Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 May 2011
This article explores the political dynamics of labor migration in the Middle East. It seeks to explain the politics of Arab population movements by looking at historical trends in regional integration and contends that migration to the oil-rich countries, including refugee flows, has been the key factor driving Arab integration in the absence of effective institutions and economic integration processes. To account for the influence of this largely forgotten factor, the article looks at the formal and informal institutions that have shaped massive labor flows from the 1970s onward. It offers historical evidence pointing to the role of migration in Arab regional integration by looking at free circulation of Eritrean refugees and migrants in the Arab region using oral history and administrative archives. Linking labor migration, refugee movements, and regional politics, the article introduces the concept of “migration diplomacy” as an analytical framework and argues that the politics of regional integration can be better understood when looked at through the lens of migration.
The author wishes to thank the Oxford-Sciences Po Research Group, the Sciences Po Alumni UK Charity Trust, the Department of Politics and International Relations (Oxford University), and Neil Martin for his careful reading.
1. By Middle East, we mean Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Palestinian territory, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, excluding North African Arab states, Iran, and Turkey.
2. Heba Nassar and Ahmed Ghoneim, “Trade and Migration, Are They Complements or Substitutes: A Review of Four MENA Countries,” (Economic research forum, Working Paper 0207, 2002).
3. Andrzej Kapiszewski, “Arab Versus Asian Migrant Workers in the GCC Countries,” UN Expert Group Meeting on International Migration and Development in the Arab Region, Population Division Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat Beirut, (May 15–17, 2006).
4. Having started exploiting oil in the 1970s, by 1983, Libya's Secretariat of Planning estimated that half of Libya's population was constituted of foreigners, mainly Egyptians and Asians. See Nassar and Ghoneim, “Trade and Migration,” 9.
5. Sharon Stanton Russell and Michael Teitelbaum, “International Migration and International Trade” (World Bank discussion paper no. 160, 1992).
6. Source: National Statistical Units and Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision <http://esa.un.org/migration>.
7. Data concern refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The numbers are a matter of controversy between institutional sources, but according to the UNRWA definition of a refugee, Palestinian refugees registered with the UN numbered approximately 711,000 in 1950 and over four and a half million in 2009.
8. World Refugee Report 2009, US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (June 2009).
10. Fergany, N., Aspects of Labor Migration and Unemployment in the Arab Region (Egypt, 2001)Google Scholar, 14 pages.
11. See contribution by Fargues, Philippe, Generations Arabes, l'alchimie du nombre (Paris, 2000)Google Scholar and The Middle East Journal special issue in 2010 and research program at Georgetown School of Foreign Service, Doha, Qatar.
12. Choucri, Nazli, “New Perspectives on Political Economy of Migration in the Middle East” in Emigration Dynamics in Developing Countries, 4, ed. Appelyard, R., (Adelshot, 1999)Google Scholar.
14. See for extended bibliography the volumes edited by Beauge, Gilbert and Buttner, Friedmann, Les migrations dans le monde Arabe (Paris, 1988)Google Scholar; Bocco, Ricardo and Djalili, Mohammed-Reza, Moyen-Orient, Migrations, Democratisation, Mediations (Paris, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Appleyard, Reginald, ed., Emigration Dynamics in Developing Countries (1999)Google Scholar.
15. Ling, L. Huan-Ming, “East Asian Migrations to Middle East: Causes, Consequences and Considerations,” International Migration Review, (1984): 19–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Birks, J. S., Seccombe, I. J., Sinclair, C. A., “Labour Migration in the Arab Gulf States: Patterns, Trends and Prospects,” International Migration Review 26 (1988): 267–86CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; McMurray, , “Recent Trends in Middle Eastern Migrations,” Middle East Report 211, (Summer 1999): 16–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
17. Contrary to Alan Richard and Philip Martin, we do not consider that migration policies in the Middle East changed with the economic recession in the 1980s, shifting from “almost textbook laissez faire policies” to more political stances. See Richards, Alan and Martin, Philip L., “The Laissez-Faire Approach to International Labor Migration: The Case of the Arab Middle East,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 31 (1983): 455–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
21. Birks, J. S., Seccombe, I. J., and Sinclair, C. A., “Migrant Workers in the Arab Gulf: The Impact of Declining Oil Revenues,” International Migration Review, 20 (1986): 799–814CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; and Feiler, Gil, “Migration and Recession: Arab Labor Mobility in the Middle East 1982–1989, Population and Development Review 17 (1991): 134–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
23. Birks, J. S. and Sinclair, C. A., Arab Manpower (London, 1980)Google Scholar; and National Populations of the GCC States 1985 to 2010: A Report Prepared by Birks and Sinclair Ltd., 1989.
