Internal Migration and Factors in Egypt

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Egypt is largely an Arab region, and the Nile River is the main geographic feature in northern Africa. As a consequence of several development projects undertaken within Egypt, rapid economic growth occurred between 2004 and 2010. However, Egyptians still have inequalities in development and poverty, amid economic growth and development reforms in Egypt (Herrera & Badri, 2). The Egyptians live in urban centres and in lower areas of Egypt, for example, in contrast to those living in rural areas and Upper Egypt, for example, higher and better living conditions. Despite the disparities in development and living standards, the rates of internal migration in Egypt are low unlike in other countries.
Herrera and Badri, however, continue to explain the reasons behind the low internal migration rates. First is the low educational level among the majority of rural Egyptians and therefore they lack necessary skills hence they are less motivated to migrate in search of employment. Secondly is the ability of rural households to cultivate their own food and therefore they are not affected by the souring food prices which reduce the incentives to migrate. Thirdly is the availability of employment in agricultural farms as paid laborers or as unpaid family workers (Herrera & Badri, 2).

Contemporary Migration

Migration is a process that can be grouped into two models. The first model views migration as a motivational push to search for a better place to live and work while the second model views migration as a response to life conditions that force migrants to move (Findley, 9). The two models, as described by Findley can often gel in practice, and therefore researchers should incorporate both active and passive migration models in future researches. Migrants can, therefore, be described by the Rav Feinstein's “Laws of Migration” as people who drive their motivation from the desire to improve their economic status (Grigg, 45). Rav Feinstein's “Laws of Migration” continue to describe migrants as persons who have the desire to succeed and therefore they have the aggressiveness which pushes them to get out of the comfort zone. Hence they move from areas of poverty to areas of opportunity (Grigg, 45). The migrants’ choice of destination is however influenced by distance and the size of the town or city. Migrants moving from regions further from urban centers choose to move step by step from larger to larger cities and are replaced by those moving from smaller towns. There are however a few exemptions of migrants who directly move from smaller towns to larger cities.

Egyptian Demographics

Egypt experienced a rapid population growth in the 20th century. Egypt’s population doubled from 9.7 million to 19 million in the years of 1897 to 1947, with the next doubling taking place from 1947 to 1976. Egypt’s population today is estimated to be about 96 million according to the 2015 census (De Bel-Air, 1). Egypt’s annual population growth rate is estimated to be two percent. The majority of the Egyptian population have settled along the River Nile which forms 5% of Egypt’s land. The remaining 95% percent of Egyptian land is arid resulting to scarcity of agricultural land. Due to the aridity of the majority of Egypt’s land and the steady rise of Egyptian population, rampant internal migration has been witnessed in Egypt in the recent years. These movements are mostly associated with poverty, economic difficulties, and improper socio-economic policies (Zohry, 2a)

