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Latest Victims of Egypt's Coup: 70,000 Syrian Refugees

CAIRO -- On July 8, Suad, a Syrian woman residing in Egypt, returned home with her mother after a trip to Jordan to renew her passport. Her three daughters and husband were waiting for her in the city of Alexandria, just a few days before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.

But the pair was stopped at Alexandria International Airport: New regulations had been put in place that very day, they were told, requiring Syrians to obtain an entry visa before entering Egypt. Meanhwile, Suad's mother was suffering from diabetes and was running out of medication; while they were caught in legal limbo, there seemed to be no way to get her treatment. Suad suddenly found herself separated from her family and grappling with a medical crisis as she struggled to figure out how to return home.

Suad and her mother found themselves stranded at the airport for nearly 48 hours. When it became clear that there was no hope of gaining entry to Egypt, her husband bought her a plane ticket back to Amman, where she can tackle the new visa process.

"We have a nine-year old girl who is very attached to her mother, she's very upset, she cries every day," the husband said. "We had no idea what was happening. Nobody told us anything."

The coup in Egypt has not only upended politics in Cairo, it has endangered some of the country's weakest residents: The estimated 70,000 refugees who have fled the horrific civil war in Syria. Egypt previously had an open-door policy for Syrians. Fears for the country's stability -- fueled by conspiracy theories that foreigners are providing crucial support to the Muslim Brotherhood -- is causing that to change. On July 8 alone, 276 people were denied entry to Egypt, with some having no choice but to return to Syria.

"According to the security apparatus, they found [Syrians] participating in protests and using violence," said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty, in explaining the decision to institute a visa requirement. "We ask our Syrian brothers to respect the current circumstances in Egypt now."

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, there are currently over 70,000 Syrians who have registered as refugees in Egypt. According to Syrian activists and aid workers, many more Syrians fleeing the violence currently reside in Egypt but have not applied for refugee status. But with the new restrictions, the days of Egypt as a safe haven for incoming refugees may be coming to an end.

"I think it will be difficult for Syrians to get a visa," said Mohamed Dayri, the UNHCR regional representative in Cairo. The process could take up to a month -- a long time for a refugee trying to flee the bloodshed in Syria, or trying to make ends meet in a foreign country with no form of employment. Dayri also noted that the U.N. refugee agency was "very concerned" about the fate of Syrians like Suad who were turned away after arriving in Egypt.

The backlash against the Syrian community has been fueled by scattered stories of Syrians joining sides -- or even taking up arms -- in Egypt's political unrest. On July 6, three days after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsy, the Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm reported that a Syrian named Mohamed Mohie al-Darjuni was under investigation for being paid by the Muslim Brotherhood to attack anti-Morsy demonstrators in clashes near downtown Cairo the previous day. Darjuni allegedly received 500 pounds (roughly $71) for each clash with the protesters.

Officials who work with the refugee community, however, insist that such stories are merely isolated examples. "A few Syrians in public demonstrations and using violence should not be generalized," said Dayri. "The Syrian community should not be held hostage to the bad decisions of a few people."

Some prominent anti-Morsy voices, however, have been only too eager to stoke fears that the Syrian community in Egypt has been bought off by the Muslim Brotherhood. Television commentators Youssef el-Husseini and Tawfiq Okasha both publicly warned Syrians against supporting Morsy or participating in Egyptian affairs; Okasha went so far as to encourage Egyptians to arrest them should they see them on the street.

Syrian activists here are trying to contain the public backlash. Over 20 groups who work with Syrian refugees in Egypt recently signed a statement calling on all Syrians in the country "to stand in a neutral position in what is an internal Egyptian affair."

Whether they are successful, however, may depend on whether Egypt is able to avoid more spasms of violence like those that have occurred over the past week. Just as xenophobia arose following the most violent days of the 2011 uprising, attacks on foreigners in Cairo appear to be directly linked to the stability of the current regime -- and this time, the most vulnerable are in the crosshairs. 

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

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Is This the Most Interesting Opening Paragraph Wikipedia's Ever Published?

Most Interesting Man in the World, meet your match.

On Sunday, Twitter user Matthew Barrett created something of a sensation by linking to the obscure Wikipedia biography of the British army officer Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart. His tweet -- "This guy surely has the best opening paragraph of any Wikipedia biography ever" -- has been retweeted more than 3,200 times over the past several days.

 

 

So just how mind-blowing is the introduction on Carton de Wiart's page? Judge for yourself:

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart[1] VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO (5 May 1880 - 5 June 1963), was a British Army officer of Belgian and Irish descent. He fought in the Boer War, World War I, and World War II, was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip and ear, survived a plane crash, tunneled out of a POW camp, and bit off his own fingers when a doctor wouldn't amputate them. He later said "frankly I had enjoyed the war." [2]

On Twitter, some are simply in awe, while others are pointing out that the rest of the bio is pretty stellar too:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So who was this man of extraordinary valor? A Daily Mail profile last year relays much of the same information contained on Carton de Wiart's Wikipedia page: By the end of his life, the British soldier had been awarded his military's highest honor for bravery during World War I and served in the Second Boer War and World War II, commanding troops in a daring World War II raid in Norway. He wore a black patch to cover a missing eye, and had been wounded in the skull, groin, ankle, and stomach. A missing hand betrayed a grisly backstory -- he had once chewed off his own wounded fingers. He had tunneled out of an Italian prisoner-of-war camp, and had wound up there after crashing his plane in the Mediterranean. To top it all off, he had also served as Winston Churchill's special representative to China's Chiang Kai-shek. He had indeed remarked that he "enjoyed" World War I, going on to add that "it had given me many bad moments, lots of good ones, plenty of excitement and with everything found for us." (Readers in the U.K., you may want to go check out Carton de Wiart's 20-bore, double-barreled shotgun, which just went on display in Leeds.)

Judging by his autobiography, Carton de Wiart adopted his swashbuckling ways from an early age, when he left university at Oxford to fight in the Boer War

At that moment I knew, once and for all, that war was in my blood. I was determined to fight and I didn't mind who or what. I didn't know why the war had started, and I didn't care on which side I was to fight. If the British didn't fancy me I would offer myself to the Boers, and at least I did not endow myself with Napoleonic powers or imagine I would make the slightest difference to whichever side I fought for.

I know now that the ideal soldier is the man who fights for his country because it is fighting, and for no other reason. Causes, politics and ideologies are better left to the historians.

Readers, if you have a suggestion for a Wikipedia page that rivals this one, leave it in the comments.

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