Drug abuse is a big social issue facing Egypt. In Cairo, around five per cent of the population are addicted to some form of drugs, equating to about a million people. Changing social structures in post-revolutionary society, massive unemployment and urbanisation are all seen as factors. Here we report on how Tearfund is supporting work to help Egyptians break their addictions.
Ahmed is still counting the days that he has been free from drugs – five years and four months so far, he says proudly.
The road to recovery has not been straightforward for him, but through the support of a Tearfund partner in Cairo, he’s now able to help others struggling with addiction.
The 56-year-old began taking drugs while still at school, and before long he was rejected and expelled. He then began selling drugs and stealing to fund his habit, earning eight separate prison sentences over the years. Numerous attempts to break his addiction ended in failure, and he found himself living on the streets. ‘I felt cursed,’ says Ahmed.
Through a friend, he heard about the rehabilitation work of a Tearfund partner and attended their detox centre. He became free from drugs for two months but then felt he deserved a ‘reward’ and slipped back into his addiction. Soon after this he was arrested, and was given a seven-year sentence for selling drugs.
‘I considered it a wake-up call from God to take my life seriously,’ Ahmed reflects. He was released from prison after just six months, and staff from Tearfund’s partner met with him, encouraging him to try giving up drugs again. He returned to the detox centre and started the 12-step journey of rehabilitation. This time, Ahmed’s efforts proved successful.
After five months he became a volunteer at the centre, helping others as they journeyed through the recovery programme. A year and a half later, he was offered a full-time position on the staff as a rehabilitation practitioner.
When asked to describe the biggest change in his life, Ahmed was emphatic: ‘As an addict I was not accepted or respected by anyone, but now I find respect from others – from my family and friends, and even more as a rehabilitator.’
He says his main objective in life now is to help others, and sees his future in working with women who are victims of drug abuse and trafficking.
The need for care and treatment of addicts is considerable, particularly as provision was recently described in one Egyptian news report as ‘woefully inadequate’. That’s bad news in a country where there are 34 million people aged between ten and 30, creating a big market for drugs and attracting the interests of cartels, according to the UN.
The porousness of Egypt’s borders and the security vacuum since the revolution have also contributed to the illicit drugs trade. Egypt is in the middle of some of the main global trafficking routes, with heroin coming from Afghanistan to Egypt on its way to Europe and amphetamines coming via Egypt from eastern Europe on their way to south east Asia.