Internal Migration

Migration in Egypt can be categorized as internal and international migration. Internal migration can be described as the movement of people from one region of a country to another without crossing the borders whereas international migration is movement of people from their country of origin. Internal migration can be distinguished from International migration since international migration involves crossing of national borders (Zohry,5b). There are however two classifications of migration; temporary migration and permanent migration. Temporary migration is moving to Arab countries such as Saidi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Yemen and Oman whereas permanent migration is migrating to western countries like USA, Canada, and Australia, etc. (Afifi, 7).
Figures from the 2006 census in Egypt showed that out 72.8 million of its inhabitants, 4.8 million were internal migrants representing 7 percent of the entire population. The main destinations of internal migrants in Egypt have been Cairo and Alexandria. According to studies, migration trends in Egypt have been observed to be happening from the southern parts to the Northern parts, from both the south and north to the Canal Zone, from the hinterland to Cairo and Alexandria and from Central Egypt to the edges (Zohry, 5b). However, as most studies have shown most of the migrants have converged in the greater Cairo region comprising of Cairo, Giza, Helwan, and the governorates of 6th of October ii and Qualyoubyia (Zohry,5b).
The internal migrations in Egypt can be classified into four categories namely, urban-rural migration, rural-urban migration, urban-urban and rural-rural migration. The three forms of internal migration have witnessed fluctuating trends regarding migration proportions. For instance, urban-rural migrations declined from 24.6% to 13% in the years between 1976 and 1986 but remained constant at 13.1% from 1986 to 1996. On the other hand, there was a 4.7% increase from 6.5% to 10.3% in rural-urban migration in the years between 1976 and 1986 but rose to 13.6% between 1986 and 1996. The highest form of internal migration in Egypt is the urban-urban migration which witnessed an increase from 63.4% to 72.9% between the years 1976 and 1986 but however saw a decline to 60.4% in 1996. Rural-rural migration is, however, the least significant form of migration since there were minimal movements of such nature during each census (Assaad, 159).
Internal migration particularly rural-urban migration was considered an important form of migration in the economic literature. This was because rapid rural-urban migration was regarded as a form of transferring surplus rural labor from less economic viable traditional agriculture to provide cheap labor in a more economically feasible industrial complex (Todaro, 361). However, studies show that rural-urban in developing countries migration has exceeded the rate of urban jobs created and has surpassed the ability of industries to effectively absorb the rising number of the readily available cheap labor and causing pressure on the urban social services to accommodate the ever rising population with the limited resources at their disposal. Economists no longer view rapid migration as an important aspect that provides cheap labor to an increasing industrial labor demand. On the contrary, migration is considered as a contributory factor to the availability of surplus of urban labor leading to the rise of urban unemployment which is caused by economic imbalance between rural and urban centers (Todaro, 362).
In most scenarios, internal migration is voluntary, however in some occasions, it can be can be forceful depending on the prevailing circumstances during the duration of migrating. Instances such as war and development projects can force people to move from their place of birth or permanent residence and settle in new areas. For example, forceful displacement of people was witnessed in Egypt during the Egypt-Israel war and the Aswan High Dam initiative of 1967(Zohry, 23c).
According to Zohry, approximately 60% of the occupants of the cities of Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia were forced to move out of those cities and became forceful temporary migrants in other parts of the country after the Arab-Israel war of 1967. Studies estimate that more than 750 million people became forced migrants as a result of the Arab-Israel war. Most of the migrants from the Canal area, approximately 56000 representing 6-7% of all migrants settled in Zagazig which is the capital of the governorate of Sharqyya and closer to the Canal Zone (Zohry, 23c). Zohry further states that majority of those displaced by the war however settled in Cairo or in the governorates of the Nile Valley and the Nile Delta that were homelands of their fathers. Most of the migrations from the Suez Canal were witnessed be from 1967 to 1969, and the returns were also witnessed from 1973 after the end of the Arab-Israel war a from and continued up to 1976 (Zohry, 23c)
The Aswan High Dam development in the 1960s and completed in 1970 which is one of the largest artificial water reservoirs in the world also contributed to forceful displacement of people in Egypt. The construction of the Dam reclaimed all the Nubian land in Egypt and a third of the Nubian Valley in Sudan and therefore displacing all the Nubians who were approximately 100000 at the time of displacement (Zohry, 24c). Studies show that those displaced by the dam were forced to move elsewhere in search of alternative places to settle with most of them ending in Kom Kom now famously known as the New Nubia in 1963 to 1964.

Attributes of Migrants

There have been studies conducted in Egypt that exhibit the characteristics of its internal migrants. Most of the migrant studies have mostly concentrated on sex and age, while a few have focused on migrants’ career, socio-economic and educational profiles. Studies show that males migrate more than females and younger people migrate more compared to the older people. Studies also show that most of the migrants are highly educated and have a professional background compared to non-migrants (Zohry, 5b). Studies show that majority of the migrants, about 32% are secondary school graduates whereas 37% of the non-migrants have no formal education (Zohry, 42c). It is also worth noting that higher rates of urban-rural migration are majorly witnessed among the less educated Egyptians (Assaad, 164)
Another major difference between those who seek to migrate internally and those who do not migrate is that majority of those who migrate are employed people while those who do not migrate are unemployed. For instance, according to studies, 40% of the migrants were men who were working as employees especially in the public service whereas 53% of the non-migrants were not working at all. Additionally, 33% of the migrating women were working in the households compared to 66% of their counterpart non-migrating women who were not involved in any form of employment. It is also important to note that most of the employers and those who operated their own businesses could rarely migrate compared to employees and non-business people (Zohry, 42c).
It is also interesting to note that the rate of migration from places of birth was higher than that of men. This is due to marriages whereby women leave their places of birth to join their husbands. Significant also is the fact that the recent rise in female education is also a contributing factor to the increase in female migrations witnessed in Egypt in the recent past (Assaad, 164)

