Rural-Urban Migration in Egypt

Rural-Urban Migration in Egypt


Since the beginning of time , all creatures migrate to new areas seeking food and better living conditions , humans are no exception. Actually its part of what makes us human , our survival instinct drives us to do so. This is basically what rural-urban migration is all about . People in rural areas , with very poor living conditions and very low income or no income at all , moving to urban areas in search of something better , could be great success and prosperity or simply a decent quality of life. .

As stated in the UN State of the World Population 2007 report, at some point in the middle of 2007, most of the world's population will be residing in towns or cities, for the first time in history; this is called arrival of the "Urban Millennium" or the 'tipping point'. Rural - urban migration as a phenomenon is common to all countries , especially the developing ones , where the gap between rural and urban areas is great . And since , Egypt is a developing country , its no stranger to rural-urban migration actually it is happening at a scary rate and with profound consequences .

Internal migration in Egypt had a profound impact on the redistribution of the Egyptian population . Generally the migration patterns were ; from south to north , from south and north to the canal zone , from Egypt's hinterland to Alexandria and Cairo and last but not least from the County's center to its peripheries. However , most studies show that most of the migration flows end up in the greater Cairo Region . In places in such as , Cairo , Guiza and Qualyoubeya .


Migration from upper to Lower Egypt could be traced to as far back as 1897 , the time when the first population census came out . There were two main stages of migration , the 'pre-modernization' stage and the 'post-modernization' stage'. Nasser's revolution in 1952 and Egypt's independence from British occupation in 1956 marks the separation point between the two stages.

The pre-modernization stage of migration was marked by a low and steady flow of migrants from upper to Lower Egypt. These migrants were seeking and motivated by better health services , education and whatever was lacking in Upper Egypt at the time. The migrants of that stage in migration history were open minded , ambitious and had more education than the average person in Upper Egypt. Hence , the aspirations for the better things that the more modern and civilized cities in Lower Egypt had to offer. The migratory move of these people was a permanent one. Initially, the migrants kept strong ties with their relatives that they left behind . But , with each successive generation these ties became weaker till they were minimal at best .

Not all migrants of that time were of the previously mentioned better educated and ambitious type. Poorer segments of the upper Egyptian population were also migrating to Lower Egypt , but the reasons for their migration were entirely different . Before the completion of the Aswan dam in 1960 , a lot of the poor peasants of Upper Egypt used to work in agriculture seasonally . Then for the rest of the year they worked as servants , private drivers and porters in cities of Lower Egypt. This system of circulation was referred to at the time as the 'tarheel' system . The families of the workers within the tarheel system could afford a minimum level of living all year.

Nasser's industrial revolution brought about great changes to Egypt's social and economic scene. Egypt shifted from a nation dependent upon agriculture to a partially industrial one. It also marked the beginning of the post-modernization stage in Egypt's migration history . Industrial zones were setup in and around Cairo . Especially in Helwan and Shubra Elkheima . Thousand of unskilled workers flocked towards the capital in the hopes of securing a job in the newly built factories . Those that did get a job , were provided with a housing unit . However , there were the unlucky few that were not successful in securing a job due to being under qualified. Those got jobs that required minimum amount of skill in the services sector and did general laboring. This period is considered to be the 'golden age' of internal Egyptian migration.

By 1975 , Sadat initiated the open door economic policy . As a result a massive construction boom had started in Cairo. This boom caused a steady flow of migrants , mainly from upper Egypt, to work in construction on a circular basis. This flow of migrants working on a circular basis replaced the old tarheel system that was in place prior to the building of the Aswan dam. This flow of migrants was sustained due to several reasons , the first being 'land fragmentation' and the rest include ; the rise in agricultural rent , rural areas being overpopulated , economic activities being centralized in and around Cairo and the rise of the informal sector with its massive capacity to absorb new workers.

Why migrate?

