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Managing Distance: Examining Egyptian Emigration and Diaspora Policies

Lea Müller-Funk
p. 47-69


How do states manage emigration and the attachment of citizens living abroad to their home countries? This article sheds light on the mechanisms of emigration and diaspora policies in the MENA region by analysing the Egyptian experience. By following the emergence of Egyptian policies from a long-term historical perspective, I argue that emigration and diaspora policies are designed as a reaction to the economic situation of the sending country and the immigration policies of receiving countries.
Egypt changed slowly from a country characterised by immigration at the end of the 19th century to a country in which emigration has become an omnipresent social phenomenon. The Egyptian state first opened up to emigration in the 1960s, and then progressively started to organise and manage labour emigration to other Arab countries from the 1970s onwards, which began to be perceived as a development strategy and tool. With ongoing emigration to Western countries from the 1980s, Egypt also began to strengthen its diaspora policies. However, unlike other countries in the MENA region that have high levels of emigration, Egypt only really made a concerted effort to integrate its citizens abroad in political terms after a massive wave of campaigning by Egyptians living abroad in 2011.

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State of the Art and Theoretical Approaches
The Emerging Egyptian Emigration State
Nasser’s Restrictive Emigration Policy (1956-1967)
Establishing the Right to Leave (1967-1970s)
The Introduction of Egypt’s Two-Fold Emigration Policies in the 1980s and 1990s
Egypt’s Conflictual and Contradictory Emigration Policies in the 2000s
The Diversification of Emigration Flows and the Emergence of Irregular Migration
Egypt’s Three-Fold Contemporary Emigration Approach
Integrating Egypt’s Diaspora after the Arab Uprisings in 2011

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Today, the Middle East is an area of both emigration and immigration. Labour migration continues to be one of the most dynamic economic factors in the area, and remittances sent home by migrant workers in the region exceed the value of the regional trade in goods and official capital flows (Thiollet 2011: 103). While the oil-producing countries of the Gulf region receive the highest numbers of immigrants, with foreign nationals making up more than 50% of their populations, other countries such as Egypt and Morocco are experiencing strong emigration flows. Emigrants have thus become – at least economically speaking – important actors for labour-exporting states in the Middle East. Emigration and diaspora policies usually emerge when states experience significant flows of emigration. Egypt is a good – and yet understudied – example of this phenomenon. Today, it is one of the world’s largest emigrating countries, with around 4.6 to 8 million of its population living abroad,...

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Electronic reference

Lea Müller-Funk, « Managing Distance: Examining Egyptian Emigration and Diaspora Policies », Égypte/Monde arabe,Troisième série, 15 | 2017, Online since 05 June 2019, connection on 21 January 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ema.3656

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About the author

Lea Müller-Funk

Lea Müller-Funk is a postdoctoral OxPo Research Fellow at the Department for Politics and International Relations (DPIR), University of Oxford, and a Research Associate at the CERI at Sciences Po, Paris. Between 2011 and 2015, she was employed as a PhD Researcher and University Assistant at the Institute for Near Eastern Studies at Vienna University. She holds a PhD (summa cum laude) in Political Science and Arabic Studies from Sciences Po, Paris, and Vienna University. Before her PhD, she attended Vienna University (BA in Political Science, 2009; Master’s in Arabic and Islamic Studies, 2010), the Institut National des Langues et Cultures Orientales (2007/2008), and Sciences Po, Paris (MA in Comparative Politics/Middle East and Muslim World, 2010).

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