This story is of a young Egyptian woman 27 years of age, who found herself trapped in a strange country and not able to return to her own.
This young woman traveled with her family to live in Saudi Arabia since she was a baby, but growing up she hated her life there and yearned to go back to Egypt. Unfortunately that was not an idea that her parents liked. Her father took her passport and her residency documents, to make sure she remains imprisoned where he chose.
The current laws under which Saudi women live are horrifying, the inequalities they have to go through are infinite, but we will only focus on those relevant to this story. Saudi women can not travel on their own or without the consent of their male guardian/custodian be it a father, a husband, a brother or a cousin. No matter how old the woman is, and even if she is way older than her guardian/custodian.
But our heroin is not a Saudi, she's Egyptian, and the Egyptian laws give her the freedom of movement without anyone's permission once she reaches the age of 21. Why then does she have to suffer these strange unjust laws?
Our Heroin tried all the paths to resolve this within her family, but to no good. The next step she took was to go and ask for help in the Egyptian embassy in Saudi Arabia, whose part of their existence is to look after Egyptian citizens abroad.
The humiliation she had to go through on the hands of the Egyptian consular, and the accusations of acting improperly for the simple desire of returning back to her country. Although she is an adult woman, and only asking for her right that's protected by the law, she had to face all the gender biases, that are deeply ingrained in our society.
The new consular was more cooperative and issued her a temporary travel document (that's issued for you when your passport is lost), but this document was useless without the consent of her guardian/custodian. Although the Saudi foreign authority mentioned that they can discard this requirement, if the Egyptian embassy sent them an official letter, the consular was too cowardly to take such an action, and kept advising her to resolve it within her family, something she failed to do for 3 long years of her young life.
Through her blog she started to write about her problem and got in contact with some Egyptian bloggers and digital activists over the internet. I dont think she realized the potential of an online campaign, before she took this step.
She started a facebook group, and her message went viral. Women rights organisations adopted her struggle, and a human rights lawyer took her case against the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs. This made the news in main stream media, and although she didn't gain everyone's solidarity, it put the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs, the Saudi foreign affairs authority and her family under pressure. And in one week after she started her online campaign, she was back in Egypt :)
I can't begin to think of what she felt, struggling with her family for more than 3 years. Shifting away from your family, your source of unconditional love and support, and discovering that you can put all your trust in a group of strange digital natives that you only knew online, must have required a lot of strength. Dreaming of a different life, imagining what at times seemed the impossible and refusing to let go or lose focus is very commendable. Fighting on your own, against your family and the norms and traditions of your society must have been very hard.
Welcome back home :)
Photo courtsey of Flickr user "Mondayne" licensed under cc-by-nc-nd