The post-revolution years in Egypt progressed leading up to the inevitable closing of a pivotal African refugee community-based education center, El-Wafaa, prioritizing needs of some of the most impoverished of Cairo’s undocumented residents, which had served hundreds, if not thousands of community members during its eight-year run. Its former director, a Darfurian educator named Abdel Rahman Siddiq Hashim joined the increasing numbers of demonstrators who emerged from Cairo’s African refugee communities. In the wake of solidarity actions with Syria’s forced migrants, the popular rush to mass mobilization in Egypt spread throughout minority communities, calling for common and independent social justices through a common voice.
As the civil war raged in Syria, Cairo’s Tahrir Square also became home to Darfurian and Syrian solidarity. In 2010, Abdallah Hanzel, an activist from Darfur, raised a Syrian child to his shoulders in front of the Arab League Headquarters, both smiling for the camera, and wrapped in the Syrian flag. During a protest in front of the Sudanese Embassy in 2012, Abdel Rahman found himself standing with Syrian forced migrants with banners calling for justice and peace.
On April 17th, the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo again found its nationals organizing on behalf of overwhelming anti-government sentiments. Young and old attended, from near and far, at the Embassy, located in downtown Cairo, in Garden City, only a short walk from Tahrir Square, in an antique, colonial neighborhood beside the Nile. One young man, named Rasheed, a forced migrant from Southern Kordofan, Sudan, commuted to the protest grounds from 6th of October City, a sister city of Cairo, about an hour’s drive away by minibus. In a persistent demonstration of civil concern, hundreds of protestors, men and women, including observant Egyptians and media representatives, have lined the streets outside of the Sudanese Embassy in the past months. Their activism continues until today. The intensity of anti-government protests among Sudanese people has amplified following the 23rd of September 1, and more importantly the 3rd of October 2013 2, when thousands of protestors in Sudan faced brutal and lethal force from government police, leading to the deaths of 27 peaceful demonstrators.
Rasheed and Abdel Rahman could be seen chanting slogans clear as day, and proudly amid the cacophony of drums, street noise, and the bold green, red, white and black of the Sudanese flag. One Sudanese man holding a banner and donning a Sudanese flag-colored cap spoke eloquently for the media about how a democratic and secular Sudan, as with the recurrent issues of peace and civil rights applies to all Sudanese, as to all Arabs. Sudanese compatriots, residents of Cairo, looked on with rooted and solemn regard, while not without a measure of anxiety, to attend leaders-in-diaspora, as with the core demonstrators at the Cairo protests. Chanting slogans amid the many holding signs, common rhythms often overcame the whole group, turning every demonstrator into a musical eruption of unanimous clapping and vocalizations in unison. Young men mostly took the center platform, speaking to the core demonstrators from among the attendant observers to proclaim a passionate speech, which were always met with total and vocal unity among all, without exception. Plainly well-organized, the demonstrations were a show of unity and social coherence, demonstrating and exhibiting peaceful public engagement in the name of democracy, secularization and people power. As Abdel Rahman wrote in an email correspondence on April 26:
The protestors were a collective of concerned, grassroots activists, representing a diverse spectrum of Sudanese people residing in Cairo as refugees and migrants who share a common vision. The primary purpose of the protests in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo was to bring the internal human rights violations situations in Sudan into the global media spotlight so that the UN and the international community can put more pressure on the government in Khartoum to stop its massive brutal campaign of arresting university students and shooting peaceful demonstrators with live ammunition. The government should respect human rights and freedom of association of Sudanese people according to the Universal Declaration and related Geneva Conventions.
