I used to think that immigration was about migrants moving from a developing country to a developed one, motivated by a single criterion—the better standard of living. This was until I learned that moving from a country to another is not only a matter of climbing up a ladder; for numerous reasons, people move to and settle happily in nations that offer “inferior” living standards. Immigration is a two-way channel that is founded on a variety of different needs and desires.
I have encountered many foreigners who have settled down in Egypt (not only in Cairo, but also in many Egyptian villages), become emotionally attached to the country, established strong networks of friends and, eventually, founded families. These foreigners tend to enjoy the charm that Egypt offers, despite the many challenges, such as pollution, congested traffic, noise and overall poor services offered by the government. Nevertheless, the fact that they continue to live in Egypt when they have the option of going home is proof that Egypt still possesses positive qualities.
Egyptians, at large, like and respect foreigners. Their behaviour may sometimes be misleading, but they tend, in essence, to be proud that a foreigner is interested in their country, and they often want to show off its positive aspects. However, the state, believing that Egyptians are naïve and could unknowingly reveal information that is helpful to our “enemies”, often prefers us to be more alert with foreigners. For security purposes, foreign residents are sometimes referred to as “strangers”, a subtle attempt to put a distance between them and Egyptians.
Some people argue that foreigners who have moved to Egypt are taking over Egyptian jobs. This is not true—Egyptians will not replace their fellow citizens with foreign workers unless the cost/benefit analysis favours the foreigner. Additionally, many foreigners have managed to establish their own businesses, creating numerous employment opportunities for Egyptians. Total net employment figures (inclusive of the foreign factor) certainly favour our economy, and foreign experiences and skills constitute an added value that Egypt definitely needs.
During my trips abroad, I instinctively try to learn more about my host country and its people. I observe people carefully, attempt to advance my knowledge about the country’s culture and socioeconomic attributes and, in my interaction with its inhabitants, I ask as many questions as possible. This is my learning curve that helps me to broaden my knowledge and acquire a better understanding of people’s mentality and behaviours. I am well aware, at the same time, that if I were to adopt the same behaviour in my own country, I could well be accused of espionage.
Living here for years, foreigners often develop a natural desire to see Egypt become a better place. Thus, they begin to express their opinions on issues that could be improved—which often leads foreigners into an unpleasant area. Egyptians generally, and their government in particular, always want to be complimented. Foreigners may make their remarks sincerely and with the best of intentions, but voicing any sort of criticism of the “Mother of the World” affects Egyptians’ ego and is not appreciated.
Foreigners living in Egypt try to integrate into our society, but the Egyptian state, unfortunately, always questions the reasons behind their prolonged residency. The Egyptian government welcomes tourists visiting the country for a few days or weeks, or foreign investors who transfer their money to Egypt and then go back to their countries. However, outside of these two categories, the government is unable to internally digest the prolonged residency of foreigners in Egypt.
Foreign governments do not need to send their people to other countries to collect information; today’s technologies allow advanced nations unlimited access to information, enabling them to know more about us than we do ourselves. Additionally, Egyptians reveal their entire lives on social media—which can be monitored easily. Nevertheless, for both citizens and foreigners residing in Egypt, predicting the future is quite a challenge.
The Egyptian state needs to acknowledge the phrase, “Friends of Egypt” and to capitalise on the many foreigners, living in Egypt or abroad, who have an interest in helping our country. While the state is not obliged to accept every view or idea they express, a constructive dialogue with our foreign friends is certainly beneficial to Egypt. If the state were smart enough to capitalise on their contributions, these “Friends of Egypt” could become our best ambassadors, helping to effectively fix things internally and to better convey a positive message about Egypt. Harassing the messenger, evidently, will not help Egypt to move forward.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician working on reforming Egypt based on liberal values, proper application of democracy, and free market economy.