Factors influencing internal migration in Egypt

Research has proven that a number push and pull factors the decision of migrants to move from one part of a country to another. These determinants can be classified into economic variables, demographic variables, lifecycle, education level and the lifestyles of the migrants (Findley, 9). These factors have contributed most to rural-urban migration compared to other forms of migration. For instance, studies show that developing countries witnessed relatively significant numbers of the rural populations moving to the cities in the 1970s and 1980s despite the rising levels of underemployment and unemployment in the towns (Todaro, 364). According to Todaro, the higher levels of rural-urban migrations were influenced by economic and development imbalance between urban and rural areas.
Poverty and unemployment are the major economic factors that influence internal migration in Egypt. Low-income levels in the countryside are the main motivators of those who move to urban areas such as Cairo and Alexandria and other rural governorates that are presumed to have higher rates of income levels (Hein, 235). The majority of the Egyptian migrants are motivated to migrate with the hope of getting better work opportunities that will help them get out of poverty (Zohry, 6b). The majority of these migrants as described by Zohry are poor farm laborers who move in search of jobs in non-agricultural fields.
Unemployment is the major factor among the economic factors that influences rural-urban migration. Most of the migrants move to urban areas in search of employment opportunities and better living standards. Those who choose to migrate consider the labor markets available to them between urban and rural opportunities and choose one that will maximize their expected returns upon migration (Todaro, 365). Todaro continues to explain that majority of those who choose to migrate to urban centers in search of employment are motivated by the higher gains they will get with their skills from urban jobs compared to what they will get in rural areas using the same skills doing the same type of job.
Egypt’s unemployment levels are not different from other developing countries. Egypt has a considerably higher workforce which is attributed to its vast population growth. Egypt’s labor force rose steadily between 1994 to 2006 from 16.8 million to 21.9 million according to the data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS ) statistical yearbook and the Egypt census of 2006 (Zohry, 4a). The21.9 million of Egyptian workforce is dependent on four segments that provide employment according to the Labor Force Sample Survey (1988 LFSS) of 1988 and the Egyptian Labor Market Survey of 1998 (1998 ELMS). The four segments include the agricultural sector, the non- agricultural sector and the government.
The agricultural sector absorbs the larger portion of the Egyptian workforce, and it is estimated that 40% of the Egyptian workforce is absorbed by the agricultural sector while the non-agricultural sector employs approximately 30% of the workforce in Egypt. The government which is also a major employer absorbs up to 30% of the available labor force in Egypt across state-owned enterprises (Zohry, 4a).The upward surge of the workforce in Egypt can be attributed to the high rate of population growth witnessed in Egypt in the recent past which has resulted in huge numbers of younger persons joining the labor market thus contributing to the higher levels of unemployment. Most of the unemployed youth are high school and university graduates. The unemployment rate in Egypt according to the 2006 census is 9.3% accounting for approximately 2.04 million of the Egyptian population (Zohry, 4a).
In addition to economic forces, environmental degradation is another major contributory factor to internal migration in Egypt. Research has shown that environmental factors are major hidden contributory factors that contribute towards economic migration in Egypt and influence the movement of people from one part of the country to another (Afifi, 4). Several scholars on internal migration in Egypt ignore the impact of environmental factors on economic conditions experienced by the people of Egypt and fail to pay attention to the movements caused by harsh environmental forces. This paper will, however, address migrations caused by unfavorable environmental conditions and climate change both natural and manmade (Afifi, 4).
