Panic is escalating among Cairo’s Uyghur community amid the Egyptian security raids on the Uyghur students’ houses, schools and mosques as part of a crackdown apparently at the behest of the Chinese government, especially after the Chinese deputy minister of public security visited Egypt about two weeks ago.
“The government has been making arrests for three months now, but it was mostly people with expired visas,” reported Middle East Eye on Thursday citing a Uyghur source in Cairo.
“They don’t check for visas anymore. They just violently arrest, and we don’t know where they [those arrested] are now.”
Photos of ransacked Cairo flats began circulating on social media on Wednesday, with reports of security forces arresting even those with valid visas and others holidaying on beaches near Alexandria.
Meanwhile, students were reportedly hiding at home, but still face being rounded up by Egyptian police. The MEE source said there were reports of sweeping arrests at al-Azhar University, where many Uyghurs study Arabic and Islam.
“They’re mostly arresting the young men,” a member of the Uyghur community called Sumaya told MEE. “But I know of women who have been taken too, though we hide when we hear the government knocking on our door.”
The raids and arrests come after Chinese authorities ordered Uyghur overseas students to return home by 20 May, as part of a government move to screen political views and activities, reported Chinese media at the time.
Chinese government representatives have since reportedly shown up in predominantly Uyghur areas in Cairo, stopping by mosques and schools to order students to return to China, members of the community told MEE.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged Egyptian authorities to disclose where those who had been arrested were being held, and to “not deport them back to China, where they face persecution and torture”.
High-ranking Chinese security official visited Egypt in June
The Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar on 19 June said a technical cooperation document was signed between the Egyptian Interior Ministry and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
The document covered a number of specialized security fields, the minister added following a meeting with the Chinese deputy minister of public security, who was visiting Cairo at the time.
The meeting between Abdel Ghaffar and the Chinese security official dealt with issues of common concern.
The Chinese official then expressed his country’s desire to activate channels of information exchange related to extremist organizations and illegal immigration activities, as well as benefiting from the distinguished security expertise of the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, especially in the field of combating terrorism and dealing with extremist ideologies.
Who are the Uyghurs
The Uyghurs come from predominantly Muslim autonomous province of China, known officially as Xinjiang and locally as East Turkestan. Beijing has placed a series of restrictions on religious practice in the region.
Many Uyghurs in Egypt have fled political and religious persecution and repression in their homeland, where violence between militants and the state is common.