“Where the rhinos live in comfort and luxury, the birds emigrate.”
I don’t think such a Chinese proverb exists, but it describes a reality that Egyptians are experiencing these days. That is particularly true when you are saying goodbye to a friend or a relative who has found a chance to leave Egypt to a country where he feels that his humanity and dignity will be respected. Also, he knows that if he is ever harmed in the new country, he will get even with those who harmed him under the law, instead of having to wait for justice to fall out of the sky.
Those who have a grip over power don’t seem to be bothered with any of those who have left the country, no matter how skilled or useful they were. They believe that if the migrating birds had any good left in them, they wouldn’t have left for Western countries. They might even wonder why they should care about losing those people who will no longer use their expertise to serve their country. They might accuse those who have left of being traitors. But those who have left were fed up with the return of the old regime, the disrespect for human dignity, and the decline of the media to a point where no one respects the information it presents.
When generals rule, citizens become like soldiers who walk fast if the leader wants, stand still if he likes and reflect the leader’s mood, including sharing guilt or other dark moods.
Following the January 25th revolution, I often met Egyptian expatriates in the countries where I traveled. They spoke about their decisions to return quickly to their home country to help rebuild it. Back then, the spirit of painting the pavements and cleaning the streets had traveled East and West, inducing the migrating birds to think about returning to their country, even if they had to give up benefits they had earned in their new country.
I still have in my inbox many e-mails from Egyptian expatriates asking about the priorities that need their support when they return to Egypt. They even asked about the new political parties that grew out of the revolution’s womb, which they wanted to know more about and were thinking of joining upon their return.
That spirit was alive and glowing for many months despite all the political chaos in the country. That was until the Maspero massacre in October, 2011, (when the army killed 28 Christian protestors and their supporters) and what followed from massacres caused by the conflict between the stupid rhinos over the gains that lay in their hands and the gains they dreamed to achieve. This conflict has killed everything and many valuable things were stepped over, most valuable of which was the general hope that reform might come soon. No matter how much you try to convince those who have lost hope that what they see around them often happens after people’s revolutions, many of them do not want to sacrifice luxuries or basic elements of life and still want to leave the country. That feeling has become more pronounced because people do not see any real will to overcome the doomed past, change the depressing present or create a better future. They think that by going back to the past they will ensure a better future for their children.
I don’t think I am capable of expressing the danger of the growing trend of the departure of Egyptian minds, especially the young ones. I read the hurtful truth in a short blog a young Egyptian mother, Hayat Mokhles Gad, wrote beneath a photo of her holding her son who is traveling outside Egypt. “This is the photo of my son bidding me farewell on his way to the airport to fly to Canada 11 months ago,” she said. “He left the country. Unfortunately I do not have any other son to compensate for his absence.”
A few days ago, the son called her. She told him “I miss you Ahmed. When are you coming back? Isn’t that enough?” He replied, “Forget it mom. I am not coming back to that country again. Do you think I’m crazy? I want my kids to live a good life, and get a good education, and be raised in a right way. If I come back to Egypt, I will be either killed or jailed. If I am not jailed, I will have no job and no future.”
Hayat replied, “What do I do, then?” Her son said, “I will get you over here to stay with me.”
Those words killed Hayat. She felt that she lost her son. But at the same time, she felt the same way as many Egyptian mothers. “We either lose our sons as martyrs, prisoners, or have them lost, depressed, or working very hard without satisfaction. At least my son is living happily. But I am not happy. That’s my destiny as an Egyptian mother. May God grant us patience and take revenge on those who caused all that.”
Unfortunately, the feelings of Hayat do not bother the lives of many who dream of getting rid of those who have different views than theirs and who look at democracy as a tool that allows you to win elections and then to tell the opposition “if you don’t like it, go to Canada.”
Those people don’t feel that the emigration of Hayat’s son sums up the problem of every Egyptian citizen. On a bigger scale, we are talking about the emigration of hundreds of thousands from everywhere in Egypt. Amongst those hundreds of thousands are about 86,000 scientists in all fields, according to the latest statistics published a few months ago by the General Union of Egyptians Abroad. Some emigrants were lucky to be able to travel legally after getting a job opportunity or a scholarship. But many had to sell their mothers’ gold and spend their family’s savings to risk their lives in illegal emigration boats that take them to any place where their lives, freedom and dreams can prosper.
I do not want to end my article with dreamy words predicting the return of the departed birds after people realize that the rhinoceroses are no good and after people get bored of the rhinos living it up in the country and taking people’s money. There is nothing more dangerous than an easy hope, which could be a drug that distracts us from the hurtful truth.
The hurtful truth is that until now the rulers of Egypt and the majority of Egyptians have no clear conviction that Egypt needs each and every citizen even if his or her political beliefs are not what’s popular. The lack of this conviction, especially in making political decisions, in the overall media message and in the existing public thought, means that talking about hope is like tricking yourself. You wouldn’t want that self-deception for your mother, your sister or for your people.
But this doesn’t mean that we can’t work our way toward creating this conviction as much we can, because this is our only way towards the beginning of a solution for our current problems.
May God grant you and all of us the patience and hope we will need.
Belal Fadl is an Egyptian screenwriter and columnist This article was translated from Arabic.