Studies have shown that environmental factors are the major causal forces that have driven a significant number of people from their places of birth. Currently, the number of environmental refugees surpasses that of refugees displaced by war and terror globally. According to the figures of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) of 2002, approximately 24 million people fled their places of permanent residence due to floods, drought, famine and other environmental factors. This number exceeds that of other forms of refugees (Afifi, 5). Afifi continues to highlight that several bodies and scholars have forecasted an increase in the number of environmental migrants. For instance, the United Nations Environmental Programme predicted the number of environmental refugees to rise to 50 million by the end of 2010. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasted in 2007 that the number of environmental refugees worldwide will reach 150 million people by 2050. Other scholars such as Robert Nicholls has estimated the number of environmental migrants to hit 200 million by 2080 and Norman Myers has estimated the number of environmental presently migrant to be averagely 200 million. It is also estimated by researchers such as the Almeria Statement that 135 million people are victims of desertification and droughts. The Christian Aid, a humanitarian organization, has predicted that by 2050, 250 million inhabitants will be environmental migrants since they will be victims of drought, floods, and hurricanes and that 645 million people will be displaced by dams and other development projects. Some critics have however criticized the above estimates citing they are speculative in nature and heavily reliant on variable indicators (Afifi, 5).
Environmental migration is not, however, a stand- alone form of migration, it pegged on other forms such as economic migration. It is, therefore, necessary to distinguish the extent of environmental migrants from economic migrants as those who choose to migrate because they are affected by environmental degradation (Afifi, 6). Migration scholars such as Afifi and Warner have incorporated environmental variables with other migration motivators such as economic, historical, political, and cultural indicators and found out that environmental degradation has a significant impact on migration decisions across Egypt.
Egypt is majorly desert country, with 97% of its land being arid and hyper-arid and only less than 4% of Egyptian is appropriate for agriculture. Egypt’s agricultural areas include the North Parts, the Nile Valley; Inland Sinai and the Eastern Desert; and the Western Desert, Oases and Southern Remote Areas, with higher concentration of agriculture being the Nile Valley, and the Nile Delta because of their proximity to river Nile that provides water for irrigation. These regions of the Nile Valley and the Nile Delta are the major destinations to the majority of the internal migrants who move from other areas that are affected by different forms of environmental degradation.The various forms of environmental degradation include salination, wind erosion, sand dune encroachment, urban encroachment, and soil scraping desertification and among other harsh climatic conditions (Afifi, 7). In addition to the Nile Valley and the Nile Delta, Egypt has also witnessed movement of people to the arid and semi-arid areas following the government’s desert reclamation project in the 1980s (Afifi, 8). There is, however, no connection between the effects of environmental degradation and internal migration in Egypt because previous studies focused on economic migration without attention to environmental problems (Afifi, 8).
Educational level is another contributory factor to internal migration in Egypt. Migration rates often increase with the increase in the levels of the population. Therefore the rates of migration of the less educated persons are lower at approximately 8.3% compared to the highly educated who have the higher tendency of migrating. The higher the education level, the higher the migration rates to about 20% (Zohry, 5c). It is, therefore, worthy noting that among the internal migrants; approximately 15% were university graduates with 20% possessing postgraduate qualifications (Herrera & Badri, 13). This group of highly educated migrants mostly consists of young persons aged between 15 and 24 years. These young migrants are however often aware of low probabilities of finding regular wage jobs during the initial migration periods, but they are encouraged of increasing their chances of permanent regular payments in the long run ones they have made networks (Todaro, 365).
Migration researchers and scholars such as Ayman Zohry, have also identified other factors that promote internal migration in Egypt. Such determinants include Mounting Demographic Pressure, Declining Economic Opportunities, and Scarcity of Services and Other Social Amenities. The mounting demographic pressures are as a result of increasing population density and the rapid population growth that was witnessed in Egypt in the recent past. The increasing population density and growth in Egypt has exerted pressure on the scarce cultivable land which has forced majority of the population to move elsewhere. On the other hand, Declining Economic Opportunities are as a result of landlessness and the subdivisions of land due to inheritance and low-level wages available locally which like wisely force people to move in search of alternative land and better wages (Zohry, 6c).

