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  • The Politics of Migration in Modern Egypt: Strategies for Regime Survival in Autocracies by Gerasimos Tsourapas
  • Dr. Ibrahim Awad
The Politics of Migration in Modern Egypt: Strategies for Regime Survival in Autocracies, by Gerasimos Tsourapas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. $105.

The origin of this book by Gerasimos Tsourapas is his PhD thesis. The introduction lays the theoretical basis of the research. In it, Tsourapas reviews literature on authoritarianism and blends it with that on population mobility and migration policy. Explaining migration policy and actual migration under authoritarianism is a novel subject of research. This adds to the merit of addressing the politics of migration policy in a country of origin.

The central argument of the book is that emigration policy in authoritarian regimes has a political rationale. It is used to ensure their durability. The analytical framework rests on two assumptions. First, labor emigration policy operates between two poles: restrictiveness and permissiveness. Second, the priority for authoritarian regimes is their survival. Their policies aim at producing short-term political gains that enable elites to remain in power, at the expense of longer-term benefits.

The analytical framework is applied to Egypt, under two articulations of authoritarianism: first, the regime of Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser, president from 1956 to 1970, and second, the regime with two presidents, Anwar al-Sadat and Husni Mubarak, from 1971 to the 2011 uprising. Under Nasser, emigration policy was restrictive for low-skilled workers but relatively permissive for highly skilled workers, who were sent as teachers and other professionals to propagate Nasserist ideas of Arab nationalism at a time Egypt needed them. Low-skilled workers were kept from migrating to “Western” countries, to their own and Egypt’s detriment. Guaranteed public employment internally legitimated Nasser’s restrictive policies. As a result, Egypt experienced a dire economic situation. Starting in 1971 under Sadat and then Mubarak, labor emigration policy turned completely permissive. Emigration was considered a means to remedy rapid population growth, to solve Egypt’s employment question, and to close its balance of payment deficit through migrant workers’ remittances. With the sharp increase in oil prices in the mid-1970s, Egyptian labor emigration to the oil-exporting Arab countries in the Gulf, Iraq, and Libya grew dramatically. The availability of abundant jobs in Arab labor markets legitimated Sadat’s and Mubarak’s permissive policies. These policies bore fruit for some time but then stopped being effective. This was because of the end of the Iraq-Iran War and the alleged reduction by Gulf countries of labor immigration and the diversification of its sources. Migration thus ceased to be a response to the growing population and labor force. As for remittances, not necessarily flowing through official banking channels, they could not contribute to balancing the balance of payments deficit. The frustration of the three objectives of the permissive labor emigration policy paved the way to the 2011 revolution/uprising.

The research carried out is simply and utterly impressive. Through his extensive field work and the sources he used, Tsourapas brings evidence to support his assumptions as applied to Egypt. Nevertheless, the author’s argument invites further discussion. Alternative explanations for the restrictive and permissive Egyptian emigration policies may be advanced.

Habib Bourguiba’s Tunisia and Hasan II’s Morocco were authoritarian regimes contemporary to Nasser’s. Which long-term economic benefits did their permissive policies achieve that Nasser’s Egypt missed? In the migration systems concept, migration is visualized as intrinsically linked to other forms of exchange, such as flows of goods, ideas, and money. This provides another explanation for Nasser’s restrictive policies, in addition to the developmentalist one. Was organized migration between Egypt and the “West” conceivable amid their hostile relations in the 1950s and 1960s? As for the employment of Egyptian teachers and other professionals in Arab countries, should it be considered highly skilled emigration policy or rather technical assistance policy? Were the French coopérants instruments of a French emigration policy or rather of a technical [End Page 495] cooperation policy? Is the Peace Corps a US emigration policy or a technical assistance program related to foreign policy objectives? This Egyptian policy goes back to the 1930s, the second decade...


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pp. 495-496
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