"Thank God we have our health, our lives and all our luggage," said Moustafa Said, who showed a passport photo of himself with a long beard, favored by Muslim fundamentalists. "They had weapons, so I had no choice."
At checkpoints, Egyptians were accused of being traitors and accused of taking part in the protest movement now riling the country.
Once at the border crossing, many said they were closely searched by customs officials and told that they would have to pay a fee on any amount of money totaling more than $400.
"They took $200 from me," said Bakid Abdul Qani, a 30-year-old Egyptian house painter.
"Their aim was to just take my dignity," said Abdullah Mohammad, 24, a laborer who was shaken down for $50 as he crossed the border. "But they won't get it. The people will defeat Kadafi."
Fear is a powerful instrument of repression. Even in the safety of Tunisia, many fleeing Libya declined to talk. Those who did were sometimes interrupted by others who demanded they stop.
"Talk, talk, but we still have people in Zawiya," one Egyptian told another who was speaking to a reporter. "If you talk too much, they will have the problems."
Qani, the house painter, responded angrily. "Shut up! Shut up!" he said. "We have to say what is happening."