Egyptians abandoning hope and now, reluctantly, homeland

Kareem Fahim / New York Times News Service /

Published Oct 23, 2013 at 05:00AM

CAIRO — In his years as a dissident, the book publisher had taken on Egypt’s autocratic government and its censors, aided revolutionaries during the uprising and protested in the streets to protect freedoms he thought he had helped the country win.

But like many other Egyptians these days, the publisher, Mohamed Hashem, says he feels defeated by the latest tragic turn, toward growing violence, repression and civil strife after the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July. Tired of waiting for better days, the publisher announced last week that he would emigrate, stunning his friends and a legion of young fans.

“I won’t postpone happiness until I die,” he said.

Egypt, unable to provide much hope or opportunity at home, has surrendered citizens to more prosperous countries for generations. But like Hashem, many Egyptians who say they are joining a new exodus had been loath to give up on their country; some had postponed the urge to leave, hoping the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 would pave the way to a better life.

Their change of heart signals a dark moment. Many people said they saw no end to the conflict between the military and its Islamist opponents, and no place for those who did not profess loyalty to either side.

Others lamented Egypt’s narrowing political horizons and what seemed like the growing likelihood that a military officer will become Egypt’s next leader.

And for everyone, there was still no relief from the grinding frustrations of daily life: the traffic, the rising prices, the multiplying mounds of trash in the streets.

There is no statistical evidence that more people are emigrating, and the notion remains far from the reach of most Egyptians, reserved for those with the qualifications or connections to find opportunities abroad. In interviews over several days, though, people said their conversations had turned more frequently, and urgently, to leaving; those who considered travel possible were just deciding when.

As he studied in a cafe for medical exams, Tareq Nour, 23, reeled from the headaches. His regular commute to work, at a public hospital, was blocked by protests by Morsi supporters and government checkpoints. His salary, roughly $45 a month, was too measly to even call an insult, he said.

He had faced peril to build a different future, volunteering in a field hospital during the 18-day revolt against Mubarak, when Nour was injured by birdshot.

“We’re going back to the old system,” he said. “We didn’t change the country.”

So he said he was preparing to travel to the United States, out of necessity more than choice.

“I need to get out of here,” he said.

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