25. At the domestic level in receiving countries, the change in the origin of migrant labor during the 1980s reflected political pressures and the fall in state revenues. Asian wages were lower, and the gain in labor costs could help absorb part of the decline of oil revenue. A diversified Asian workforce was also more likely to meet the demand for both highly and poorly skilled labor. But Asian workers were also considered less likely to settle in the Gulf, a trait that perfectly fit the agenda of many Gulf policy makers who had started to regard migration as a threat to regime stability, state formation, and national security.
27. Van Hear, Nicholas, “New Diasporas,” The Mass Exodus, Dispersal and Regrouping of Migrant Communities (Seattle, 1998)Google Scholar.
28. Vichitra Prompunthum, “Overseas Employment Policy in Thailand” (paper prepared for the Conference on Asian Labor Migration to the Middle East, East-West Centre Hawaii, 1983), cited in Nazli Choucri, “Asians in the Arab World: Labor Migration and Public Policy.”
29. Recently, part of the Saudi business community has been trying to open the borders of the country once again to Thai domestic workers as the cost of Indonesian domestic workers has risen dramatically over the past few months due to an increase in the fare and commissions of Indonesian recruiting agents. See Arab News, June 19, 2010.
30. During the Gulf crisis, between August 1990 and January 1991, 839,000 Egyptians were forced to leave Iraq and Kuwait. Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, quoted by Kharoufi, Mostafa, “La crise du Golfe, une aubaine pour l’Égypte?” in Crise du Golfe et ordre politique au Moyen-Orient (Quatrième rencontres franco-égyptiennes de Politologie, Aix en Provence 23-24-25 janvier 1992, Paris: CNRS éditions, 1993), 289–301Google Scholar.
32. Rémy Leveau, “Imaginaires et conflit dans l'espace euro-méditerranéen,” Esprit, December 2003.
34. Fawcett, Louise, “Regionalism from a Historical Perspective” in Global Politics of Regionalism: Theory and Practices, ed. Farrell, Mary, Van Langenhove, Bjorn Hettneamd Luk (London, 2005), 21–37Google Scholar.
35. Louise Fawcett, “Regionalism from a Historical Perspective,” 24.
39. Bernard Hoekman and Patrick Messerlin, “Initial Conditions and Incentives for Arab Economic Integration: Can the European Community's Success be Emulated?” World Bank Policy Working Paper 2921, October 2002; Taher Kanaan, “Arab Economic Integration Effort: A Critical Assessment,” Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, United Nations, 1999.
40. Zaki al-Arsuzi, Ba'th al-ummah al-’Arabiyah wa-risalatuha ila al-’alam: al-lisa'n al-’Arabi [The Renaissance of the Arab Community and its Message to the World: The Arabic Language] (Damascus, 19–).
41. al-Arsuzi, Zaki, Al-jumhuriyah al-muthla [The Exemplary Republic] (Damascus, 1965)Google Scholar.
42. A recent bibliography in eight volumes edited by the Center of Arab Unity Studies in Beirut has listed the contributions to the study and documentation of Arabism in the twentieth century in Arabic, French, and English: Bibliyughrafiya al-wahdah al-’Arabiyah lil-qarn al-’ishrin 1908-2000, (Beirut, 2003).
43. Beaugé, Gilbert and Roussillon, Alain, Le migrant et son double: migration et unité arabe (Paris, 1988)Google Scholar.
