Egypt bars entry to Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja

Maryam al-Khawaja, the Denmark-based international spokesperson for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

A leading Bahraini opposition activist said she had been refused entry to Egypt at Cairo airport on Sunday, accusing Arab governments of continuing repressive security cooperation despite political change in the region.

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Maryam al-Khawaja, the Denmark-based international spokesperson for the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said she had hoped to enter Egypt for a few hours to see friends on a stopover while flying to South Africa.

She said officials at Cairo airport first stamped her passport but then cancelled her visa after realising she was a Bahraini activist.

“They said I wouldn’t be allowed in but wouldn’t tell me why,” she said by telephone shortly before flying out of Cairo on Sunday evening. 

An Egyptian airport official and a security source, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Khawaja’s name was on a list of people to be denied entry at the airport.

“The ban is based on a memorandum from the national security authorities,” the security source said.

Khawaja, who has Danish nationality, left Bahrain in March last year during an uprising for democratic reforms that was put down by the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family. Street protests led by majority Shi’ites, in part inspired by last year’s democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, continue in Bahrain.

Before the revolutions, Arab governments often cooperated to monitor and restrict the movements of opposition politicians. Khawaja’s case suggested at least some of that cooperation continues even with newly democratic governments.

“We’ve been having problems with Bahraini activists getting into Egypt for years. We thought with the revolution it would change, but it hasn’t,” Khawaja said.

She said she had been able to enter Egypt several times since the ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, but Egyptian security officials only allowed her entry earlier this year after intervention from her lawyer.

A vocal critic of Bahrain’s government, Khawaja is the daughter of rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of 14 men in jail for leading last year’s uprising.

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