In this day and age , with the modernization of all parts of Egypt in terms of better health services , better education (with the creation of better schools and respectable universities) and generally better facilities . The upper Egyptian migrant that migrates looking for these things virtually does not exist . What remains is the poor migrant that migrates seeking a better job and consequently a better life . But then what is it like in their hometown that makes it bad enough to make them drop everything and seek a better life somewhere else ?. Dr Ayman Zohary, of the Centre d'Etudes et de Documentation Economiques , Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ), conducted a survey and this is what some of his respondents had to say about work conditions in their hometowns. 'Work opportunities are almost non-existent there-in the village . In case I do find a job it will be for five pounds a day , about one third of the Cairo rate. This will never be sufficient for my expenses and the family's' , said Khairy. 'Here (Cairo) I can go to work for 15-20 ponds a day according to what is available , and I might be paid an extra 5 pounds as a tip . It's much better than my hometown ' , said Diab. So , the number one reason which drives these people out of their hometown , leaving their loved ones and everything they know behind, is the rarity of work or in some cases the unavailability of work at all. Furthermore, according to labor economic theory the migration of these people from upper to lower Egypt should have narrowed the substantial gap between the wage rates in the two places . The increase in the supply of labor in lower Egypt should have lowered the wage rate there, and the shortage of labor in upper Egypt should have raised the wage rate there. Hence, the wage rate gap would be narrowed and even reduce the amount of migration that is happening . Apparently , the wage rate gap has never been narrowed . And still Cairo's population continues to swell due to the influx of migrants form Upper Egypt everyday.


Unfortunately , the impact of the rural- urban migration phenomena on the inhabitants on the lower Egyptian regions is an undesirable one , actually undesirable does not do it justice , it has been catastrophic on numerous levels. Being a Cairene myself I have experienced the impact of the migration first hand. The number of people that migrate to Cairo everyday is in the thousands and its not just men seeking work, its entire families . As a result, the population growth rate of Cairo has reached epic levels , far beyond this city can stand. It's like pumping air into a balloon and never stopping , it will eventually reach a point where it will explode. As far as I am concerned this is what happened to Cairo , in broad terms , it has 'exploded'.

Simply , there isn't enough to go around and this applies to everything. There aren't enough streets for vehicles , there aren't enough public services , there isn't enough housing and the list goes on . The unfortunate fact is that Egypt has very limited resources , that's besides the corruption of the government officials, which runs so deep it became irreversible . The net outcome is a very ugly mess . The government simply cannot keep up with the pace at which the population is growing. It's having a hard time catering to the needs of the orginal Cairenes , let alone catering to the needs of these immigrants and their families . .

Let's start with what the immigrants came to Cairo for , a job. Cairo has always had extremely high unemployment levels , i.e. it had barely enough jobs for original population . Therefore , all these people have done is make the situation worse . And , since most of them are unskilled and returning to their hometown is not an option. Then , one of two things will happen they will work in what is known as the 'informal sector'. The informal sector refers to one that operates without the knowledge and monitoring of the government and therefore is not taxed and is not included in the GNP, which is undesirable. Examples , of individuals that work within this sector are street vendors . Since the income from jobs within the informal sector only affords them the minimum essentials (but still better than where they came from). Then , the alternative is to resort to crime to provide a decent living for them and their families. The amount of criminal activity in Cairo has risen to insane levels , and that is owed to these immigrants in the most part. These crimes include drug and human trafficking , stealing and kidnapping.

The informal sector is not taxed , and the people operating within it still use the very few public services provided by the government, such as state hospitals . This is a huge burden on the government as the proceeds from taxation go towards providing these services. And , since they are not taxed then whatever services is available will not be sufficient for them and the taxpayers. And , this besides it being morally unfair for them to be using these services in the first place.

As it is already established the government has very limited resources , and these resources should go towards development of the city , in terms of providing schools , hospitals and housing . But , with the substantial increase in criminal activity , the government is faced with burden of battling it . Which requires , a larger police force and whatever else goes into combating crime . And since the taxes pay for the police , then a huge part of the government revenue from taxation will go towards providing better security , instead of going toward providing services. The outcome will be less of the 'badly' needed services and the ones that do exist would be of very poor quality.