44. Galal, Ahmed and Hoekman, Bernard, eds., Arab Economic Integration: Between Hope and Reality (Washington, DC, 2003)Google Scholar.
45. Korany, Bahgat and Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal, The Foreign Policies of Arab States: The Challenges of Change (Boulder, 1984)Google Scholar.
46. Nemat Shafik, “Labor Migration and Economic Integration in the Middle East,” in The Middle East Dilemma, ed. Michael C. Hudson, 279–98.
47. Nemat Shafik, “Labor Migration,” 292.
48. Dawisha, Adeed, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (Princeton, 2003)Google Scholar.
49. Birks, J.S., Sinclair, C.A., International Migration Project Country Case Study: Kuwait (Durham, England, 1977)Google Scholar.
52. Apart from pan-Arab sympathy expressed by intellectuals and military officials in the 1960s around Prince Bin Talal and the National Front for Arab Liberation in 1963, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries remained under United States influence for their economic and foreign policy and therefore did not participate in the pan-Arab emancipation. See Ayubi, Nazih, Over-Stating the Arab State : Politics and Society in the Arab World, (London, 1995)Google Scholar, 238.
54. Maurice Girgis, “National versus Migrant Workers in the GCC: Coping with Change,” Mediterranean Development Forum Labor Workshop, World Bank, Cairo, March 2000 <http://www.worldbank.org/mdf/mdf4/papers/girgis.pdf>.
55. N. Choucri, “The New Migration in the Middle East,” 425.
56. CARIM annual report, 2006.
57. Elena Ambrosetti and Giovanna Tattolo, “Petrole immigration de travail vers les pays du Golfe,” Paper presented at the 13th AIDELF Conference, Budapest, September 2004.
59. Zurayq, Qustantin, Ma'na’ al-nakbah [The meaning of the catastrophe] (Beirut, 1948)Google Scholar.
60. Vitalis, Robert, America's Kingdom : Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (Stanford, 2006)Google Scholar.
61. Zayid Yahiya Al-Mahbushî, ‘Abd Allâh Ahmad Sinân, Ahmad ‘Abd-elHâfz al-Hadramî, ‘Â’ish ‘Alî Sâlih, Al-Yaman wa-dûal al-qurn al-Afriqî. Dirâsa tahlîliyya tawthîqiyya li'lâqât al-yaman ma'a Jibûtî, al-Sûmâl, Irtîriyâ, Ithyûbiyâ, al-Sûdân khila al-fatra 1990–2002 [Yemen and the Horn of Africa: Documentary analysis of the relationships between Yemen, Jidbouti, Eritrean, Ethiopia and Sudan from 1990 to 2002], (Markez al-Buhuth wa al-Ma'alûmât, Sana'a, 2002).
62. Sishagne, Shumet, “The Genesis of the Differences in the Eritrean Secessionist Movement (1960–1970),” in Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Vol. 1, University of Addis Abäba 1984, ed. Beyene, Taddese (Addis Abäba, 1988)Google Scholar.
63. Recent historiography in English on the guerrilla remains highly controversial as most of the debate around the ideologies and the cultural identity of the independence movements and their institutional avatars, the several “liberation fronts,” are embedded in the post-1991 debate about the Eritrean national identity and the formation of a nation. For detailed discussion see Abbay, Alemseged, Identity Jilted of Re-Imagining Identity? The Divergent Paths of the Eritrean and Tigrayan Nationalist Struggles (Lawrenceville, NJ, 1998)Google Scholar; Cliffe, Lionel and Davidson, Basil, The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace (Trenton, NJ, 1988)Google Scholar; Erlich, Haggai, The Struggle over Eritrea, 1962–1978, War and Revolution in the Horn of Africa (Stanford, CA, 1983)Google Scholar; Iyob, Ruth, The Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance and Nationalism, 1941–1993 (Cambridge, 1995)Google Scholar; Negash, Tekeste and Tronvoll, Kjetil, Brothers at War: Making Sense of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, (Oxford: James Currey; Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Yohannes, Okbazghi, Eritrea: A Pawn in World Politics (Gainesville: 1991)Google Scholar; Bâkr, Muhammad ‘Othmân Abu, Târîkh Irîtriyyâ al-mu’âsir, Irdan wa sha'aban [History of Eritrea, The Land and the People] (Cairo, 1994)Google Scholar.
