Though leaders of both nations have shaken hands to mark a new beginning of diplomatic relations, Egyptian expats in Qatar are still struggling to reunite with their families.
The only thing Mohammed once feared is for his sickness to take his life away, but for the last couple of years, the 41-year-old Egyptian expat and father of two has found himself facing something much worse: the possibility of dying alone in his apartment, away from his wife and family.
In early 2017, Mohammed took the decision to pack his bags and head to Doha to start a new life for himself and his family.
One of his biggest regrets, the marketing manager told Doha News, is telling his wife to wait in Egypt for a couple of months until he settles before he brings her over.
“I just wanted her to not struggle with anything. I wanted to work for a bit, earn some money to buy furniture and know more about the country, and then bring my wife and my sons to stay with me,” he said.
“It was my biggest mistake.”
In June 2017, Mohammed, along with thousands of Egyptians, woke up to the sudden and devastating news that Cairo and three other nations had imposed an illegal air, land, and sea blockade on Qatar.
Direct flights between both nations were stopped, trade was suspended and thousands of Egyptians were laid off and forced to pack their bags back home.
The blockade sparked fear and worries among residents of all the blockading nations, so much so that they had to return back to their countries.
The fear, however, was not much from Qatar, but rather the instability such a decision would create in the employment and educational sector.
And they were right.
The geopolitical tensions did more than just affect regional relations, but also scattered families for years with no escape. Those carrying the nationalities of the blockading nations were no longer able to apply for family residency, and new applications for work permits were not accepted.
This meant that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were also on the line.
“The option of ‘Egypt’ was no longer on Metrash. When you go to any service office, for example, and you say you’re Egyptian, they immediately tell you to go home or state that the service is not open. Even getting family visas was so hard,” Mohammed recalls.
“I went months without seeing my family, and every time I’d say I want to go to Egypt, I was worried they would release a rule stating that I couldn’t come back. I felt like I was choosing between affording food for my family or being with them.”
Fast forward almost three years later, a small glimpse of light emerged at the end of the tunnel.
On February 2021, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani travelled to Saudi Arabia for the first time in years to sign the Al-Ula declaration during the 41st GCC Summit, ending the three-year dispute that had divided the Gulf region.
The agreement promised to put an end to all the discriminatory policies between the nations, most of which were not officially announced, but were implemented throughout the blockade, including the suspension of visas and travel restrictions.
For hundreds of people, this promised a light at the end of the tunnel – and a reunion with their families again.
But for many, the light never did switch on.
As per Qatari law, expatriates who live in the country and earn more than 10,000 QAR (or 7,000 QAR with a family housing facility provided by the company) are allowed to bring immediate family members and dependents (spouse, sons, daughters) to Qatar, under their sponsorship through obtaining a Family Residence Visa.
This gives each member of the family, including infants and children, their own unique Qatar ID.
Several requirements must be met, including filling out an online or in-person form, a no objection letter from the employer, and a salary certificate, alongside several other documents.
However, despite all the promises, many Egyptian expats claim that the process is still as difficult as ever.
Many have applied for their families, most of which had all the requirements completed, but have been rejected several times with no explanation.
“I applied three times, all of which got rejected. I even got a medical note saying I have hyperglycemia and it is very severe, but the [officer] looked at me and merely said, ‘we all have problems with our sugar levels’,” Mohammed told Doha News.
“What if one day I go into a coma? No one will know. All I ask is to be with my family. My children are growing old without me, and if I go to Egypt, I won’t be able to afford their expenses. So I say praise be to God and pray every night.”
Many Egyptians share Mohammed’s experience, with some expressing their frustrations on Facebook groups, or desperately writing to seek help on how they can reunite with their families.
Nada, who asked for her real name to remain anonymous, said that her son has suffered delayed speech and severe anxiety disorders due to his separation from his father.
She stated that her son would have what she described as a ‘mental breakdown’ every time they leave Qatar to go to Egypt after their family visas expire, and would go days without speaking to anyone.
“He would scream ‘where is baba, I want baba’ and would stay awake at night. I don’t know what to do. It breaks my heart every time, but we have applied so many times and our visa keeps getting rejected, even with connections,” she told Doha News.
Since the lifting of the blockade, Nada’s husband has applied for her residency more than three times. Each time, however, the request has either been delayed or immediately rejected.
Upon asking authorities for help, a Qatari officer told them that they ‘don’t have a strong enough reason’ for the application to be accepted.
Discriminatory or mere delay?
In order to reicve as much help as they can get, thousands of Egyptians formed a Facebook group to ask for tips on how to secure a residency visa after several rejections.
One very common reason behind the rejection, many claimed, was the ‘Arab Cup.’ However, as per the experiences of Egyptians, the delays appear to be directed towards particular nationalities only, whilst others have obtained their IDs normally, a source told Doha News.
“We would always hear excuses, like ‘just wait until the Arab Cup is over, there are delays everywhere,’ but I know it’s not true. I have several friends from other nationalities who got their residency in no time, and I’m tired of raising my son away from his father.”
Months after the Arab tournament concluded, many continue receive rejections for their family residency applications, none of which pertain to a lack of documents.
Such obstacles appear to be directed at Egyptians in a particular capacity, despite the state’s reconciliation and Amir’s visit to Egypt.
Sources told Doha News that those who were lucky enough to secure their IDs were primarily working in the governmental sector, while those in the private sector seem to struggle more with the approvals.
After years of trying, many have been forced to take the decision to pack their bags and leave the country in order to be able to see their families.
Doha News has reached out to the Government Communications Office for a statement but has yet to receive a response.