My bet is that those 9.4 million, and the many others who have fallen through the cracks, are Egyptian by birth, schooling, and rearing. Yes, they lived much of their adult lives elsewhere, and yet, in spite of the distances and the miles, Egypt remains in their hearts, and they carry deep-rooted affection towards it.
Furthermore, these Egyptians gained more respect for and allegiance towards their homeland in the last few years. Egypt was and will always be in their hearts, but when they realised that it was about to disintegrate when the Muslim Brotherhood took over, they began to appreciate it further and to worry about it even more.
The emigrating phenomenon amongst Egyptians did not happen until the sixties of the last century. Egyptians were known to travel to study or visit other places, but they always returned. The exodus began, not only in dual citizens such as Greeks, Italians, Syrians, and Armenians who sought refuge and better lives elsewhere, but also Jews, and more often than not, Copts.
Then in the seventies, the educated Egyptians left. By the eighties, and mainly for economic purposes, Egyptians from all walks of life tried to find work elsewhere. It was a definite shift in paradigm.
Those who immigrated to other parts of the world, the US, Australia, and Canada, carried the same partiality and fondness for Egypt as the work seekers who went to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates.
Egypt rarely went after the support of outbound Egyptians. It was always up to the Egyptian diaspora to return and serve if they so chose. The Sir-Magdi-Yacoub and the Professor-Ahmed-Zeweil examples are many and deserve our appreciation, but Egypt should woo the Egyptian diaspora into remaining loyal to Egypt and endorsing it in every way possible.
And in all fairness connecting immigrants to Egypt has never been easier. And the earlier version of “immigrant” who knows nothing about his/her birthplace doesn’t construe much in this day and age.
Via social media, I am surrounded by Egyptian diaspora who care about Egypt. My Twitter friend who hasn’t set foot on Egyptian soil in forty years is willing to go back to Egypt, for good, though I warned her that she may find it challenging. My Facebook friend who left Egypt 54 years ago is curious to know who is who and posts photos of renowned Egyptians and asks us to identify them.
Others resort to live streaming of ON TV, CBC Egypt, DMC, and other TV channels to remain abreast of the happenings in Egypt. They chat about Ossama Kamal’s guests and Lamees El Hadidi’s latest endeavour. They examine Amr Adeeb and Yousef El Hussainy's outbursts as though they never left Egypt.
And my Los Angeles friend, who hasn’t set foot on Egyptian soil in 30 years, breaks into tears with every fallen Egyptian soldier.
These millions are a wealth that should not 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.
First and foremost, Egyptians with dual citizenship must show allegiance to their new countries. By being the best Canadians or Australians, they exemplify what an Egyptian is all about: law-abiding and hard working citizens. When their fellow Canadians or Australians regard them by origin, Egyptian, they would be portraying a commendable image.
Simultaneously, the diaspora must utilize every opportunity to promote Egypt. 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 by commenting on articles that speak ill of Egypt—most papers allow commenting, and by linking non-Egyptians to articles that speak saliently of Egypt.
Now for the other face of the coin. Egypt must assist these Egyptians in their efforts to promote Egypt. First, this can be realised by stationing exemplary ambassadors and impeccable consulate officials all over the world, ones who are able to both support their fellow countrymen/women and communicate succinctly with the citizens of the countries they are ambassadors to.
Efficient consulates must first support Egyptians abroad, keeping them abreast, via email, of social and cultural events and visiting dignitaries. Official Facebook pages can be established in different countries, so permanent residents of these countries can follow these pages and learn the facts from the source.
Consulates bring over delegations from the Egyptian Civil Registry to facilitate paper work completion and passport and social insurance numbers renewal. Egyptians need to be informed of such visits ahead of time.
Simultaneously, Egyptian embassies must do their best to promote Egypt in the eyes of host countries. The Egyptian ambassador to Canada takes trips around Canada to speak to Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike. The Egyptian ambassadors in Canada and the US write articles in western news outlets to counteract what the western media says about Egypt.
And yet further changes must be implemented to bond these dual citizens to their homeland. By allowing Egyptians and their offsprings overseas to renew passports, social insurance numbers, and miscellaneous documentation, these Egyptians will remain Egyptians. By simplifying the bureaucracy, the allegiance will remain steadfast. While, by making it tougher to sustain the bond, Egyptians will lose interest in Egypt, something nobody wants.
Today, 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 program in my living room in Heliopolis, a hotel in Sharm, the cruise ship on the Mediterranean, or during a visit to the States, I tweet my view, he reads my tweet on air, and then responds. With a click on my smart phone or laptop keyboard, I am in Egypt and amongst Egyptians.
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.
Al Masriya, the Egyptian State TV channel, produces a program titled Wessal (Connections). It is produced from various locations where the Egyptian diaspora lives. From Melbourne, Australia, to Wales, Britain, it focuses on the needs of Egyptians abroad.
More similar programs should be established to connect the two worlds.
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. The tools to give, online, credit cards, sms messages, are in abundance.
But it is not all about donating, lending, or giving to Egypt, it’s about allegiance and sustaining the bond between the diaspora and their homeland. Only then will the diaspora visit Egypt, contribute in Egypt’s growth, and share in the responsibility of building their birthplace, Egypt.
The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.