Resources

Migration

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Egyptians/Fouad Assaad

Until the second half of the twentieth century, emigration was almost unknown among Egyptians. It was not part of the traditional culture, and for a citizen to settle outside the country was considered unfortunate. However, the military revolution of 1952 tipped the balance of power among the country’s ethnic groups in favour of the native majority. It resulted in fundamental change in all aspects of Egyptian society. As a result, there was large-scale emigration among the country’s minorities, who experienced a great reduction in their economic and political influence.

Most affected by the revolution were the Europeans, who were more isolated from the native Egyptian (Muslim) majority than the semi-Egyptianized groups. The French and British in particular began leaving in large numbers in response to the revolution, the evacuation of British troops in October 1954, and the Suez Canal crisis two years later. Other Europeans departed after a series of nationalization and sequestration laws were passed in the 1950s, the properties of European citizens seized, and British and French banks and insurance companies taken over by the government. Greeks and Italians began a slower, but steady, exodus in response to laws and regulations reducing the number of non-Egyptian citizens in industrial and commercial establishments. Jews also left the country after 1956, mainly in response to the Suez crisis, in which Israel was involved.

Members of the Coptic community began to emigrate in the early 1960s because they feared increased discrimination. The Syrio-Lebanese and Armenians, who had sometimes been associated with foreigners in Egypt, left the country after another series of nationalization laws was passed at the beginning of the following decade. Some native Egyptians also emigrated, particularly from the 1960s on. They did so for a number of reasons: to obtain a higher level of education, to seek better economic prospects, because their property was nationalized, or to escape political pressure.

The history of Egyptian migration to Canada is a recent one. Individuals began to arrive in this country only in the 1950s and in very small numbers. Immigration since 1956 can be divided into three phases: the years 1956–66, in which non-native (particularly Jewish, European, Syrio-Lebanese, and Armenian) Egyptians predominated; 1967–75, when native citizens made up the majority; and from 1976 to the present, an era in which arrivals from Egypt first declined to several hundred per year and then rose with the entrance of investor immigrants. Between 1962 and 1969, Canada was the most common choice for Egyptian emigrants, with 56 percent identifying the country as their intended destination and 28 percent choosing Australia, 8 percent the United States, and 5 percent Brazil.

Canadian immigration statistics for 1956–66 show that, of the 8,825 arrivals from Egypt, the largest ethnic groups represented were Armenians (32 percent), native Egyptians (17 percent), Lebanese (15 percent), Greeks (11 percent), Jews (6 percent), and Italians (3 percent). The Jews and the Europeans were highly represented among the first arrivals, followed by the Armenians, the Lebanese, and the native Egyptians. Between 1956 and 1959, Jews made up the largest percentage. The proportion of immigrants from that group rose from 28 percent in 1956 to 40 percent in 1959; thereafter it declined until it reached 1.3 percent in 1966.

The late 1950s and early 1960s were also characterized by marked European – particularly Greek and to a lesser extent Italian – immigration. The proportion of Greek immigrants rose from 13 percent of all newcomers in 1956 to 32 percent five years later and declined to 6 percent in 1966. Italians, the next largest European group, had relatively high levels of immigration in the late 1950s (peaking at 9 percent in 1960), followed by a decline during the 1960s. The migration pattern of other European groups followed the Italian trend, with peak migration in the 1950s followed by a steady decrease in the following decade. The numbers of these other European groups, however, were notably lower.

Armenians made up a significant percentage of newcomers from Egypt during this period, particularly between 1962 and 1965, when they were the predominant ethnic group. Immigration rose from 12 percent in 1956 to 46 percent of all Egyptian arrivals six years later and declined to 27 percent by 1966. Syrio-Lebanese immigration occurred at relatively low levels during the 1950s, but grew steadily in the early 1960s. Between 1961 and 1966 it increased from 16 percent to 26 percent of the total. The percentage of native Egyptians fluctuated between 3 and 19 percent in the 1950s and grew to 27 percent by 1966. Arrivals on a large scale by members of this group date only from the mid-1960s.

Early in that decade, the Egyptian government had begun to acknowledge the idea of emigration. The socialist measures of the early 1960s and an increase in the number of university and college graduates beyond local needs led to an outflow of Egyptians, particularly the native, educated population. The acceleration in emigration corresponded with the declining role of the state in the economy. Tens of thousands of graduates were either unemployed or worked in jobs that did not match their qualifications. Native Egyptians also left for political reasons. Many were disillusioned with their government, particularly after Egypt’s defeat in the Six Day War with Israel in 1967. That year also marked the beginning of an era of official policy facilitating emigration. The Egyptian constitution of 1971 established such movement, whether permanent or temporary, as a right, and the Parliament passed a number of laws and decrees to encourage the process. For example, emigrants would have the right to be reinstated in former government positions within one year of resigning from them. In addition, those who left could maintain their Egyptian citizenship as well as any acquired in another country.

For its part, Canadian authorities welcomed immigrants from Egypt and in 1969 proposed that this country be responsible for immigrants until they were fully settled. Also significant were the new immigration regulations introduced in 1962, which allowed for the admission of newcomers regardless of nationality and judged their eligibility on the basis of job-related skills. Given the Egyptians’ high educational level and knowledge of English, these measures were another factor that contributed to the growth of the Egyptian community in Canada and determined the characteristics of its members. Subsequently, the number of Egyptians arriving in this country declined from about nine hundred a year in the early 1970s to five hundred annually a decade later. Almost all the newcomers were now native Egyptians. This trend continued until Canadian immigration policy changed in 1985 to allow entry by investors, a development that resulted in approximately 5,455 Egyptians entering Canada between 1986 and 1991. These individuals represented a new type of immigrant. Most were wealthy native Egyptians who had lived under the infitah, and they tended to be more conservative and less exposed to European influences than previous arrivals. Some had worked in oil-producing Arab countries, where they had accumulated significant wealth.

Because of the pluralistic nature of Egyptian society, it is difficult to arrive at a clear definition of an Egyptian after he or she has arrived in this country. Strictly speaking, the designation would be applied to an individual who holds Egyptian citizenship, is of Egyptian origin, speaks the Arabic language, and is a Muslim (usually Sunni) or Coptic Christian. However, a person may not fit all of these criteria but still consider him or herself Egyptian. Such is the case with a small number of the semi-Egyptianized group, that is, some of the Syrio-Lebanese, Armenians, and Jews, particularly those born in Egypt. In this essay, the term “Egyptian” has generally been used in the stricter sense, except where self-definition has determined inclusion in the community in Canada.

Canadian statistics divide Egyptian immigrants into three broad, non-exclusive categories: those whose former residence was Egypt, those who held Egyptian citizenship, and those born in Egypt. Before 1955 those from Egypt or classified as Egyptian were included in the category “Africa–not Britain.” Between 1945 and 1975, 18,939 immigrants to Canada listed Egypt as their former residence, 17,633 carried Egyptian citizenship, and 23,696 were Egyptian by birth. In other words, the smallest category was that of Egyptian citizens and the largest those by birth. In the 1991 Canadian census, 25,425 persons reported their ancestry as wholly (18,950) or partially (6,475) Egyptian.