About Refugees, By Refugees
Trigger Warning: Death; violence
Come a little closer. Please introduce yourself to me.
I am Omar El Sayed Hassan Al-Fatairy. I am twenty-eight years old and I was born in Port Said, Egypt, and I left Egypt in March 2015. Do you want me to talk about something specific or to talk in general?
No, there is nothing specific, talk in general, please.
I left Egypt in March 2015 and then went to Sudan. I stayed in Sudan until the end of 2017. Then I went to Malaysia in 2017, stayed in Malaysia for a while, and then went to Indonesia. I visited many places during that period, such as: Asia Street and Cambodia. I also visited Lebanon in the Middle East and returned to Sudan in 2019, it was about three months before the outbreak of the Sudanese revolution.
Before the outbreak of the revolution in Sudan?
Yes, before the outbreak of the Sudanese revolution, I lived there for three months. Therefore, for certain reasons, including: the near of the expiration date of my passport, I came to Turkey. When I first came to Turkey, I did not intend to stay here permanently, but unfortunately the situation deteriorated due to Covid, so I had to stay in Turkey. In September 2021, at this time, my passport had expired, and this is where I felt like life had stopped. So far I live in Turkey.
Before we talk about the matter of your passport. Tell me what were you doing in Egypt and what made you decide to leave Egypt?
I was working as a journalist for AL-Yaqeen network, it’s an official press channel and it has an official website and social media accounts such as: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. I was a journalist and a field reporter. As a journalist, you are multi-tasking, as you make videos and do press interviews, in addition to covering all events. I worked with AL-Yaqeen network from 2012 to July 2015, until Egypt’s dictatorial regime decided to close the network for the second time. It was completely shut down by the Egyptian regime, which is a totalitarian regime characterized by a lot of chaos. There was no particular reason for it and its closure broke the hopes of a generation of young people. This had a significant impact on the Egyptian street at the time. But you cannot judge or know what is the real reason behind the closure of the AL-Yaqeen network by the Egyptian regime, but the reason that everyone knew was that this is a totalitarian regime that closes everything that is not their liking. We were telling the truth and this is not welcomed in Egypt, so you will be imprisoned, harassed and the channel will be closed.
What happened after the closure of the press network by the Egyptian regime?
The press network was first closed in 2014. At that time, the judicial ruling fell under the name of works, which is an Egyptian law related to artistic works. After that, we started working in the press network again for four or five days normally. In 2015, the press network was permanently closed and is still closed until now. One of the officials of the press network was imprisoned at the time and is still a prisoner for fake charges. I wish him freedom and release from prison as soon as possible.
Was he imprisoned because of his work in the press network?
Yes, of course, he was imprisoned because of his work in the press network. Fake charges were fabricated against him, such as: spreading false news, disturbing community peace and joining banned groups. It is almost a list of accusations that come as one group.
What is this set of accusations?
This set of accusations includes: spreading false news, joining banned groups, disturbing public peace, spreading rumors that harm national security and other ready-made accusations.This was mentioned in the report published by the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs on human rights and press journalists in 2018 and the issue of the closure of the press network was addressed. The press network was permanently closed in July in 2015. It was clear from the dealings of the Egyptian authorities that there was no hope of return. As we say in the Egyptian dialect, “Al-Fatihah was read about the spirit of the press network.” (As if the press network died.) The official in charge of the press network was arrested and the press publications were confiscated.
So, how did it affect you or how did you feel at that time?
At first, I was shocked. The idea that we are being fought and harassed in every way possible by the Egyptian state, which is moving the general situation, destroying the dream we had started and made great efforts of which I considered myself a part, and we achieved great successes that is recognized by everyone, the network was very well-known in Egypt, to the extent that there is no single politician in Egypt who does not know AL-Yaqeen press network.
So AL-Yaqeen is a network of young journalists.
Yes, we covered all events in Egypt since the 2011, that is, since the beginning of the revolution. AL-Yaqeen network represented the dream I had from the Egyptian revolution. AL-Yaqeen Press Network was a non-politicized media that conveyed the truth as it is. This was our main mission. We transmit the event in the form of videos without adding anything. For example, during the period from 2011 until July 2015, any event in the country related to the lives of Egyptians, whether political, artistic or social was included in the videos of AL-Yaqeen Press Network and you would have found it if you looked for it.
