They are both Egyptian citizens living as long-term residents in Dubai. But since mid-March they’ve been reluctantly resort-hopping in the Maldives after Dubai canceled flights and shut its borders to foreign travel, as did much of the world to ward off the coronavirus.
“Being stuck with the right person,” Mokhtar said of Abouzeid, “is the only right thing in this situation.”
It started off as they had hoped. Soon after marrying in Cairo on March 6, they flew to Cancun, Mexico, for their honeymoon. Then on March 19 they boarded a flight to Turkey, where they had a connecting flight to Bahrain en route to Dubai. While in the air, Abouzeid received frantic messages from friends that the UAE was barring entry to noncitizens, and they might not get back in.
“The world was getting crazy,” Mokhtar recalled during a phone interview.
Upon landing in Turkey, authorities told them they couldn’t board their next flight and took away their boarding passes and luggage. Suddenly stranded, without even the ability to buy essential items from duty-free, they scrambled to figure out where they could go. Egypt’s borders were shut and flights canceled. UAE was off limits. They couldn’t keep sleeping in the Istanbul airport.
Who still had flights and would let Egyptians in visa free? The picturesque Maldives, a nation of islands in the Indian Ocean.
After confirming with authorities in the Maldives that they’d be let in, they booked tickets and began round two of their now very strange honeymoon.
Soon after arriving, on March 27, the Maldives similarly banned international travel and the resort they were at closed, said Mokhtar. So they moved to another one. But then that resort closed due to all of the canceled bookings, and they had to relocate again.
Now they are staying with about 60 to 70 others at an isolation center set up by the government at a different resort. Thankfully, said Mokhtar, they’re at least being charged a reduced rate.
“They’re doing their best to actually make this a nicer experience for us,” Mokhtar told the BBC. “So, in the evening, they play music, they have a DJ every day, and sometimes we even feel bad because nobody’s dancing.”
The couple may technically still be on vacation, but it has been far from breezy. They don’t have their laptops and have struggled to keep up with work on their smartphones: Mokhtar works in telecommunications and Abouzeid in media marketing. The price tag of their nominal two weeks away keeps rising way beyond their control. And it’s the rainy season in the Maldives.
Above all, Abouzeid said, it’s the uncertainty that’s hardest to handle.
“Everything’s a risk just because we don’t know when it’s going to end,” she said. It’s tough, she added, to watch beaches and restaurants reopen on the news while wondering when she’ll be able to get home.
“There’s stress all around you,” said Mokhtar. “Every day you read the news. You get hopes, someone says they are opening the border. … Every day is something different.”
Many others at the resort are similarly trying to get back into the UAE: Among them are Italian, British, Moroccan and Dutch citizens who are also residents, but not citizens, of the UAE and in March suddenly found themselves locked out, said Mokhtar.
This week, Emirati authorities announced that residents wishing to return could apply for a special entry beginning June 1 if they meet certain criteria. Mokhtar and Abouzeid have applied, though they’ve still not received any reply.
“Our work and our medical insurance and our home and everything is in the UAE,” said Mokhtar. “We need to go back to our jobs.”
He longs for the empty apartment they’ve yet to live in together.
“We made everything ready,” he said. “It’s beautiful there. But we can’t go there.”
Being stuck with Abouzeid, he repeated, “is the only beautiful thing in the story.”