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US academic denied entry to Egypt told she was a 'problem for national security'

US citizen Ada Petiwala says she has no idea why she was turned away, but fears she now will not be able to live with her Egyptian husband
Ada Petiwala during a previous visit to Egypt in 2014 (Courtesy of Ada Petiwala)

An academic refused entry to Egypt on “national security” grounds this week says she fears she may now not be able to live with her Egyptian husband.

Ada Petiwala, a US citizen studying for a masters degree in the connections between Bollywood and Arab popular culture, flew from France to Cairo on Tuesday along with her husband, an Egyptian citizen.

After buying an entry visa to Egypt, she was called back and interrogated for over three hours until 06:00 (0400 GMT).

Following the interrogation Petiwala was taken to the “quarantine” section of the airport, where she was refused food, water and access to toilets.

“I sat in a room across from other security officers,” she wrote in a Facebook post, “who had locked Syrian migrants in the detention room next to mine. The Syrians on the other side were treated with extreme cruelty and humiliated in words I cannot repeat.”

“I saw a room of beds where a Nigerian girl heard me and tried to comfort me, as I was bawling and near to fainting at this point. This girl, who is pregnant, had already been locked up in this room for 15 days. And yet she was the one consoling me, the one with enough privilege and resources to leave.”

Petiwala told Middle East Eye she has “no idea” why she was denied entry to Egypt, but was told on her release after nearly eight hours in detention that she was a “problem for national security”.

Petiwala eventually flew to Germany along with her husband, after being told by the US embassy that the matter is “out of their hands”.

Now, though, she fears that strict visa regulations will mean she and her husband will not be able to live together, having been told by Egyptian immigration officials that she “will not return to Egypt again”.

“After [the Egyptians'] refusal to allow me into the country, it is becoming impossible to understand how we will meet because of how difficult it is for Egyptians to acquire visas to most countries,” Petiwala told Middle East Eye.

“I was naive to think that [immigration officials in Egypt] would believe that I have been waiting months and months to see my husband, that I spent my entire semester planning for the time I would have with him in the country where he was born, the country where we fell in love, the country where half my life now is - or was.

“I keep thinking of Egypt. Most of my life is linked with Egypt, whether through my husband or through my personal interests. But now I am too frightened to go back to that airport,” she said.