Egyptians - Demographics


See also: Demographics of Egypt and Egyptian diaspora

An estimated 76.4 million Egyptians live around the world, but the vast majority are in Egypt where about 94% (74 million) of the total population call themselves "ethnic Egyptians" of which ca. 4 million in the Egyptian diaspora. Ethnic minorities in Egypt are formed by Nubians, Berbers, Bedouins, Beja and Dom.

Approximately 90% of the population of Egypt are Muslim and 10% are Christian (9% Coptic, 1% other Christian), though estimates vary. The majority live near the banks of the Nile River where the only arable land is found. Close to half of the Egyptian people today are urban; most of the rest are fellahin living in rural towns and villages. A large influx of fellahin into urban cities, and rapid urbanization of many rural areas since the early 20th century, have shifted the balance between the number of urban and rural citizens. Egyptians also form smaller minorities in neighboring countries, North America, Europe and Australia.

Historically, it was rare for Egyptians to leave their country permanently for an extended period of time—it was not until the 1970s that Egyptians began to emigrate in large numbers. Until recently, a study on the pattern of Egyptian emigration was quoted as saying "Egyptians have a reputation of preferring their own soil. Few leave except to study or travel; and they always return... Egyptians do not emigrate." Egyptians also tend to be provincial, meaning their attachment extends not only to Egypt but to the specific provinces, towns and villages from which they hail. Therefore, return migrants, such as temporary workers abroad, come back to their region of origin in Egypt. According to the International Organization for Migration, an estimated 2.7 million Egyptians live abroad and contribute actively to the development of their country through remittances (US$ 7.8 in 2009), circulation of human and social capital, as well as investment. Approximately 70% of Egyptian migrants live in Arab countries (923,600 in Saudi Arabia, 332,600 in Libya, 226,850 in Jordan, 190,550 in Kuwait with the rest elsewhere in the region) and the remaining 30% are living mostly in Europe and North America (318,000 in the United States, 110,000 in Canada and 90,000 in Italy).

Their characteristic rootedness as Egyptians, commonly explained as the result of centuries as a farming people clinging to the banks of the Nile, is reflected in sights, sounds and atmosphere that are meaningful to all Egyptians. Dominating the intangible pull of Egypt is the ever present Nile, which is more than a constant backdrop. Its varying colors and changing water levels signal the coming and going of the Nile flood that sets the rhythm of farming in a rainless country and holds the attention of all Egyptians. No Egyptian is ever far from his river and, except for the Alexandrines whose personality is split by looking outward toward the Mediterranean, the Egyptians are a hinterland people with little appetite for travel, even inside their own country. They glorify their national dishes, including the variety of concoctions surrounding the simple bean. Most of all, they have a sense of all-encompassing familiarity at home and a sense of alienation when abroad... There is something particularly excruciating about Egyptian nostalgia for Egypt: it is sometimes outlandish, but the attachment flows through all Egyptians, as the Nile through Egypt.

A sizable Egyptian diaspora did not begin to form until well into the 1980s, when political and economic conditions began driving Egyptians out of the country in significant numbers. Today, the diaspora numbers nearly 4 million (2006 est). Generally, those who emigrate to the United States and western European countries tend to do so permanently, with 93% and 55.5% of Egyptians (respectively) settling in the new country. On the other hand, Egyptians migrating to Arab countries almost always only go there with the intention of returning to Egypt; virtually none settle in the new country on a permanent basis. Prior to 1974, only few Egyptian professionals had left the country in search for employment. Political, demographic and economic pressures led to the first wave of emigration after 1952. Later more Egyptians left their homeland first after the 1973 boom in oil prices and again in 1979, but it was only in the second half of the 1980s that Egyptian migration became prominent.

Egyptian emigration today is motivated by even higher rates of unemployment, population growth and increasing prices. Political repression and human rights violations by Egypt's ruling régime are other contributing factors (see Egypt - Human rights). Egyptians have also been impacted by the wars between Egypt and, particularly after the Six-Day War in 1967, when migration rates began to rise. In August 2006, Egyptians made headlines when 11 students from Mansoura University failed to show up at their American host institutions for a cultural exchange program in the hope of finding employment. Many Coptic Christians also leave the country due to discrimination and harassment by the Egyptian government and Islamist groups.

Egyptians in neighboring countries face additional challenges. Over the years, abuse, exploitation and/or ill-treatment of Egyptian workers and professionals in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Libya have been reported by the Egyptian Human Rights Organization and different media outlets. Arab nationals have in the past expressed fear over an "'Egyptianization' of the local dialects and culture that were believed to have resulted from the predominance of Egyptians in the field of education" (see also Egyptian Arabic - Geographics). The Egyptians for their part object to what they call the "Saudization" of their culture due to Saudi Arabian petrodollar-flush investment in the Egyptian entertainment industry. Twice Libya was on the brink of war with Egypt due to mistreatment of Egyptian workers and after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel. When the Gulf War ended, Egyptian workers in Iraq were subjected to harsh measures and expulsion by the Iraqi government and to violent attacks by Iraqis returning from the war to fill the workforce.

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