Greater options away from home

The Egyptian community in the UAE is thriving, and makes up nearly four per cent of the country's population.

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The Egyptian community in the UAE is thriving, and makes up nearly four per cent of the country's population. Some of them come to save for their futures back home - but others need to take care of more pressing obligations. Kareem Shaheen reports From the early days of the union, Egyptians have flocked to the Emirates. Partially, this was due to an accident of history. In 1971, the same year the UAE was founded, Egypt amended its constitution to enshrine the right of people to "emigrate and return to the nation", lifting past restrictions on emigration.

Over the next five years, the number of Egyptian expatriates exploded; from 70,000 in 1971 to about 1.4 million. The oil shock brought on by the Arab-Israeli War in 1973 also brought unparalleled wealth and large development projects to the oil-rich Gulf states, necessitating outside expertise. Many Egyptians found a second home here even as other countries in the region slammed the door shut on them in protest against the foreign policies of their then-president, Anwar Sadat, which included establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Egyptian expatriate community thrived in the Emirates. This month, the Ministry of Manpower and Emigration in Cairo estimated the number of Egyptians working in the UAE at about 225,000, or almost four per cent of the Emirates' total population. Because the ministry's statistics do not include seasonal workers, who are not counted in the official statistics, or illegal immigrants, the actual figure is probably higher.

Many of them work in construction, banking, as well as as doctors and teachers, and in the tourism industry. Most of them live in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Some are here to create a financial base that can help shield them from a potentially tumultuous future. Most also work for their families back home those who stayed behind, and made do with less, so their children could leave and work abroad.

They usually provide for their family's education, health care and housing. Many also feel the situation is getting worse in Egypt, that the prospects of the country's many young people are dimming. Some are simply happy to have a job in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades. Their contributions are a big boost for the Egyptian economy. In 2008, Egyptians around the world remitted US$8.7 billion (Dh32bn), or almost two per cent of the country's GDP, according to the World Bank.

While the figure has fallen to about $7.8bn as a result of the global financial crisis, according to November figures, remittances seem set to remain an integral part of the Egyptian economy. The World Bank expects the decline to slow as the economy recovers.