The Egyptian police have recently arrested about 500 Turkestani students studying in Al-Azhar in preparation for deporting them to their country. This move is intended to appease the Chinese regime, especially after the Chinese president’s visit to Egypt last year.
Friends of the Turkestani students confirmed that their colleagues were arrested from their places of residence, and many of them were detained at the Cairo International Airport. They also pointed out that there is no information about the detained Turkestani students or their whereabouts.
The Chinese authorities had demanded that the Turkestani students suspend their studies in Al-Azhar and return to East Turkestan, threatening to arrest their relatives if they refrained from returning. Some of those who returned to East Turkestan faced prison sentences from 15 years to life. Others have faced death sentences in cases of “seeking the secession of Turkistan”.
East Turkestan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, lies in the heart of Asia. It is the homeland of the Turkic speaking Uyghurs and other central Asian peoples such as Kazaks, Kyrgyz, Tatars, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.
According to the latest Chinese census, the present population of these Muslims is slightly over 11 million; among these, the 8.68 million Uyghurs constitute the majority. However, Uyghur sources indicate that Uyghur population in East Turkestan exceeds 15 million.
East Turkistan’s predominantly Muslim population have been demanding independence from China, which annexed the territory 64 years ago.
China signed investment and aid deals worth billions of dollars with Egypt during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. Xi Jinping then expressed support for Cairo’s efforts to maintain stability, which have included a crackdown on dissent.