Is there an archive for young people in AL-Yaqeen Press Network?
Yes, everything exists.
So there is a website for archiving?
Yes, there is. So far, all the videos are still on the two YouTube channels of the press network and the videos have exceeded 100 million views throughout this period. We have covered events that include: the events of Abbasiya, the beginning of the liberation events, then the events of Maspero and the Copts, followed by the events of Abbasiya, followed by the arrival of the Muslim Brotherhood in power and then the military coup against the regime in 2013. You will find everything documented in the form of videos, and there are statements by all Egyptian politicians starting with ElBaradei and ending with Sisi.
So, we were talking about how you felt when the press network was closed for the second time.
When the press network was closed for the second time, it was clear that it was the end. The closure instructions were issued by higher security bodies in the General Administration of the Ministry of Interior. Not, for example, by the National Security, and direct instructions had been issued to close it. At that time, the director was taken to Lazogli. It was clear from the authorities’ treatment that it was the end. Until now, the director general of the press network is still in the prisons of the Egyptian regime.
What was his name?
His name is Yahya. We are now in 26/8/2022 and he is still in prison. What happened is that the dream that you have been involved in for three or four years of your life and the effort you have made on a daily basis throughout the entire period has gone to naught, just because the state decided to end it.
What did you do then?
What did I do then? I did nothing and I remained in shock and astonishment at what happened. And when I felt several times that my life was in danger or that I would go to prison, and I was sure that the press network was closed, I decided to leave Egypt.
So there was a danger to your life?
Yes, there were also some security problems, the most recent of which was the closure of the press network.
Security issues such as what?
Political issues, where national security would come to my house, and ask where is Omar? What do you do? Where is he? He is in Cairo? What is he doing in Cairo? Until the network press was finally closed, then I left Egypt in 2015 and went to Sudan, and I started a long journey after which I find myself in Istanbul today.
So you are saying that you went out of Egypt to Sudan and moved to several places after that, what was the reason for these many movements?
First of all, the reason I went out of Egypt to Sudan was to save my life. I did not want to go to prison. Do you understand what I mean? I stayed in Sudan for a while but I wanted to settle in a place, so I decided to travel to Malaysia in search of stability, but the situation in Malaysia was rather bad, I also decided to study English in Malaysia, and then I kept moving between Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia is a beautiful country, living there gave me mental comfort. I tried to work in trade and moved from Indonesia to Malaysia, Cambodia and Lebanon. Then I returned to Sudan for the purpose of trading and looking for work as well. But, when the revolution started in Sudan, I decided to leave and I came to Turkey.
Why are you staying in Turkey until now?
Because I do not have a valid passport.
What is the problem with your passport?
With regard to my passport. When I came to Turkey, I had a visa for Japan, and I was dreaming about living in a country that respects human rights so I applied for political asylum many times, but unfortunately when I decided to leave Turkey and travel, the Corona crisis happened, and the airports were closed, traffic in the country was disrupted and my passport expired. Specifically on September of 2021. I came to Turkey in 2019 and then because of all these events, I was forced to stay in Turkey until now.
Have you tried to apply for passport renewal?
Yes, I have tried to do so since 2020, as I contacted the embassy and they asked me to send an email and wait for a response, and then I wrote to them, but I didn’t receive any response and I have tried to communicate with them several times in every possible way, on the phone, social media accounts and Facebook, but to no avail, from 2020 until 2022 and I still have not received any response. This fascist regime controls Egyptian opponents, the political dissidents abroad in many ways, including depriving them of their basic rights, which is your right to move or your right to live. It puts pressure on you by not renewing your passport after it expires. They only ask you to wait for their reply. However, you will not receive a response from them with acceptance or even rejection. But what does that have to do with politics? This is my right according to the international law and the Egyptian law as well. How can I be denied my most basic rights? But that is exactly what the Egyptian totalitarian regime, which I like to call the North Korean regime of the Middle East headed by the Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
How do you feel about not having a valid passport?
