Considering that most of the refugees from the Syrian Civil War are either Sunni Islamists fleeing Assad’s army or Christians fleeing the Sunni Islamists rebels, that’s not terribly surprising. The Christians aren’t likely to be aiding the Brotherhood, but they’re also not heading to Egypt, for the most part.
And the Syrian Sunni Islamists are often Brotherhood members or Brotherhood allies. So naturally they’re causing trouble in Egypt.
Now many of the tens of thousands of Syrians here have found themselves targets of hate speech in local media. TV stations critical of Mr Morsi aired claims his Muslim Brotherhood was paying Syrian refugees to attend pro-Morsi protests. Other outlets reported Syrians among those arrested in clashes with police.
One TV anchor, Tawfiq Okasha, declared that Egypt should form a “defence army” and arrest Syrians, Palestinians and Iraqis he claimed were causing trouble.
Over the last two weeks, Egyptian officials have turned back at least one planeload of Syrians arriving at Cairo airport. Syrians now need to obtain visas before entry and there’s no sign Egyptian embassies are granting them. New arrivals used to receive a three-month visa and could eventually apply for one-year residency – that’s no longer the case.
The United Nations says some 70,000 Syrians have registered with them in Egypt, but the real number here is estimated as at least twice that. Syrian activists tracking arrivals put it as high as 350,000.
350,000 refugees in a country even as large as Egypt are a problem. The media is naturally taking the Brotherhood side and claiming the refugees are innocent.
Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said Egyptian police had arrested 72 Syrian men and nine boys on July 19 and 20 alone, including registered asylum seekers and at least nine with valid visas or residence permits. At least 14 were threatened with deportation.
“A tense political climate is no excuse for police and army officers to pull dozens of Syrian men and boys off of public transport and throw them in jail without regard for their rights,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Since those Syrians are foreigners, often illegally there, it seems as if the Egyptian authorities have every right to round them up.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Syrians had been accused of taking part in protests supporting Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled by the army on July 3.
The UNHCR had requested access to 85 detained Syrians and assurances that they will not be returned to Syria, she told a news briefing.
“There were a few who were arrested for alleged violent acts during protests. We’re not sure what the charges are for the others,” she said.
But Egyptian media and television have made “disturbing” statements against Syrians, Fleming said.
“We’re obviously very concerned when big public communications machines like television are behind some of this rhetoric that is very xenophobic,” she said.
Is there any country in the region whose television stations aren’t full of xenophobic rhetoric?