By Libya Herald staff.
Cairo, 19 September 2014:
Arwa Mohammed Al-Magarief, wife of the Libyan Ambassador to Egypt, recently spoke to the Libya Herald about . . .[restrict]the current state of Libyans living in Egypt, a diverse group that includes former regime opposition figures, current Qaddafi exiles and recent evacuees.
Over chai tea lattes in a coffee shop on the trendy island of Zamalek in central Cairo Mohamed Jebril’s wife and daughter Najma described what it was like to grow up in exile while longing for the Libyan homeland.
Magarief, daughter of key opposition figure and former GNC President Mohammed Al-Magarief, fled Libya with her family in her teens. Her daughter, Najma Jebril, was born in exile in Egypt.
The mother did not see her beloved homeland for some 30 years. The daughter has never seen it. For both of them, however, Libya is the country they love.
Indeed, none of Arwa Al-Magarief’s four children has ever seen Libya, but each dreams of going there someday soon.
“I consider myself fully Libyan, even though I have never set foot on Libyan soil,” Najma declared. She hopes to get a teaching position in Libya after completing her Master’s degree in Cairo.
As they speak about Libya, it is easy to tell that their passion for the country and its people runs deep. They have a fervent desire to see the nation rise from the turbulent aftermath of the revolution and develop into a strong democracy. For Magarief, her parents, and her husband, this is what they have dreamed of for decades.
In the years of the Qaddafi regime many political exiles found their way to Cairo. Not all stayed in Egypt, ultimately needing to escape to safer countries as Qaddafi’s men hunted them down. Magarief’s father is said to have survived some 14 assassination attempts.
There are those like Magarief and her husband who remained in Egypt, even though she says there were attempts by Qaddafi’s henchmen to assassinate them. She speaks of the fear they had of going anywhere near the Libyan embassy in those days.
“It’s ironic,” she laughs, “that my husband is now the ambassador there.”
These days, however, the political exiles in Egypt are those who supported the Qaddafi regime and found themselves fleeing during and immediately following the revolution. Reportedly many have settled in Alexandria. Others live in Cairo, in areas like the 6th October suburb or Nasser City. There are no official numbers for these exiles. They were not likely to register with the embassy upon arrival.
In Egypt students can study at Libyan schools that follow the Libyan national school curriculum. These schools were set up by Qaddafi supporters and are mostly attended by children of backers of the former regime.
Though there is potential for tensions between the supporters of the Revolution and of Qaddafi , Ambassador Mohammed Jebril is trying to reach out to all Libyans living in Egypt. The embassy is helping pay for those who cannot afford school fees at the Libyan schools. And Jebril has visited the schools.
This year, because the number of students is expected to be higher, due to an influx of Libyans escaping the violence in Tripoli and Benghazi, the embassy has offered to cover the costs of all students studying in the Libyan schools.
It is difficult to assess how many Libyans have come to Egypt because of the recent violence. Many came for Ramadan, not expecting to stay this long. Most of these have not bothered to register with the embassy.
One family from Tripoli spoke to the Libya Herald. “We came at the beginning of Ramadan,” they said, “planning to stay for a few weeks. Now we do not know when we will return. We are planning to rent a flat here until we know if it is safe.”
The family’s home in Tripoli is in Siyahiya, an area that experienced a considerable amount of shelling. Their children’s school is in Sirraj, which saw heavy fighting.
However not all the new arrivals have been able to find or afford accommodation in Egypt. Remarkably therefore, the ambassador has thrown open the embassy to those most desperate.
The Jebril family has found itself hosting a house full of evacuated family members, with Magarief saying it has become a virtual displaced people shelter.
“In the beginning we were able to arrange for each couple or family to have their own room,” she told Libya Herald. “Now, the numbers have grown so large that we changed the sleeping arrangements. All the men are on the ground floor. The women are on the first floor. And our family is on the top floor, with our children sharing their bedrooms with some of the other kids.”
Members of another Tripoli family had actually been in Cairo for some months for medical treatment. Other relatives of the family came to visit them for Ramadan and then found themselves stranded here. The 12-year old grandson, Loay, says he is bored and ready to go home, but the family is unsure of their plans for a return.
The desire to go home is a common theme expressed by Libyans living in Egypt. For some it is a place they just left a few weeks ago. For others it has been three years since they saw their homeland. And for others, like Arwa, the wait lasted for decades.
Arwa and her parents were able to finally return to Libya during the revolution.
“As my parents and I flew into Benghazi in 2011, the minute we saw eastern Libya’s red dirt out the windows of the airplane tears began to stream down our faces. We were home.”