The youth of any country are a vital factor in its development process , as the youth are the ones that work and generate income and eventually 'pay' for the country's development. Unfortunately , the drug trade and everything associated with it is destroying the youth of this city . And , since these immigrants are the ones bringing the drugs in , they are the ones responsible. A huge portion of the young population are either users or dealers , especially when there is a 300% pure profit to be made . And everyday we are losing more young people to this 'cancer' called drugs , and in my opinion it will eventually lead to this entire country's demise let alone the city , unless something is done about it , which unfortunately will require more of the government's limited resources.

In most cases , these immigrants require housing for them and their families . And , they most likely would not be able to afford homes in the different housing projects offered by the city . Therefore , they resort to creating slums in random areas around the city and living in cemeteries , hence the infamous city of the dead. These slums are a major source of concern ,besides them being revolting aesthetically , there are no utilities such as gas , water or sewage systems provided for them by the government , as these areas were never included in the planning of the city . So , to overcome this problem , the dwellers of these slums provide these utilities to themselves by using illegitimate means , like tapping into the main power lines and stealing electricity . This is a back-breaking burden for the government to handle , as it has to provide a lot more power to make up for the power lost to the slums , which will mean more government expenditure . And , will also cause the already deteriorating environment to deteriorate further. Also , the inhabitants of these slums discard their waste using improper methods and channels , which besides being hazardous to the environment , could be very hazardous to the health of the entire population . An , example of such health hazards is polluted drinking water , which caused kidney failure and liver disease to entire families in various parts of Cairo. Also, due to the unorganized and random nature of these slums and cemeteries they provide an ideal haven for criminals and terrorist groups to hide and operate .

Generally, all these immigrants brought to the cities of the lower Egyptian region is negativity with all its forms . Pollution levels that are 'through-the roof' , high noise levels that are hazardous to the health , sights that are hurtful to the eyes , constant congestion on the street ( people refer to Cairo as being ' a gigantic parking lot') and the nastiest of all is the high crime rates .


The driving force behind the migratory move of these Upper Egyptians is a pure economic one . The immigrant hopes to find higher wages , more job opportunities and most important of all a chance to send money to his family so they could have a better quality of life . And, although the consequences are catastrophic on the Lower Egyptian region and its natives , as far as the immigrant is concerned it's the right move to make . Especially , when the alternative is not being able to survive due to the lack of a source of income or in rare cases the income is barely enough to provide even the basic needs for him and his family , such as food , clothing and shelter . In , which case the only feasible alternative is to resort to crime , so 'he could put food on the table'. Which , in all cases is an unacceptable option.

To clean up this rural-urban migration 'mess' , a major policy reform is in order. One that would be directed towards rural development and urbanization in . In general terms , the government should intervene and work toward providing whatever is lacking in rural areas and driving people out of their homes and away from their families . These government interventions should be in the form of :

- Industrializing the rural areas , creating labor-intensive industries , to make use of the abundant workers over there.

- Development of training programs to help the unskilled farmers to become skilled workers .

- Control of population growth , so the public services would not be exauhasted from over-use and to reduce potential high unemployment rates in the future.

- Generally , improve the quality of life of the rural population by any means necessary .

These interventions in my belief should alleviate poverty to some extent in the rural areas and reduce the flow of immigrants to lower Egypt substantially.

In addition to rural development , there are major changes that should be made in the cities in lower Egypt . For example decentralizing the economic activities in Cairo , and expanding them towards the new urban areas , such as new Cairo , Sheikh Zayed and 6th of October . And , the rural population should be made aware of these new places and their merits and their capacity to absorb new workers .Then , in the case that people in rural areas do migrate these new areas would be their destination . Hence , alleviating the pressure on cities like Cairo . Also , the slums should be eliminated altogether since these provide homes for the immigrants , and with them gone the immigrants would be less encouraged to migrate since it would be hard for them to find accommodation . That is besides all the negativity that is associated with the slums , such as sanitation problems that's could be a major source of disease and the high rate of criminal activity that exists there , which would make the case for eliminating them a very strong one.

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