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In exile, but still persecuted

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Sarah Hegazy's suicide on June 14 shook the Arab exile community to its core. The 30-year-old queer Egyptian feminist had recently obtained asylum in Canada after being detained, tortured, electrocuted, and sexually assaulted for three months by Egyptian security forces. Her crime? Joyfully displaying a "rainbow" flag at a concert of Mashrou' Leila in Cairo in 2017.

Her punishment at the hands of the Egyptian government may have started in a Cairo prison cell, but it did not end there. Like so many of the Middle East's political exiles, her government's oppression hounded her out of her homeland, separated her from her family, cast her to distant, lonely shores, and left her with trauma and emotional pain too deep to endure.

Just a month before Sarah's suicide, a 37-year-old Iranian activist, Ali Ajami, was found dead of an apparent suicide in the US city of Houston. He had been a law student at Tehran University before the Iranian government imprisoned him in 2009 for his activism during the protests against the country's disputed presidential elections.

He spent two years in prison, unable to complete the few months he had remaining to graduate from the university. A few years later, he obtained political asylum in the United States but suffered from extreme depression and anxiety, what he described to his friends as "intolerable pain".

The tragedy is not just theirs, but ours. These exiles are the best and bravest of the region; they are often students, artists, doctors, scientists, lawyers, academics and journalists who, despite the personal costs, chose to demand change. Forced to flee for their lives, it is not only that they lose what they leave behind, but the region too is deprived of their vital contributions.

Once abroad, they must deal not only with the trauma of the persecution they survived and the depression and survivor's guilt that........

© Al Jazeera