In fact, it makes me feel many feelings, including insecurity, instability, inability to live normally, inability to practice many activities normally, which are the right of every human being. Everyone has the right to move, travel and the right in education, the right to participate, to settle down, to get married, to find suitable jobs, and do everything. Therefore, it has different dimensions. Therefore, I will not be able to travel because I do not have a valid passport. I will not be able to see my friends or participate in training development conferences or workshops related to my field of work as an independent journalist, I will not be able to fight the regime against its crimes against Egyptians. I will not be able to get married or register for studying. I am unable to do many things related to my daily life.
Did you try to do something specific and then it stopped because you don’t have a passport?
Yes, I tried to participate in an educational course in Jordan, I tried to attend a conference that was going to be held in Bosnia and I also tried to travel but it didn’t work because my passport expired. So my life is completely stalled because I don’t have a passport. It’s at the root of all the problems I’m going through right now. Do you understand what I mean? A passport is important in all your daily dealings and constitutes your personal identity, so this is the summary of what I’m going through.
How did you adapt with the idea of not being able to do many things?
I am adapting with the situation with the idea of trying to relieve the pain and fear I feel. In summary, what a person who does not have a passport lives is that his day begins with stress and anxiety and ends with anxiety and fear of the future. This is the summary of my daily routine. I am nervous in the morning and nervous in the evening too and many times I find life has taken me to the middle of everything.
When was the last time you saw your family?
The last time I saw my family was in 2015.
Have you tried to see them after you left Egypt?
Yes, I have tried several times, but unfortunately it did not work for several reasons, the most important of which is the security reason. If you try to bring them to Turkey, the situation will be difficult in terms of security and they will often not be allowed to enter through the airport. I cannot travel to any country because I don’t have a valid passport. You may ask me why I did not try to bring them to the country I used to live in before Turkey, but I will tell you that I have been in very distant places and these countries do not allow Egyptian passport holders to enter them without a visa and obtaining tickets from them has been very difficult. Here I am talking about bringing only my father and mother, not my sisters and brothers, which is almost impossible. In addition, flying from Egypt to Malaysia will take about 16 to 18 hours, which makes the situation more difficult. However, the Egyptian state itself has set restrictions and security rules that have no legal justification. Just to restrict travel of families of political opponents and prevent their families from visiting them, such as imposing a security permit for Egyptians who want to travel to Malaysia, in addition to establishing several struggling laws.
So they now require to obtain a security permission to visit Malaysia.
Yes, in addition to the fact that they have had stopped a number of families of political opponents and these families were subjected to security harassment at the airport, so I did not want to have any risk by paying money or even trying to bring my family. That was because of fear of being harassed by the police. Therefore, I have not been able to see my family again. And I have been away from my family for about 7 or 8 years. I couldn’t see them for a moment. I have been living in Cairo since 2011 or 2012 and the last time I was able to see my family was for about five minutes inside the car for fear of being arrested. Can you imagine how difficult it was for me?
Do you remember the five minutes you last saw your family?
Yes, I can remember it.
What details can you remember?
I had fled to a city about 5 hours away from the governorate where I live, and I found it to be a completely different city. On the morning of that day when I last saw my family, I woke up and finally decided to travel to Sudan. I then decided to see my family to say goodbye to them. I left the governorate at 6am and arrived in Port Said governorate at 11am. I met my father and mother, along with my little sister, in a car opposite a bus stop. What I can remember is that they greeted me and gave me some money, and all this happened within five minutes. I then got on the bus at around 11:30am, so the whole meeting was only for less than 15 minutes. After that, I took the bus from Port Said to Cairo and then I took the bus from Cairo to Aswan at around 5pm, and I haven’t seen them since that day.
How does being away from your family and the great distance between you affect you?
In addition to the stress associated with the passport issue, it has psychological dimensions. You look at life and feel that it has wronged you, you wonder about human rights and you are surprised that there is a repressive, dictatorial regime that kills, imprisons and displaces people in Egypt and despite this, the world are dealing with them normally. You also wonder why Sisi is not equated with the president of North Korea? What is the difference between the two? One built a large prison in Korea and the other built a large prison in Egypt, and both kill and displace people.
You told me before that your father and two of your brothers were arrested because of you.