Abdel Rahman Survives Brutal Assault, Re-Opens UNHCR File
“African refugee rights’ groups say refugees and migrants are frequently the victims of unprovoked arrests and disappearances, while also struggling to feed themselves and pay rent,” reads the 2013 IRIN report, meant to promote understanding about life as a refugee in post-revolution Egypt. Truthfully, brutal assaults are more common than reported in Cairo, where many forced migrants, asylum seekers and refugees alike experience such a degree of marginality from institutional recognition, that they remain silent. Tragically, on March 23rd, at 10:00 p.m., a hired thug in the district of Maadi, located in greater Cairo, targeted Abdel Rahman. According to Abdel Rahman’s account, the thug hit him in the head with an empty glass bottle at the supermarket where he was buying some daily needs. The assailant later made baseless claims that he saw Abdel Rahman with a certain woman and proceeded to take his identity card. At that point, bystanders in the neighborhood looked on, and intervened, dragging the thug away as he struggled to continue the attack, returning Abdel Rahman’s ID card.
Widely known, and respected in his community, having worked for AMERA, the American University in Cairo, and the UN as a translator and community educator and leader, Abdel Rahman immediately went to the police station in the Al-Basatin neighborhood, where he could file a complaint with the criminal investigation department.
On April 15th, at 11:30 a.m., Abdel Rahman visited the UNHCR-Cairo office, and applied to reopen his file, attaching all relevant documentation from 2001 to the date, concerning his record as a refugee who had previously filed a case with UNHCR-Egypt. The grounds of his refugee status application remain, as a member of one of the African indigenous peoples of Darfur, known as the Zaghawa, who faced genocidal policies mounted by Omar Al-Bashir, for which the International Criminal Court indicted him in 2008 and 2010. The Sudanese government and other non-state organizations such as the Janjaweed militia are infamously known to be responsible for the unabated killing of Zaghawa, Fur and Masalit people, and the looting and burning of their villages.
Gathering his files to report to UNHCR as soon as he could manage, Abdel Rahman noted various cases of surreptitious malevolence throughout his period of residence in post-revolution Cairo. These incidences included written threats left at his apartment door, asking colleagues for his daily routine, telephone harassment, among other forms of psychological terror and abuse. Abdel Rahman proceeded to include such incidences in his official report as he applied to reopen his file with UNHCR3. During several demonstrations in Cairo, Abdel Rahman publicly expressed his marked disdain for life in authoritarian regimes, as during his participation in vigils at the Sudanese Embassy to condemn and denounce crimes against the innocent people of Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. Another vigil he attended was held at the Sudanese Embassy in solidarity with Egyptian journalist Shaimaa Adel, who was arrested by security forces in Sudan on charges of publishing news about demonstrations against Khartoum in 2012.
In his application, Abdel Rahman has also drawn attention to a dear friend and co-participant in vigils held at the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo, who died under mysterious circumstances in 2013. The death was described as a traffic accident, however, many of his friends, including Abdel Rahman note that he was clearly in danger due to his sincere stance against the crimes of the current government regime in Sudan. Friends and collegial activists remember him chanting with his wife, also active in women’s rights, both addressing the Sudanese ambassador, Mr. Kamal Hassan Ali during a protest held at one of the ambassador’s speeches in 6th of October City. During the event, the ambassador was unable to continue with his speech because of the fervent chanting led by Abdel Rahman’s friend and wife, who denounced the actions of the Sudanese government with respect to human rights and war crimes.
Abdel Rahman is an exemplary global citizen who demonstrates for peace and civil progress on behalf of the rights of all people, including, especially, the citizens of his current host country of Egypt, however inhospitable its policies may remain with regard to human rights, as with his unique and authentic experience as a refugee from Darfur. On the same day that Abdel Rahman submitted his application paperwork to UNHCR’s Cairo office, he received a slip. A small, seemingly insignificant piece of paper, with barely legible penmanship, which confirms the receipt of his application, is the only palpable hope that he has in his monumental search for justice. Waiting for a phone call from the UNHCR Cairo office, Abdel Rahman is in a position that many forced migrants, asylum seekers and refugees find themselves in Egypt, oftentimes fifteen years down the road, or longer. Yet, they wait, desperately, in cafes, on street corners and in community centers, holding out an ever so slight hope that their case will be processed, that they will find a place to call home, where they can finally live with basic, human dignity.