One legacy of revolution and counterrevolution is the growing number of participants—some of whom identify as revolutionaries or activists—living outside of the Middle East and North Africa. Whether by choice or by compulsion, their plight is part of the bitter fruit of revolutionary struggle and counterrevolutionary intolerance. Interviews with Aslı Ü. Bâli and Oula Ramadan in this issue both speak to the possibilities and perils of displacement and exile in different ways. In addition, we asked others for brief reflections on “what it means to be exiled after revolution.” Their responses speak to experiences of belonging and loss in ways both quotidian and profound. If the events of 2011 contributed to the creation of a fundamentally revolutionary subjectivity, these reflections also remind us that revolutionary subjects are not fixed in time or space.

– The Editors


 

Exile is a violent experience. You will never understand it until it happens to you. I felt my roots were severed. The place where I grew up, fell in love, protested, got drunk and survived police violence was no longer there, along with the emotional registers, the smells and sounds that made up who I am. I never fancied living in Germany. I didn’t desire to leave Egypt. In a couple of months my world was turned upside down.

Exile is punishment. A severe form of punishment as old as Adam’s exile from Eden. But for what sin? Daring to rebel in the face of injustice. In exile, I grapple with questions of belonging and meaning. I also grapple with my voice. For a long time I felt silenced. Who do I speak to? My comrades back in Egypt or the ones in my own physical vicinity in Germany? Is there a way to reconcile both? When I lived in Cairo, a previous tenant left a quote from Adorno on the wall of the room I was renting: “The highest form of morality is not to feel at home in one’s own home.”

And we have to make the best of it, accept the gift of sharper vision that comes with exile, the ability of seeing through borders.

Uprootedness is a universal truth. If you are queer, you have been exiled from your hometown, your family or from the straight paths to happiness. And we have to make the best of it, accept the gift of sharper vision that comes with exile, the ability of seeing through borders. When you lose it all you are truly free, and you can appreciate the little things. You can become friends with a falling leaf in November or the scribbles on tombstones in an old graveyard.

– Ahmed Awadallah, Egypt/Germany

 


 

My intended year in the United States as a Fulbright scholar has become ten years now in 2021. One of the hardest decisions in my life was choosing between risking my life by returning to Syria and staying safe in the US and kissing my family a very long goodbye. To be exiled means to recreate one’s identity and fight back against the reductive notion of being only a refugee. In Syria, I was someone’s son, nephew, friend, uncle, etc. In my new setting, all of that was being summarized in one new identity that I never experienced before nor expected.

To be exiled means to recreate one’s identity and fight back against the reductive notion of being only a refugee.

To live in exile quickly taught me to appreciate the smallest of things like hugs and being invited to someone’s house for a coffee. I grew tired of always being a guest at someone’s house. I constantly dreamt of being at my family’s house, without the need for an invitation or to justify why I was there. Uncertainty and fear of the unknown future defined my life for the first six years. Nightmares of being deported dominated my days and nights.

Having extremely supportive friends, staying optimistic and striving to be the best version of myself gradually eased some of my pain. I wanted to recreate a new identity as someone worthy of respect, appreciation and kindness, regardless of my status as a refugee. I decided to work hard to become again the same successful, regular person I once was. I earned a master’s degree in literary translation and I’m working on my PhD in comparative literature. I got married in 2018 and expect to be father in December 2021.

– Mohammed Kadalah, Syria/United States

 


 

“Democracy is a bitter word.” This was the title that late Yemeni columnist and former parliamentarian, Abdul-Habib Muqbel (1961–1995) used for the articles he wrote criticizing the state’s violations, abuses and destructive policies under Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdallah Salih. I find that sentence describes well the struggle for democracy, not only for Yemen but for all the Arab Spring generation across the Middle East and North Africa region.

I no longer see myself as an exiled political activist from Yemen but rather as a global citizen who should advocate for human rights everywhere.

The fight for democracy is extremely difficult and dictatorships find it bitter and unacceptable. The Arab Spring was more than an opportunity for my Yemeni generation to step closer to a democratic state where equal citizenship could be achieved. It was not just one event: It was our life! For me, it shaped my life drastically because it led to me leaving home and living in exile.

Ten years on, though, I no longer see myself as an exiled political activist from Yemen but rather as a global citizen who should advocate for human rights everywhere. I am grateful for the life that I was gifted, with a level of resilience that enables me today to see the bigger picture of our humanity. I have grown into a human being who is keen and always ready to cooperate with anyone anywhere in the struggle for achieving goodness, truth, justice, freedom and equality.

– Afrah Nasser, Yemen/Sweden

 


 

As a queer Syrian Palestinian blogger who was based in Damascus during the popular uprising, exile took many forms in my life. Learning about Palestine from my grandfather’s memories, about zaytoun (olives) as an essential breakfast component, paved the way for a different belonging to Syria. I was already in part in a state of exile of not knowing what it means to be Syrian under military-carceral dictatorship on the one hand, and what it means to be Palestinian through my grandfather’s memories of Al Khalil’s zaytoun, on the other.

My exile is the loss of community and loss of people murdered by the state and those who are still detained and imprisoned.

Syria and Palestine both induce a sense of my exile for two different personal and political reasons. After the revolution, exile shifted from feeling loss in between two homes that are stolen either by settler colonialism or by military authoritarianism, to the state of loss of hope that was once introduced by a potentiality of a revolution in Syria. Edward Said called Palestine his exile, citing memories as “inaccurate,” that they could be “slipping into vague memories of another” country.[1]

In my case as a teacher-activist in exile since early 2014, my exile is the loss of community and loss of people murdered by the state and those who are still detained and imprisoned. The only hope for me from a location of exile in between the UK and the US today is to teach a pedagogy of nuanced exile that would complicate these interconnected histories in the hopes that they can provide alternative imaginings of futures and protest.

– Razan Ghazzawi, Palestine/Syria/United States/United Kingdom

 


 

Endnote

[1] Edward Said, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) p. 30.

 

How to cite this article:

Ahmed Awadallah, Mohammed Kadalah, Afrah Nasser, Razan Ghazzawi "Reflections on Exile," Middle East Report 301 ( ).
Cancel

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This