Yes, my father and my young brothers were arrested. They are interrogated periodically and being asked about me in the form of: What is Omar currently doing? How does he manage his affairs? Does he communicate with you and what is the way of communication? All these things should mean nothing to the Egyptian state. As a person who left Egypt seven years ago, what does my family have to do with this? My problem with the Egyptian regime is a political problem in which my family should not be involved, but the regime is deliberately harassing me and disturbing my life in every possible way, starting with the issue of the passport and ending with my family. They know that your passport will expire after 7 years, so they refuse to renew it for you and at the same time ignore the emails you send. I have shared the emails with Mr. Omar Majdi of Human Rights Watch and have sent you a copy as well.
But is it common in Turkey for embassies not to respond to letters and correspondence?
No, not with all people but even if it is common here, is it legal? No, this is completely illegal. Egypt has signed the United Nations Convention on Human Rights and has signed the human rights charter as well, but has not adhered to them. No one is holding them accountable for what they are doing. And no one talks about the violations that occur in Egypt. We are now in 2022 and we have more than 25 politician victims in prisons. In addition to citizens who have been arrested on criminal issues, and all of them have the right to live. If you look at the judicial system in Egypt and how it functions, you will find that it has represented a corruption bloc over the past eight years. From 2013 to 2022, the last of which was a case two days ago in which the judge was sentenced to bribery. That is, judges of the Sisi regime are openly violating the Egyptian Constitution. There is internal corruption and there is the appointment of children of counselors to jobs, and there are many corrupt judges. For example, we heard about a judge who tried to suicide because he was accused of corruption. There are judges accused of receiving bribes. One of them received a bribe of more than 10 million Egyptian pounds. Some of them were arrested on accusations of drug abuse. This is not my words, but the words of the governance system itself. This same judge had sentenced many politicians in political cases to death penalties. Will this judge be tried or will the case in which he sentenced be reviewed again? No, that will not happen. This judge, accused of bribery and drugs, was sentenced from Sisi’s own district to 24 years in prison. Why are the cases in which he was sentenced are not reviewed again? We live in a state of no state and it is like a large prison under the command of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
What have you learned or felt changed in you because of this experience since you left Egypt in 2015?
Actually, many things has changed in me and the most important thing was how to deal with people, as I learned to accept others in one way or another, which was not common in the society I used to live in, so it is a positive thing. I have also learned a lot, developed my skills, traveled and saw different countries and different communities. This is good for me. On the other hand, I have become someone who gets angry quickly and who is nervous most of the time and looks at things with a pessimistic view, as you will see later in my words. I have become someone who is always afraid and can’t feel safe at all. This is a feeling that I cannot describe no matter how much I talk about it.
What does it mean to feel afraid?
You feel insecure, you feel lonely, irritable and sensitive to the actions of others. The smallest situation affects you either negatively or positively. Whatever the problem, you deal with the situation with increased sensitivity.
Regarding feeling stressed or feeling a constant fear, are there examples from your daily life or is there a situation that you still remember?
These are examples that occur and are repeated in your daily life and your daily activities in general.
Do you not remember a situation that happened yesterday or two days ago, for example?
Because all parts of your life are connected to each other, you feel afraid all the time because you do not have proof of identity. Your passport is expired. If the police stop you in the street or you are exposed to any racist situation, although this is rare, you will feel afraid because you do not have a passport. My passport is expired but I am legally resident in the country, as I have obtained it before my passport expires. But I have an internal sense of fear about what will happen after the expiration of my legal residency in Turkey. I will not be able to renew it and I will not be able to travel, as well, so most of the time, there is a feeling of fear that affects your actions, visits, health, social relations and all aspects of your life. You are now thinking a lot before any step due to the unavailability of a valid passport with you, and this is reflected in your constant feeling of stress. At the end, the whole problem revolves around the green Egyptian passport.
What was your dream when you were in Egypt?
My dream was to become a politician who advocates on behalf of people’s rights.
You have told me that you want to become a member of the parliament.
Yes, I dreamed about being a political parliamentarian and representing Port Said district in the Egyptian parliament, in a democratic way of course. So, I was aspiring to reach parliament democratically within the recognized international paths. My biggest dream was to have a democracy that extends for years, but it is very unfortunate that none of these dreams became true.
What is your dream now?
My dream now is to have a valid passport and become a normally-living individual.
What do you mean by becoming a normally-living individual?
