Egyptians in Britain hope for the best

Image caption Mostafa Ragab: things are happening very fast, he says

In the last 24 hours phone and internet communications have been partially restored to Egypt, providing a vital window for members of UK-based Egyptian families needing news of their relatives.

BBC News has spoken to two people who, while now living here in Britain, still have a big stake in Egypt's future - and who find themselves concerned spectators as events play out.

Mostafa Ragab sits forward on the sofa in the west London headquarters of the UK Egyptian Association.

"This has been coming for years." he says.

"And this is the real problem. The government is desperate to hang on. And to stay it'll use all the dirty tricks in the book."

Mr Ragab is a long term UK-based observer of Egyptian affairs, leaving the country in 1973 and starting a limousine business in London. He is now 63, and since his retirement he has ploughed his energy into a community centre in Shepherds Bush which has become an informal meeting place for expats. He is now the chairman of the UK Egyptian Association.

Ringing non-stop

In recent days he has found his phone ringing with calls from all sorts of figures from the community here in the UK - mostly, he says, they just want to talk.

"Egyptian people have been brought up to fear the government. Now people are watching the TV and supporting the demonstration from their sofas."

He waves his phone.

"It's usually ringing non-stop. People are fearful about what's happening to their relatives. Sometimes they ring me - and it turns out they just want to talk to someone."

He describes the Egyptian population here as made up of professionals such as IT experts and medical workers, and estimates it as perhaps 250,000 strong. Many, he says, haven't registered with the Egyptian embassy for fear of repercussions later. They have not tended to settle in any one place although he believes perhaps half live in London.

Now, isolated and facing a crisis involving their families and the country they left behind, they are reaching out to one another.

"They're so stressed. They want to know how they can help.

"People don't sleep. Don't work. One doctor rang me, told me he couldn't go to work, was just sitting in front of the TV, 24 hours a day."

Image caption Unrest In Cairo. Amir Absoud says he is impressed by people's bravery.

In awe

Typical of those who can only wait and watch at this point is 33-year-old UK-based accountant Amir Absoud. He's one of the estimated 100,000 population of Coptic Egyptians living here.

Amir arrived in Britain at 18 - now as a skilled London-based professional he finds himself awed by the Egyptians he left behind.

"Up until now we've been scared to voice opinions. But now people have got excited and I'm impressed by people's bravery."

"But now I think it's gone a bit too far. They've achieved a lot, and I'd very much like them to go home before there's much more violence."

"We can continue with intelligent debate."

Now that phone communications have been restored he's been able to speak to members of his Egypt based family and use Facebook again to get a sense of events.

And he echoes reports of looming humanitarian problems in Egypt as the unrest jeopardises food supplies.

"There's no credit card culture in Egypt. Everything is done in cash, and people can't get it."

But actual food shortages are unlikely, he says, simply because farming is such a big part of the country's economy.

More than a listener

Back in West London Mr Ragab finds he's become more than a counsellor. He says he and his fellow association members are beginning to raise money for the families of the protesters who have lost their lives, and also co-ordinating an appeal to raise cash should Egypt plunge into a humanitarian crisis.

He views the politics with a wary eye, but he is hopeful for the future.

The protests are not an expression of any organised party, more a protest from an entire stratum of Egyptian society, he says.

"This is the youth of Egypt, many of whom are unemployed, who simply can't get jobs and who don't see a future. Now along comes the technology to allow them to communicate with each other and start to organise - which is why the government turned it off."

Afterwards he says he and his fellow Egyptians will press for an investigation into the violence this week.

And he is urging the UK government not to allow refugees made up of the regime's officials to flee to Britain and claim political asylum.

"It can't be allowed to stand.

"I see the determination of the protesters. If people in the demonstrations were going to go home they'd have gone after the first casualty. But they're still there."

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