Egyptian workers return from Qatar citing ‘hostile’ atmosphere in Doha
Cairo- Alaa Mamdouh had not planned to return to Egypt from Qatar. Following a regional diplomatic crisis involving Qatar, the country in which he worked, however, he said his return became an inevitability.
“Conditions changed rapidly for everybody after Egypt and other countries cut off ties with Qatar,” said Mamdouh, 26, from the southern province of Sohag. “Essential supplies disappeared. Commodity prices rose dramatically and the future became totally uncertain.”
The salary of approximately $407 Mamdouh received every month selling electrical appliances at a shopping mall in Doha was quickly dwarfed by rising prices, making day-to-day survival difficult.
“Most importantly, the general atmosphere became hostile towards foreign workers, especially workers from Egypt,” Mamdouh said.
Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, citing Doha’s alleged support for radical extremism and terrorism.
An estimated 300,000 Egyptians work in the small super-rich Gulf country, which is dependent on foreign workers who make up an estimated 1.6 million of Qatar’s total population of 2.5 million.
However, many Egyptian expat workers have made the risky decision to return to their home countries following the crisis.
Cairo announced it was ending visa-free entry for Qatari nationals — with some exceptions.
Observers said the sudden return of hundreds of thousands of people employed in Qatar — mainly in construction and service industries — could have a detrimental effect on Egypt’s flagging economy.
“The return of these workers will present the government with a serious problem,” said Salah Eddin Fahmy, a professor of economics at al-Azhar University. “These workers will need to be given alternative jobs, which is not easy now.”
Egypt has an official unemployment rate of 12.5% but independent estimates put the number much higher. The return of expat workers will increase that.
Although Egypt has invested billions of dollars in construction projects, creating tens of thousands of jobs, demand for labour is not high as the industry was saturated.
The Qatari government has said it would not move to deport expat workers but Qatari news channels recently aired reports focusing on Egyptian workers and issues relating to failure to renew passports and residency permits.
Egypt pulled its diplomatic mission from Qatar and Cairo is represented in Doha by Greece.
Despite official reassurances, Mamdouh said he was concerned about the Qatari media’s portrayal of the situation, including articles and reports that appeared to call for Egyptian workers to be expelled.
Cairo has said it was ready to receive the workers if they wish to return but analysts said Egypt would have a major problem accommodating them.
“If this were true, the government would have been able to easily find jobs for those currently living in Egypt who are wasting away their lives at coffee shops,” said Fatima Ramadan, a member of Egypt’s independent Labour Union. “Returning workers will increase the number of the unemployed here.”
Regional unrest has increased pressure on the local job market. In the past six years, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who used to work in Libya, Syria and Yemen returned home, exacerbating Egypt’s employment situation.
In Libya, Egyptian workers were targeted by radical groups believed to be backed by Qatar. In 2015, Cairo airlifted tens of thousands of workers from Libya after attacks against Egyptian workers surged.
The return of expat workers would deprive the national economy of funds they send to family members in Egypt. Egyptian workers in Qatar sent an estimated $1.2 billion in remittances to Egypt every year. In 2016, remittances from Egyptian workers abroad amounted to $22 billion, which was important to the struggling national economy.
It is unclear how many Egyptians had returned from Qatar. Mamdouh said he was aware of hundreds of others who have made the journey and of many more considering returning.
Although he started searching for a job as soon as he returned, his efforts have proved fruitless. Sohag is among several southern provinces with the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Egypt.
Instead of staying home, Mamdouh started working with a relative at a mobile phone services shop in his village.
“This will be temporary until I find another permanent job,” Mamdouh said. “I know that finding this job will not be easy but I will keep trying.”