I mean that when you have the right to travel and decide, as well as the right of education, and so on. So I can enjoy all the rights that have been taken away from me because I do not have a passport. I hope that my country will become the best place in the world and that there will be a clear justice system in Egypt and become a democratic state. I also hope that my living conditions and those of my family will improve and that I will see Egypt progress rather than decline. I hope that Egypt becomes a democratic and free country in which there is no political prison. I hope that there will be a general culture of acceptance of others in Egypt, and that military sovereignty will not continue to dominate people. I dream of a free and honest world. I dream of achieving a lot of things and returning home one day.
Why do you want to return to Egypt?
Because it is my country where I grew up and learned what politics means and what freedom means. Even if I did not have it, or only had it for a short time, Egypt means my family, memories and everything. This is the summary of the miserable situation I live in.
When do you intend to return to Egypt?
When do I intend to return? I intend to return when there is justice, transitional justice or popular justice. And when I am sure that I will not be put in prison and that I will live a normal life, express my opinions safely, have freedom of the press, and practice the profession I love and studied normally without fear of the police. I will return when I see Egypt’s budget clear in how it is spent. When there is a fair and independent judiciary, there are fair and independent elections and a free civil society, and there is no law that imposes hocus on civil society associations in order to work. I will return when society guarantees the right to live for citizens, not death for citizens. When there isn’t any political detainee in Egypt. So, I will decide to return when many things change in Egypt.
Have you ever imagined that you would leave Egypt this way?
No, I have never imagined living outside Egypt. In my childhood, I never expected to leave Egypt. By the way, I left Egypt young, when I was 20 years old only.
You are 27 years old now?
No, I am 28 years old and I will be 29 years old in March this year. Time passes quickly in alienation. Regarding the culture of the society in which I lived, I used to live in Port Said, which is a small governorate overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Although foreigners visit it continuously, we were unaware of the concept of alienation and it was difficult to get out of it. You could have gone to tourism, but going outside the city to look for a job and start a new life was completely unlikely. This is almost the case of eighty percent of youth living in Port Said governorate. So, we are completely different from Sharqiyah Governorate, Al Ahlia and other governorates. I feel very sorry about the incidents of illegal immigration that occur by young Egyptians from Fayoum, Sharqiyah and Mansoura governorates, it is heartbreaking when you see a 17- or 18-year-old child riding a boat in the sea to reach Europe and then die in an accident at sea, and this is the immediate result of the political and economic system that is continuously deteriorating, and for me I have never imagined that I would leave Egypt one day.
What does Port Said mean to you?
Port Said represents a very beautiful thing for me. It also represents resistance.
What do you mean by resistance?
I mean resistance and continuation of life. Port Said governorate fought three armies during the period of the tripartite aggression against Egypt.
That was in the year of 1956?
Yes, in the year of 1956. So, the governorate of Port Said had different meanings to me. Port Said, who used to live with the English, the Greeks and the Italians. Port Said, which overlooks the Suez Canal. Port Said that fought and resisted the occupation with its own blood. Port Said has many meanings. It carries the meaning of resistance, the meaning of fighting injustice and the meaning of the regime through peaceful methods. Do you understand what I mean? Port Said is a symbol of pure love for the country. Although the people of Port Said only resisted a little. Port Said is a province that you may has sat at its sea and rode from it from Africa to Asia, as it is the only governorate in Egypt that is located between the continents of Africa and Asia.
How does Port Said connect the two continents? Please tell me.
Port Said represents Africa and Fouad represents Asia, and they are linked by the Suez Canal. Coming back to Port Said, it is enough to me to see the ferry, to ride in the ferry boats and hear the seagull. It is enough to walk every December 23 of each year to the military parade in Port Said and listen to Al-Sememeya songs. All I want is Port Said’s sea fish and shikal, which is grilled seafood, it’s tasty and delicious. Sitting in a cafe in Port Said is not the same as anywhere. Even weed in Port Said is not the same as anywhere in Egypt. Do not be surprised that we drink and buy weed very normally. So, at the end, I am really missing many things in Egypt.
What is the first thing you will do when you return to Egypt?
