Egyptians in Gulf states torn between fear and hope

JEDDAH Sun Jan 30, 2011 11:18am EST

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JEDDAH (Reuters) - Security guard Nadi Ali al-Din, like many Egyptian laborers in the Gulf Arab region, would rather be in Cairo than patrolling a lavish Saudi shopping mall.

But, like most Egyptians working in the oil-exporting Gulf to help their families make ends meet, all he could do was head in to work and wait anxiously for news from home.

"I'm not only worried about my children, I'm worried about the country as a whole," Ali al-Din, whose four young children live with his family in Cairo, told Reuters in Jeddah on Sunday.

"I wish I was in Egypt so I can join in. I feel like a big change is coming and I want to be a part of it."

Like Ali al-Din, many Egyptians in countries like Saudi Arabia feel detached from the unrest at home. Gulf Arab states, where public protest is often not tolerated, have suppressed any hints of protests.

While Egyptians in Western capitals have held demonstrations in solidarity with protests at home demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down, Egyptian doctors, engineers and laborers in the Gulf can only watch and wait.

On Friday, Saudi authorities dispersed demonstrators in Jeddah who waved briefly Egyptian flags and sang its national anthem.

Also on Friday, Dubai authorities told protesters at Egypt's consulate to disperse, while Egyptians living in Kuwait were warned that any protesters would be deported along with their families, according to Kuwaiti media.

"I have been living in Saudi for seven years, because I couldn't find a job back home, but I wish I was there with them now," said one Egyptian man, 30, outside the consulate in Jeddah.

"I want to do something here and get my message across but it is not allowed here," added the man, who did not want to be identified.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, like other Gulf leaders, is keen to avoid the further spread of anti-government unrest in the Arab world. He has expressed support for Mubarak, calling him twice after days of protests, Saudi media said.

Around office parks, stores and cafes in the region, Arabs of various nationalities were glued to images of unprecedented civil unrest in Egypt where more than 100 were reported killed.

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More than a million Egyptian expatriates are thought to live in the Gulf, the lion's share in Saudi Arabia, where they rely on the stronger but autocratic Gulf economies to send home remittances worth billions of dollars.

Some, like restaurant manager Mahmoud Jaballa, were balancing their desire to head home to help their families or take part in the historic demonstrations with their need to hold on to their livelihoods abroad.

"I am worried and want to go back," said Jaballa, 24, outside a waterfront lounge where he works in Dubai's Marina area. "But if I go I will lose my job."

"We all hate the president and the government, but we don't want to risk anything in Dubai, because we wouldn't find a better life if they send us back to Egypt," he added.

Some Egyptians in the United Arab Emirates tried to find smaller ways to help, including by volunteering to give blood but encountered difficulty finding a hospital that could send on their donations to Egypt.

"We have a lot of people who want to donate now. I can get you more than 500," said Egyptian Marwan Nouh, who was trying to help organize a drive in Dubai via Facebook after hearing media reports that Egyptian hospitals needed blood.

In Qatar, home to the satellite channel Al Jazeera whose operations in Egypt were ordered shut down on Sunday, Egyptians did hold a small vigil near the embassy in Doha, where some said prayers and others carried banners calling for Mubarak's exit. "The last two days have been a panic," said Riham El Houshi, 22, an Egyptian public relations consultant in Qatar who has found support from Qatari friends, some of whom went to the Egyptian embassy in a show of sympathy.

"I don't want to say that I'm happy, because this is kind of a nightmare. But I'm hopeful."

(Additional reporting by Eman Goma in Kuwait, Erika Solomon, Praveen Menon and Martina Fuchs in Dubai, Regan Doherty in Doha; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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