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Page last updated at 08:06 GMT, Thursday, 15 September 2011 09:06 UK
The call of the Arab Spring for expats in Britain

Hana Elgadi
Hana Elgadi in Zintan in Libya. She has worked with refugees and victims of rape

Scores of young British Arabs are going back to their parents' country of origin to take part in the Arab Spring. The Today programme's Zubeida Malik has been speaking to three of them for a BBC Radio 4 feature.

Hana Elgadi, aged 21, works as a PA in an investment bank in London. A British Libyan, she enjoys eating out in nice restaurants, shopping, and enjoying a coffee on a Sunday in Knightsbridge.

Hana admits that she was pretty dismissive at the first "day of rage" in Libya, telling friends and colleagues that nothing would change.

But after a relative was shot dead in a demonstration in Tripoli, Hana started attending anti-Gaddafi protests in London. Before long "something clicked in her head" and she flew to Tunis before an "awful" journey into Libya.

The first time she went was one of mixed emotions. Hana had never seen people living in refugee camps and admits "it was difficult to stomach".

The Call of the Arab Spring presented by Zubeida Malik can be heard at 1100 BST on Friday 16 September
Listen live on Radio 4 or after that at the programme link above

And when people told her their stories of the Libyan army attacking their houses "I didn't know whether to hug them or whether they even wanted to be hugged".

Hana's work involves helping Libyan refugees, in particular women who have been raped during the conflict. Because of the cultural stigma of rape, she approaches tribal leaders and the men of the family to try to get the women treatment and help.

The sight of an unmarried blonde doing this kind of work has provoked a range of responses.

Agreeing that "they've never seen anything like me before," Hana says that the men, especially, are unused to it. "They don't see me as feminine."

And her commitment to Libya has not dwindled. "Every day that I'm here I've got itching under my skin, I just want to go back," she says.

Hana has taken unpaid leave from work. Her employer is Egyptian and she says he understands her need to go.

But she admits that working with refuges is exhausting: "There are days when I don't sleep at all, there's so much work to be done. There's not enough time or manpower."

Egypt's live TV revolution

Sharif Aly works as a business systems analyst in Oxfordshire. Born in London to Egyptian parents, the 28-year-old has never lived in Egypt or even wanted to. But the revolution there has changed his views and his life.

Sitting in his parents' lounge, he smiles as he recalls his time protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square. From the moment the demonstrations started Sharif was "absorbed".

Anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square
Sharif Aly spent ten days at the protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square

He wasn't getting much sleep or eating much, and was constantly watching every twist and turn of the revolution on live TV.

"I think the height of the anxiety really was when the violence began and when molotovs were being thrown in the square and people were being killed and footage came out on YouTube of police killing people in cold blood and that's when the real fear set in."

Sharif said he had a constant feeling of wanting to join the protests and flew out to Egypt with a friend on 6 February.

Sharif stayed in a friend's flat overlooking Tahrir Square, the focal point of the revolution.

In my head I was thinking 'you're an idiot, what are you doing here?'
AbuBakr al Shamahi

The first time he joined the protesters - "the biggest number of people I'd ever seen in my life" - Sharif felt euphoric.

"I felt like I was joining something huge and historic and was all a bit much at first," he admits.

He stayed there for 10 days. Every morning at seven he would join people on the square to clean all the rubbish and human waste. He would spend three to four hours doing this before buying water and handing it out to people.

On the day Mubarak stepped down, Sharif heard people shouting and screaming and rushed to the square. "It felt like the earth had erupted," he recalls. Arriving there, he broke down and cried, the only time he did: "The square had become my life."

Though he returned to Britain, Sharif has now decided to move to Cairo to learn to play the oud, a traditional instrument.

"I love the culture, love the sunshine, love the food," he tells me. "And it feels like there will be a cultural renaissance of sorts."

Under fire in Yemen

AbuBakr al Shamahi is a 21-year-old politics graduate who is preparing to take a master's degree next year.

He spent the whole of April in Saana, the capital of Yemen, taking part in the protests there. AbuBakr is naturally interested in politics, so when the protests were happening in Egypt he longed to be part of them.

But as people took to the streets in Yemen he knew his time had come. His parents, both born in Yemen, were naturally worried and his father did his best to try and talk him out of it, without success.

AbuBakr al Shamahi
AbuBakr al Shamahi saw snipers killing and injuring demonstrators in Yemen

While in Saana he stayed with his cousins, who were also taking part in the protests. He went to "Change Square" as soon as he arrived in the city, which was "buzzing with life, tents everywhere, a sense of camaraderie between protesters and dancing in the streets.

AbuBakr would go to the square every afternoon and the number of protesters would increase after people left work. Crowds would listen to lectures, and the talk was of revolution and a new Yemen.

But one demonstration above all is seared into his memory - a day when 12 people were killed and hundreds injured.

At first he says he heard sounds like fireworks but realised quickly that it was gunfire.

AbuBakr says he saw lots of people covered in blood after being picked off by snipers.

"I've never been more frightened in my life," he says. The shooting, he recalls, carried on for a long time and he feared getting crushed.

"In my head I was thinking 'you're an idiot, what are you doing here?'" But he felt anger at the shooting.

AbuBakr kept on marching forward with the crowds, recalling that one of the chants they were shouting was "We are the youth - don't fear death".

Back in London, he is thinking about his time there and says he would like to go back to Yemen if the opportunity arose.

He adds that though part of him was relieved to be back in the UK, this feeling was overtaken by his annoyance at having to leave the protests.

"Being part of the protest movement and then going back to normal life is odd."

The Call of the Arab Spring presented by Zubeida Malik can be heard on Radio 4 at 1100 BST on Friday 16 September or online at the above links.

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