The first thing I will do when I return to Egypt is that I will stand in Al-Tahrir Square. To remember Tahrir Square and my years of alienation, which seem to be endless. I will remember that every injustice has an end. Here we have been wronged and I am standing again in the same place. Life does not stand but it always revolves. Here I recall the quote “Nothing lasts, even if it is good or bad.” So, I am sure that every injustice has an end, but the timing of that end may vary. I will not return to Egypt tomorrow. I may return after a year or even ten years later, but I will return one day. I do not want to die outside Egypt and I do not want to die without a passport. I want to be buried in my homeland, but this will not happen as long as I do not have a valid passport.
Who told you that?
Currently, I cannot make an attorney for anyone, and this is the most frightening thing that makes me feel nervous. Because of the fact of when I will die, I will not be buried in Egypt.
Have you thought about it?
Yes, I have thought about it especially after the death of the young man Mohammed Al-Jabbah.
Yes, Muhammad al-Jabbah, the young man who died recently.
Yes he is, and I wondered, where will I be buried after I die? I wish to be buried in Egypt, but I currently do not have a valid passport, so how will I be buried in Egypt? I thought of making an attorney for someone and writing my will, but this will not be approved or notarized as long as I do not have a valid passport. Do you understand? The overall idea is complex.
What is the solution or way out in such case?
The solution is to make pressure from the international community on the Egyptian governance system to affirm the right of political opponents abroad, including the right to travel and move in accordance with the laws and charters that Egypt has signed at the United Nations. So, allowing us to renew our passport from any embassy in the world. On the other hand, there must be a unified voice for the Egyptian opposition. Appointing a number of judges in countries that respect human rights to file cases against Egyptian embassies in these countries in order to achieve justice for all of us.
Would you like to add something to the topics we spoke about?
I want to add nothing, but I want to emphasize that I want to be buried in Egypt after my death.
Do you want to add anything related to Port Said since you talked about it?
Port Said, I miss listening to Al-Semsemeya songs and eating salted eggplant. Port Said is different from all places in Egypt. I miss sitting in the cafe and I miss Uncle El-Sayed who used to work in the cafe next to my house. He passed away in 2018, I am very sad on his separation, he has lived with me all the periods of politics, revolution, the coup and events I have experienced.
Who is Uncle El-Sayed?
Uncle El-Sayed is a good man of short stature who has always been smiling. He worked in the coffee shop and was as our big brother. Despite the political difference between us, he defended and protected us from the injustice of police officers. Although he was a supporter of President Sisi, he loved us very much and defended us. We discussed matters of politics in Egypt with him a lot. He tried to convince us although we were claiming his rights anyway. Uncle El-Sayed died about 3 or 4 years after the military coup, where he was going through hard economic conditions. I don’t know if he was still supporting the President Sisi or not.
What did you feel when you received the news of his death?
I felt that an integral part of my life was over. And a beautiful chapter in my life had ended by the death of Uncle El-Sayed. I was planning to see him when I return to Egypt and wanted to tell him that I had bear the consequences so that he could live a better life.
Do you believe that you are really bearing the consequences in order to allow people like Uncle El-Sayed to have a better life?
Yes, I bear the consequences because I refused to live under injustice. It was like paying the price to my family and my community where there’s Uncle El-Sayed, the teacher, the doctor who treats patients, the lawyer who defends people and the worker in the coffee shop and all parts of the society have a better life. A better life conditions, that I have not been able to achieve, but I have been part of achieving a small part of it, although the consequences has been difficult for me, but I am happy that I have never stood in the ranks of an oppressor, murderer or dictator.
Why do you see that the consequences were difficult for you?
The result is that I am bearing the consequences now. I don’t know how long this will last, but I’m satisfied with everything. Do you understand what I mean? I’m accepting everything that happened and I have no problem bearing the consequences.
I understand, would you like to add something else?
I want to talk about Uncle El-Sayed Al-Abed El-Sayed, who is a very good man. During the high school exams, my father used to wake me up for Fajr prayer. The mosque was a short distance away from us. I used to pray and then to go to sit in the cafe and Uncle El-Sayed would come after dawn to put the melliferous and make shisha for us. He used to turn on the TV on Al-Majd channel and he was sitting for some time. When people started going to work around 8:30 to 9am, he used to play some songs and serve those sitting in the cafe. He used to make us delicious mate syrup and there was a blackboard on which we wrote what we bought as we used to pay for it every weekend.