Economic and Community Life

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

In general, Egyptians maintain their professional status after immigrating to Canada and are over-represented in the upper white-collar sector. In a 1989 study of the community in Quebec, 43 percent of respondents reported an annual income over $36,000, while 23 percent were earning $48,000 a year or more. The 1986 census shows that 24 percent of Egyptians in the province were employed as directors, managers, and administrators, 16 percent as office workers, 13 percent as teachers, and 10 percent in sales.

Over the years the number of immigrants seeking professional and semi-professional jobs has increased. Such employment accounted for 29 percent of all occupations in the group in the mid-1960s; a decade later, the proportion had more than doubled to 63 percent. At the same time, the percentage of lower white-collar workers (bookkeepers, cashiers, sales clerks, and transportation and communications workers) fell from 45 to 15 percent. The proportion of blue-collar workers among Egyptians in Canada dropped from 24 percent in the mid-1960s to 14 percent a decade later. Thus, the upward trend for professional and semi-professional occupations and the decrease in other occupational categories is unmistakable. The Egyptian investor immigrants who entered the country after 1985 did not for the most part work in their area of professional specialization, in part because of their late age at arrival and in part because of a recession and the restructuring of the Canadian economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Like other recent arrivals, Egyptian immigrants have sought to rebuild the business, social, and personal relationships that they knew in the homeland. These networks address the needs of employment, education, religion, social contact, and personal friendships. Generally speaking, Egyptians have tended to join two types of institutions in the broader Canadian society: economic and educational. They have also created their own religious and socio-cultural organizations to satisfy needs that were not met by the institutions of the host society. The most successful of these have been the churches, which have played both a religious and a social role in the community.

A number of socio-cultural institutions have been established that are non-religious and non-political and that gather community members together for a variety of activities, but they have had limited success. This fact is reflected in three phenomena: the discontinuity of the organizations, internal splits, and the failure to establish an umbrella association for the community as a whole. The limited success of these institutions can be tied to the fact that most Egyptians have come to Canada as economically independent, professional, bilingual, or even multilingual immigrants. The absence of linguistic and employment barriers has meant that they have not experienced great difficulty in adapting to the new society and have been able to satisfy most of their needs through Canadian institutions. Their own community organizations, therefore, have not developed out of necessity, but have been entirely voluntary.

The Canadian Coptic Association was established in 1968 by members of the Coptic Orthodox Rite. Its goal was to unite the group, preserve its culture, and make it known to other Canadians. The first activity of the organization was a bimonthly magazine called the Canadian Coptic Association, which was published in Arabic, French, and English and was primarily concerned with the history, language, and culture of the Copts. The association also organized a variety of social activities, such as parties and excursions. In late 1972 it split into two parts: the Canadian Coptic Association and the Egyptian-Canadian Association (based in Montreal). The former continued to publish a magazine, renamed Al Resala (The Message), which focused, as before, on the Coptic community. The Egyptian-Canadian Association began publishing its own trilingual magazine, called the Egyptian-Canadian Association, which emphasized news about Egypt and Egyptian immigrants generally. Both organizations had ceased by 1975.

The Nile Club was officially established in Montreal in 1974 with the goal of promoting Egyptian culture and the Arabic language. Its membership peaked in the late 1970s at 150, but the association ceased as a result of its organizers’ loss of interest. Also based in Montreal is the Association Culturelle Égypte-Québec, which has as its aims facilitating the integration of Egyptians into Canadian society and promoting Egyptian culture. It was initially conceived as an umbrella organization for the community in Canada, but it has never achieved this status. The association had about 170 members in 1986, 90 percent of whom were native Egyptians. It has hosted a number of cultural events, including an annual art exhibition featuring the work of Quebec and Egyptian artists. In 1984 an Arabic school was organized within the association; it eventually separated to form an independent institution. Established in June 1989, the Egyptian-Canadian Friendship Association had a membership of six hundred families four years later. In that year the association published the first Egyptian-Canadian directory and began the journal El Masry (The Egyptians). The Egyptian Businessmen’s Organization was formed in 1993 with the goal of encouraging trading and business relations with Egypt.

Les Partenaires de l’Association Chrétienne de la Haute Égypte (PACHE) began its activities in 1977 and was incorporated two years later. It exists to provide moral and material support to its counterpart in Egypt, the Association Chrétienne de la Haute Égypte, and it believes that education is crucial to socio-economic development. Money for its activities is provided by the Canadian International Development Agency and an annual fund-raising campaign. The association also organizes various cultural activities and conferences on social issues. It promotes its activities through the newsletter Eux et nous (Them and us; Montreal, 1982–). Incorporated in 1956, Friends of Bambi Egypt provides social and medical assistance to mothers and children in Egypt. The organization receives substantial support from the Quebec government and from Canada’s Egyptian community.

The independent nature of Egyptian immigrants has resulted in a proliferation of associations with overlapping, if not identical, functions. This individualism has slowed attempts at cooperation between organizations. Most such efforts so far have failed, as have attempts to establish an umbrella group. The Association CulturelleÉgypte-Quebec and the Al-beit Al Masry (Egyptian Home) were examples of such unsuccessful endeavours. As of the mid-1990s, efforts were underway to establish communication between the various associations, but it remains unclear whether they will result in unification or continue the process of proliferation. Today, many, though not all, members of the Egyptian community have become established in Canadian society. With their basic needs taken care of, they are more inclined to promote their culture and traditions within their community. Egyptian Canadians now encourage their children to study the Arabic language and traditions. The community is also seeking to establish ties and exchange information with the homeland in order to promote Egyptian culture in Canada.