Though I am Egyptian by birth and schooling, I have lived much of my adult life elsewhere. And yet, in spite of the distances and the miles, Egypt is in my heart, and I carry much love and allegiance towards it. Furthermore, I gained more respect for and affection to my home country in the last few years. Egypt was to always be there, but when I realized that it was about to disintegrate into nothingness, I began to appreciate it more and to worry about it even further.
Millions are in the same position as I am. Egyptians began to emigrate in the sixties. First you had the dual citizens: the Greeks, Italians, Syrians, Jews, and Armenians seek refuge and better lives elsewhere; then in the seventies, the educated Egyptians left, and soon afterwards, everyone tried to find work elsewhere. It was a shift in paradigm that the regime then caused by its stifling and limited scope. (Watch this video of a Greek woman returning to Egypt after 49 years here).
But millions of Egyptians, and many non-Egyptians, too, remain loyal to Egypt even after decades of living elsewhere. I personally am surrounded by Egyptian diaspora who still care, very much. Our friends in Victoria, BC, have lived in Canada for half a century, and yet their early morning calls ask for news about Egypt. My Twitter friend who hasn’t set foot on Egyptian soil in forty years is willing to go back to Egypt today though I warned her that it may prove to be quite difficult. Others have resorted to Live ON TV or Live El Kahera Wal Nas to remain abreast of the happenings and day-to-day news. They chat about Ibrahim Eissa’s and Yousef El Hussainy's outbursts as though they never left Egypt. When I tried to reach my Jewish classmate in Paris, her uncle, my only connection, spoke to me like an Egyptian who had never left Egypt: both had left Egypt in the sixties. And my Los Angeles friend breaks into tears with every fallen Egyptian soldier.
These millions are a wealth that should never be overlooked, a strength that should be recognized for what it’s worth. So today I ask how Egypt can utilize this powerful force to its benefit. It has always been up to the Egyptian diaspora to return and serve. The Sir-Magdi-Yacoub and the Professor-Ahmed-Zeweil examples are many and deserve our appreciation, but Egypt has rarely gone after the support of outbound Egyptians. And it should.
In my over 40 years living away from Egypt, I remained an Egyptian in the minds of those who met me. This is something that I could not change. At Kuwait University I was the Egyptian professor. At the three Canadian academic institutions where I taught, I was first and foremost the Egyptian teacher/instructor/professor. Sometimes it infuriated me since I wanted to be recognized for my merit, which I was, too, rather than my colour, slight accent, or demeanour, but today I take pride in my origin and would like to utilize it for Egypt.
How can I and the other diaspora help Egypt?
First and foremost, Egyptians with dual citizenship must show allegiance to their new country. By being the best Canadians, Brits, or Australians, they exemplify what an Egyptian is all about. By being law-abiding citizens, hard working ones, when their fellow Canadians or Australians regard them by their origin, Egyptian, they would be exhibiting how wonderful Egyptians are.
I find those who migrate but refuse to assimilate in their new societies quite puzzling. Why immigrate if they can’t become full-fledged citizens in their new countries? And most inviting countries cherish these new citizens for what they are: a gained wealth of ideas and cultures.
Simultaneously the diaspora must utilize every opportunity to promote the Egyptian image. It is hard enough as it is that western media continues to draw a grim picture of Egypt. That’s why Egyptians, from afar, should work on proving how wrong western media are. They can also comment on articles that speak ill of Egypt—most renowned papers allow commenting. In the last few years I must have commented on hundreds of biased articles linking readers to positive ones that explain the current situation in Egypt in a far better way. I also wrote my own articles that portray the change in a positive fashion, had my own blog Egypt, Om el Donia, and tweeted to Egyptian and non-Egyptian followers alike.
Now for the other face of the coin. Egypt must assist these Egyptians in their efforts to promote Egypt. First, this is done by stationing exemplary ambassadors and impeccable consulate officials all over the world, ones who are able to both support their fellow countrymen/women and speak to the citizens of the countries they are ambassadors to.
Efficient consulates must first support Egyptians abroad. The Egyptian Consulate in Canada seeks to help keep Egyptians abreast, via email, of events and visiting dignitaries. The consulate also brings over delegations from the Egyptian Civil Registry to facilitate paper work completion and passport and social insurance numbers renewal. It is vital for Egyptians to know that their embassies are there for them.
Simultaneously, Egyptian embassies must do their best to promote Egypt in the eyes of host countries. Currently, the Egyptian ambassadors to Canada and the US seek to have Canadians and US citizens see the new Egypt. The Egyptian ambassador to Canada takes trips around Canada to speak about Egypt. I’ve listened to the Egyptian ambassador speak at the University of British Columbia and was quite impressed. And I’ve read the articles that the Egyptian ambassador to the US writes to counteract what the western media says about Egypt, and again I was impressed.
And yet further changes must be implemented to bond these dual citizens to their homeland. By allowing Egyptians overseas to maintain valid passports and valid social insurance numbers, these Egyptians will remain Egyptians. By allowing their offsprings to easily get the same papers and documentation, they will remain Egyptians. By simplifying the bureaucracy, the allegiance will remain steadfast. While, by making it tougher to maintain the link, Egyptians will lose interest in Egypt, something nobody wants.
Egyptian officials must not only target tourists and foreign investors but also Egyptians abroad. Egyptians must be allowed to share in the building of Egypt, to invest in Egyptian projects, and to donate to charities. If I could have bought shares in the new Suez Canal Project, I would have, but alas, I couldn’t.
Dr. Michael Morgan’s program American Pulse is taped in New York and airs on the Egyptian channel El Kahera Wal Nas, and it is the first program of its kind. It links the diaspora to Egypt, and Egypt to the diaspora. It speaks from the US about Egyptians living in the US and about the United States in general. More similar programs should be established to connect the two worlds.
And in all fairness connecting immigrants to Egypt has never been easier. It has truly become a very small, reachable world. And the earlier version of “immigrant” who knows nothing about his/her old country doesn’t construe much in this day and age.
Today, modern media, standard and social, play an immense role in maintaining the connection between Egyptians and their homeland. It has become quite easy to access all the Egyptian TV channels, read all the Egyptian papers, and comment on both. As I sit and watch Osama Kamal’s @alkahera360, in my Canadian living room, I tweet my view, he reads my tweet on air, and then responds. With a click on my smart phone or laptop keyboard I can be in Egypt.