Egyptians Who Fled Libya Struggle At Home Thousands of Egyptian laborers who had been working in Libya are now back home, jobless and trying to make sense of their lives. "I feel like I'm a stranger here. I feel broken," says one man who lived in Libya for seven years.
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Egyptian Workers Who Fled Libya Struggle At Home

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Egyptian Workers Who Fled Libya Struggle At Home

Egyptian Workers Who Fled Libya Struggle At Home

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For the young men and women in Egypt who led the protest that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the revolution was an exhilarating, crowning moment. But the Arab Spring has proved financially and psychologically crippling for many more. Tens of thousands of young Egyptians who had been working in Libya fled the fighting there and are now back home jobless and struggling to make sense of their lives.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from the Egyptian city of Fayoum.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Ceiling fans in Walid Abdul Rahman's dusty office drone on softly in the heat as flies buzz around well-worn plastic furniture. His two assistants sit quietly and attentively at empty wooden desks by the phone waiting for calls that never seem to come. In one corner, bundles of job application paperwork are stacked like cordwood four-feet high.

Abdul Rahman heads the office of Manpower in Fayoum Governorate, one of the poorest areas of Egypt. Manpower is the government branch responsible for helping people find work and which tracks the jobless rate.

Mr. WALID ABDUL RAHMAN (Director, Manpower, Fayoum Governorate): (Foreign language spoken)

WESTERVELT: Abdul Rahman offers tea and excuses and insists he can't talk about the jobless challenges here or even statistics on unemployment. We need special permission from local security people, he says. When that's obtained, he says we need more permission from Cairo.

Revolution? What revolution? A visit here illustrates why some Egyptians are calling for a second uprising, a jobs revolution.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mohammed Ismail is jobless. He says the January 25th uprising may have improved things in other parts of Egypt, but here in Fayoum, he says, the situation has only worsened. An entrenched bureaucracy, he says, seems even more out of touch and ineffectual. Ismail is just one of more than 100,000 Egyptians who fled the fighting in Libya and have now returned home. Like Ismail, many are now jobless, broke and feel broken down.

Mr. MOHAMMED ISMAIL: (Through Translator) Our government didn't even help us get back home from Libya. They didn't care. And since we came back, they've done nothing to help us in any way. There is no care at all, not even emotional care to lift up our spirits so that we can start our lives over.

WESTERVELT: Ismail couldn't find work here in Fayoum, so almost seven years ago, like thousands of other men from this impoverished region two hours north of Cairo, he left Egypt in search of work. He landed in the Libyan port city of Misrata. He says for those seven satisfied years, he worked there as a marble and ceramic tile technician. He would install marble in kitchens, bathrooms and offices for wealthy Libyans. He eventually became a shift manager and helped his boss import Egyptian marble.

Sitting in a local Fayoum cafe, he says when Libya's uprising started, we thought it would be like Egypt and Tunisia, that Gadhafi would step down and that everything would be fine. But then, Colonel Gadhafi's heavy artillery began battering the city. Terrified, Ismail fled with his friends to Misrata's port. He lost his money, his car, his job and loved ones.

Mr. ISMAIL: (Through Translator) I saw things that I never thought I would experience. I slept for more than a month on the street after our houses were shelled. There was little food. Suddenly, people are getting killed all around me, including the people closest to me, my friends. Some were killed right in front of me.

WESTERVELT: In Misrata, he was dating Khadija, a young woman and daughter of a well-known local family. He says this summer, he had planned to ask her to marry him. He says she was killed in a government artillery strike.

Mr. ISMAIL: (Through Translator) I lost everything. But my life isn't about money. I'm still young. I can start again somewhere else. But it is about psychological damage.

WESTERVELT: Even my beard, I let it grow, he says. I don't take care of myself anymore. I've been through things - then his voice then trails off.

The 27-year-old now spends his days smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and wondering what he'll do next. He's applied for work, but nothing's come of it. He says these days, he's often paralyzed by a sense that no one back in Egypt really understands what he's been through.

Mr. ISMAIL: (Through Translator) I feel like I'm a stranger here. I feel broken. Everything feels different. The food is different. The atmosphere feels different. And the people here are unable to comprehend what war is, to know people's suffering and what I experienced.

WESTERVELT: Walking down a trash-strewn back street in Fayoum, I ask Mohammed Ismail if he wants to eventually go back to Libya.

Mr. ISMAIL: (Through Translator) If Gadhafi falls or is killed, I'd gladly return, he says of Misrata. There'd be some chaos and problems, of course, Ismail adds, but it would probably be better than my life here.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Fayoum.

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