Egyptians In Saudi Arabia Watch Uprising Quietly

Most Egyptians who work in Saudi Arabia are young and highly educated. They are there to work as teachers and in high tech because there are no jobs for them in Egypt. They watch the news and try to call home, but they keep their enthusiasm quiet given the Saudi government's concerns about political uprisings.

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Because Egypt is a poor country, many of its young men go abroad for work. More than a million Egyptians live in the oil-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula, and the top destination is Saudi Arabia. These Egyptians are waiting and watching the uprising at home, with hope mixed with fear.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

DEBORAH AMOS: Most Egyptians working in the Saudi kingdom cheered the uprising back home. With the Internet down and phone lines jammed, they wait anxiously for word from their families, and they share the latest news of the protests.

AMR (Engineer): I'm happy, and I'm proud. I'm really proud. I'm really proud of what actually they do.

AMOS: Amr, a 32-year-old Egyptian, wants only his first name used. He works at a telecom company, mostly with other Egyptians.

AMR: And by the way, 99.9 percent out of them, they are with the protesters in Egypt, and they would love to join them. This is history. The people are making history now.

AMOS: History they can only watch. The money sent home, and the billions from Egyptians working abroad, helps keep the economy afloat. The Egyptians here are highly skilled doctors, teachers. Thirty-six-year-old Hani works at a high-tech company.

HANI: We have a community and, of course, Saudi Arabia has a lot of Egyptians here. We have like, millions, I think. And we're all happy, very happy and excited, and we are all dreaming to be there now.

AMOS: In Western capitals, Egyptians have demonstrated in solidarity with protesters back home. That's not possible here. Saudi Arabia's king publicly denounced the protests in Egypt. Police here and in Dubai dispersed small gatherings of Egyptians, who waved flags and sang the national anthem. Kuwait publicly warned that any protesters would be immediately deported along with their families. Hani said he understands the concerns.

HANI: We don't want to involve any country for our problems or involve any - to make troubles to any country for our problems. Our families there is doing a good job, a wonderful job, and I believe there is no need for any of this outside Egypt.

AMOS: But they must stay outside of Egypt. The reasons are part of the anger driving the revolt back home, especially for the young. Egypt's economy does not provide jobs for them, says Amr, the engineer.

AMR: I'm very well-educated. I'm from a very good family, but why I came here? Why I'm spending the best years of my life here outside my country? Why? Because I cannot find a way to secure a living in Egypt.

AMOS: And for many young Egyptians, the only way to afford getting married is to spend years working abroad. Amr is 33, and he's already worked for six years in Saudi Arabia.

AMR: That's why I left my country. I left my family. I left everyone to come here, to secure for me having a family, and to secure for me getting married, and to find a better way of living.

AMOS: For now, they watch and they worry, says Alaa, also an engineer who works in Riyadh.

ALAA: We only hope and pray for our people back in Egypt to be safe and secure.

AMOS: And for Hani, he wants the protests to go on until President Hosni Mubarak and his government step down.

Do you worry at all about the looting and the fires and how many people who have died?

HANI: Freedom has a cost. There is a cost for freedom. Everywhere, to get your freedom, you have to pay.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Riyadh.

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