64. Shafi’â, Badr Hassan, “Irîtriyyâ: al-tawaja sawb al-’arab… limadhâ?” [Eritrea: the Arab Orientation… why?]; Al-Siyassa al-Dawliyya [International Politics Journal] 152 (2003): 200–5Google Scholar.
65. Ali Othman Sabbe, leader of the Eritrean Liberation Front and subsequently of several secessionist movements in the 1980s, wrote extensively to defend this idea that legitimized his Arab diplomacy in favor of the guerrilla and against Ethiopia. ‘Sabbe, Othmân Sâlih, “Haqîqa al-sirâ’ fî Irtîriyâ” [The truth of the Eritrean struggle], Al-Mujtama’ no. 477 (Kuwait, 1980)Google Scholar; ‘Sabbe, Othmân Sâlih, History of Eritrea (Beirut, 1974)Google Scholar.
66. Interviews carried out by the author in Saudi Arabia between January and March 2006 with senior members of the Eritrean community in Riyadh and Jeddah.
67. In order to understand the political context surrounding the circulation of Eritreans, we explored the archives of the Sudanese central administration managing refugee issues, the Sudanese Commissioner of Refugee. We traced back administrative practices around entry, exit and circulation of CTD holders in the oil rich countries and confronted those with a series of interviews of former Eritrean migrants refugees in Saudi Arabia in January and February 2006.
69. The Convention was adopted by Egypt and the theme of Arab unity was included in the Syrian Constitution of 1973, the Libyan Constitution of 1969: “The Libyan people are part of the Arab nation. Their goal is total Arab unity.” Article 1 Constitution of the Arab Republic of Libya, 1969.
70. Even states that contain large non-Arab populations like Bahrain (Iranian minority) have adopted the Arab standard. “Bahrain is an Arab Islamic State, independent and fully sovereign, and its people are part of the Arab nation,” Constitution of the State of Bahrain adopted on May 26, 1973.
72. On this and the historiographical debate around it, see Cliffe, Lionel and Davidson, Basil, The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace (Trenton, 1988)Google Scholar; Iyob, Ruth, The Eritrean Struggle for Independance: Domination, Resistance and Nationalism 1941–1993 (Cambridge, 1995)Google Scholar, but also Erlich, Haggai, Ethiopia and the Middle East (Boulder, 1994)Google Scholar.
73. Sishagne, Shumet, “The Genesis of the Differences in the Eritrean Secessionist Movement (1960–1970),” in Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Vol.1, University of Addis Ababa 1984, ed. Beyene, Taddese (Addis Ababa: 1988)Google Scholar: 451.
74. For an edited version of this narrative, see propaganda volume by Muhammad Sa'id Nawud, Al-’arabiyya wa al-Islam bi-al-qurn al-afriqı [Arabism and Islam in the Horn of Africa], Sd, Sl. and Bakr, Muhammad ‘Othman Abu, Tarıkh Irıtriyya al-mu'asir, Ardan wa sha'aban [History of Eritrea, Land and People] (Cairo, 1994)Google Scholar.
75. Sudan moreover created a national Commissioner of Refugees (COR) in 1967, which was entitled to issue refugee cards and travel documents.
76. “According to article 28 paragraph 1 of the 1951 Convention, Contracting States are required to issue travel documents for the purposes of travel to refugees lawfully staying in their territory.” Note on Travel Documents for Refugees, August 30, 1978, International Protection (SCIP) EC/SCP/10 <www.unhcr.org>.
77. “(c) Geographical validity of Convention Travel Documents. Art. 17. According to paragraph 4 of the Schedule to the 1951 Convention, the document shall, save in special or exceptional cases, be made valid for the largest possible number of countries. States do not normally restrict the document's geographical validity. Some States, however, for security reasons, exclude from such validity the refugee's country of origin.” Ibid.
Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.