel Rahman recounts in his story, the American University of Cairo issued a report on the success of El-Wafaa on behalf of their Forced Migration and Refugee Studies program.
“Aided by Abdel-Rahman Siddiq, the center’s manager, classes saw enrollment reach as many as 90 students before the end of the academic year. In total, nearly 300 students benefitted from the program,” read the report, issued in the 2006-2007 academic year, at the very immediate outset of the Center.
The effective nature of Abdel Rahman’s activism highlights the need for a more directed, focused protection of such specific civil rights given to refugees recognized by the UNHCR. The ability to engender communal self-reliance by means of building organizational capacity, nominally NGOs, is absolutely fundamental to the stability of the region, and a requisite to resolving the refugee crisis in Egypt.
Next: Final thoughts on the Sudanese experience in Egypt.
Crossposted from Nation of Change.
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