Impacts of Internal Migration in Egypt

Internal migration in Egypt has however had some impacts namely, urbanization, increase in unemployment and underemployment, concentration of population density among many other effects (Wahish, 1). Internal migration especially the rural-urban migration has brought upon development of urban centers in Egypt (Zinkana & Korateyew, 25)
Mitigating Internal Migration
As discussed above, the major form of internal migration witnessed in developing countries especially in Egypt is the rural-urban migration and following its negative impacts, there is need for it to be controlled. The major cause of rural, urban migration is the disparities in economic development between urban areas and the rural areas. Another major cause of this type of migration is lack of decent employment in the rural areas where the only opportunities available are agricultural jobs. Therefore there is need for intervention so as to minimize the rates of rural-urban migration.
Some intervention measures that can curb rural-urban migration have been suggested to the Egyptian authorities. One of them is creating an enabling environment that will be appealing to investors to take investments to rural areas rather than cities that are already saturated with industries (Wahish, 1). Poor infrastructural development and the lack of necessary infrastructure in rural areas such as roads and electricity discourage investment in those areas. For example, the agricultural sector incurs a lot of losses during transportation of fresh produce due to the lack of proper storage, cooling, processing, and transport infrastructure. The government, therefore, needs to put up such infrastructures next to agricultural fields so as to provide necessary services such as storage, processing and transport services to the agricultural sector. By developing the infrastructures in the rural areas, investors will be attracted to put up industries in such areas. Through investments and industrializing in the rural areas, there will be employment opportunities for the younger educated persons in the rural areas, and therefore they will not be moving to cities in search of better and decent jobs (Wahish, 1).
The Egyptian government has however done some progress in promoting investments in rural Egypt especially the Upper Egypt. For example, a database consisting of all the investment opportunities has been developed by the General Authority for Finance and Investment (GAFI) (Wahish, 1). The list of opportunities comprises of all possible opportunities in all sectors from food, textile, agriculture, and mining industry. The listing of investment opportunities in every governorate in conjunction with government efforts to lure investors to the rural areas in the recent past has borne results. For instance, studies show that, in the duration between 2009 and 2010, almost 925 new industries have been put up in the Upper Egypt (Wahish, 1).
In addition to the database, the Egyptian government also gives incentives to investors seeking to put up industries in the rural parts of Egypt. Such incentives include free plots of land to investors. The government also offers financial incentives to investments worth LE15 million or more (Wahish, 1). These financial incentives are structured that investors are granted between LE7,500 and LE15,000 on any employment opportunity created and they are deducted from annual taxes, electricity bills water bills (Wahish,1).
The Egyptian government has also embarked on infrastructure development in rural Egypt so as to attract investments in remote areas. For instance, the government is constructing the natural gas pipeline to Upper Egypt, and it recently inaugurated the construction of the Red sea road. Upon completion, the Red Sea road will bring investments to the region in the form of hospitality establishments, and service centers, industries, mining initiatives and will see the sprung gas stations, cafeterias and other facilities (Wahish,1). These investments will create jobs for the unemployed educated young people thus discouraging migrations.


Internal migration in Egypt is an interesting topic. It brings the development and economic imbalance between rural and urban areas and also the discrepancies of economic status of the migrants versus non-migrants. Migrants are highly economically enabled than their counterparts who choose not to migrate. The most common form of internal migration witnessed in Egypt is the rural-urban migration and majority of the migrants move to the cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Economic factors such as poverty and unemployment are the major influencers of internal migration in Egypt whereby majority of those who migrate move in search of employment and better living standards. In addition to economic factors, environmental degradation and is also another factor that forces quite a number of Egyptians to move out of their places of birth to other regions. War and conflicts together with infrastructural developments are also contributors to forceful transfer of people from their places of permanent residence to new places.
The government of Egypt has however made progress in discouraging internal migrations especially rural -urban migration. This has been possible through creating enabling environment that attracts investments to urban areas. The government has developed infrastructure in the Upper Egypt and has offered incentives to investors and also created a database that lists all possible investment opportunities in each governorate.

Works cited

Afifi, Tamer. Stealth Environmental Influences on Economic Migration in Egypt. Centre for International Governance Innovation, 2011.
Assaad, Ragui, ed. The Egyptian labor market revisited. American Univ in Cairo Press, 2009.
De Bel-Air, Françoise. Migration Profile: Egypt. European University Institute, 2016.
De Haas, Hein. "Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective1." International Migration Review, vol. 44, no. 1, 2010, pp. 227-264.
Findley, Sally. Planning for internal migration: a review of issues and policies in developing countries. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, International Statistical Programs Center, 1977.
Grigg, David B. "EG Ravenstein and the “laws of migration”." Journal of Historical geography 3.1 (1977): 41-54.
Herrera, Santiago, and Karim Badr. "Internal migration in Egypt: levels, determinants, wages, and likelihood of employment." (2012).
Todaro, Michael. "Internal migration in developing countries: a survey." Population and economic change in developing countries. University of Chicago Press, 1980. 361-402.
Wahish, Niveen. "Migrating south." Al-Ahram Weekly, [Cairo], 25 Feb. 2010,
Zinkina, Julia, and Andrey Korotayev. "Urbanization Dynamics in Egypt: Factors, Trends, Perspectives." Arab Studies Quarterly 35.1 (2013): 20-38.
Zohry, Aymen. "The development impact of internal migration: Findings from Egypt." International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (2009).
Zohry, Ayman. "2 Migration and development in Egypt." Migration from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe (2007)
Zohry, Ayman, and Barbara Harrell-Bond. "Contemporary Egyptian migration: an overview of voluntary and forced migration." University of Sussex, Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty, Sussex (2003).

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