GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The Bifurcation of Egyptian Diaspora Policy, 1971-2011
Paper Proposal Text :
What are states’ priorities in their decision to connect to their diaspora populations abroad? What accounts for variation in state policies towards diaspora communities located in different countries? In examining the case of the Arab Republic of Egypt, a state boasting one of the most extensive emigrant populations in the world, one is struck by the historical bifurcation of its diaspora policy: while Egypt has invested significant capital in creating institutionalised linkages with its emigrants in non-Arab countries since the early 1970s, Egyptian workers in the oil-rich Gulf countries were not the target of any organized government-sponsored outreach in the pre-2011 period. The extent of government attention that Egyptians in Europe, North America, and Australia traditionally enjoyed (state-sponsored expatriate conferences in Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere; frequent meetings between Egyptian government officials and diaspora organizations; a broad network of consular support) comes into sharp contrast with the lack of pro-active state policy towards Egypt’s diaspora populations in the Arab Middle East. This is particularly striking given the fact that Egyptian emigrants within the Arab region far outnumber those in non-Arab countries, but also given that emigration-related issues have historically been much more common for Egyptians in the Arab world than anywhere else.

This article employs a process-tracing method that seeks to explain why the Egyptian state would bifurcate its diaspora policy. It begins by pinpointing the weaknesses in the academic literature’s frequent argument that economic remittances from emigrants have shaped Egyptian emigration policy since the 1970s, arguing instead that domestic political economy issues and foreign policy priorities have primarily determined how the Egyptian state decides whether to connect, or not, to its diaspora populations. Employing primary material in Arabic, English, and French (including archival sources, media reports, memoirs, semi-structured expert and elite interviews in Cairo and the Gulf states) and an extensive review of secondary literature on the Egyptian state under Presidents Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak the article puts forth two arguments: firstly, that the degree of diversification within a state’s diaspora policy is based upon whether the utility of a specific population group remaining abroad outweighs the utility of its return to the sending state. If, put differently, a specific population group is perceived more useful abroad rather than back home, the sending state is more likely to minimise its diaspora policies. In the opposite scenario, the sending state would proceed to create a diaspora policy that actively aims to encourage the group’s return home. Secondly, the article argues that this utility is not judged solely or, even, mainly by the issue of economic remittances; rather, the empirical case of Egyptian diaspora policy shows the importance of domestic political economy matters and foreign policy priorities in the state’s assessment of a diaspora population’s utility.

Ultimately, by accounting for the development of Egypt’s policy towards its emigrant population abroad over the past forty years, this article aims to provide a more accurate picture of Arab states’ priorities with regard to emigration and, thus, to put forth a more accurate prediction of the determinants of future emigration in the region.