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Plane Carried Egyptian Migrants

August 24, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ After spending his annual vacation with his wife and two children in Egypt, Ayman Mohammed Kotb bid them farewell and boarded a plane to Bahrain to resume his work at a security company on the island.

He never arrived. Gulf Air Flight 072 crashed into the sea as it was approaching Bahrain’s airport Wednesday, killing all 143 people on board.

Like thousands of Egyptians, Ayman flies to the Gulf every month, escaping Egypt’s unemployment to earn a living in the oil-rich region. Sixty-three of the passengers on the doomed Gulf Air flight were Egyptian, and many were heading back to work; for them, the dream of saving to buy a home or business ended in tragedy.

Ayman’s wife, Azza Kotb, sat at Cairo airport Thursday, mourning her husband and waiting for a flight to Bahrain arranged for relatives of the crash victims.

Among the others waiting to take the special flight was Ahmed Tolba. He found it hard to believe that he had lost his cousin, Safinaz Ali Tolba, and her two children, ages 8 and 4.

Safinaz and her children had been flying to Bahrain and then on to Saudi Arabia, where her Egyptian husband works.

``When we heard the news on TV, we could not believe it. She was just with us. We had just dropped her at the airport,″ Ahmed said.

Egypt lacks the oil wealth of the Gulf, and its economy is struggling to revive from decades of socialist stagnation. It has a long tradition of sending workers to the Gulf to fill everything from skilled to menial jobs.

In some Gulf countries like Kuwait, guest workers make up the majority of the population. The more than 264,000 Egyptians in Kuwait are the largest Arab community in that country.

Egyptians working abroad usually save money to buy houses and businesses at home. But they often have to put up with living as exploited, second-class citizens in the countries where they work.

Many of the Egyptians in Bahrain work as dancers and entertainers in restaurants and clubs. One of those who died on the plane, Reda Hassan, worked in a Bahraini restaurant. He got married in Egypt last month and had said goodbye to his wife Wednesday to go back to his job.

Grief was mixed with anger at Cairo airport Thursday as relatives complained of a lack of information and even misinformation.

``No information is being given to us. Absolutely nothing,″ Mohammed Ibrahim el-Naggar said hours after the crash, waiting for word of his cousin. ``We were told that there were some survivors, but no names were given.″

Finally, it was announced that there were no survivors.

Women and men screamed and wailed. Some became hysterical and other were too dazed to express their feelings.

More grief poured out when the special flight arrived in Bahrain late Thursday. ``I don’t want to live ... I don’t want to live,″ screamed a woman pushed into the airport on a wheelchair.

Some 160 relatives flew to Bahrain. There the anguish was only to intensify: They had to face the agonizing task of identifying their loved ones _ many badly disfigured by the impact of the crash _ from photos taken after they were pulled from the sea.

Update hourly