University of Sussex at Brighton

Centre for the Comparative Study of Culture, Development

and the Environment (CDE)


Rural-to-Urban Labor Migration: A Study of Upper Egyptian

Laborers in Cairo



Ayman G. Zohry


 A Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil.) Thesis


Copyright Statement: It is a condition of use of this thesis that anyone who consults it must recognize that the copyright rests with the author and that no quotation from the thesis and no information derived from it may be published unless the source is properly acknowledged. If you cite or quote from this document, please observe the conventions of academic citation in a version of the following form:


Zohry, A. (2002) "Rural-to-Urban Labor Migration: A Study of Upper Egyptian Laborers in Cairo", unpublished DPhil. thesis, University of Sussex.


For further inquiries, contact Ayman Zohry,



This thesis is about rural–urban migration in Egypt. Its key aim is to analyze the rural–urban mobility strategy chosen by young men from villages in Upper Egypt (the southern part of the country) who move to Cairo. The empirical base of the study is made up of 242 questionnaire-based interviews with Upper Egyptian labor migrants in Cairo, supplemented by 20 more detailed interviews of such migrants and a period of fieldwork in selected villages of origin. Widespread use is also made of Egyptian census data to derive the quantitative estimates of the phenomenon; however the usefulness of this exercise is only partial given that not all rural–urban movement is actually recorded by the census.


The phenomenon of rural–urban mobility is examined within a broader set of macro-scale issues which are of concern to the Egyptian government as well as to social researchers. These issues include: the rapid but uneven nature of Egyptian modernization and urbanization given the socio-economic disparities between Lower and Upper Egypt; the hyper-growth of Greater Cairo with its 24 million inhabitants; the nature of Egyptian employment trends and the informal economy; and the long-term demographic trends of a country whose distribution of population remains uniquely spatially concentrated, and whose annual rate of population growth (2.1 percent), though falling, is still high.


The results of the study show that the motives for migrating are overwhelmingly economic and linked to the support and survival of the family base in the village. Key migration factors are unemployment, very low incomes, lack of rural job opportunities, landlessness and bad living conditions in rural Upper Egypt. Cairo offers higher wages, more regular work, a more exciting life (for some) and, most important of all, the chance to remit cash in order to support family members at home in the village. Migration thus improves the material quality of life for rural families and contributes to poverty alleviation, at least in part. For many rural laborers working in Cairo, migration is a waiting game until they can find permanent and more secure job opportunities in their villages, especially in the public sector. However, for many, such hopes are illusory and hence to-and-fro migration will continue. Meanwhile the construction sector in Cairo is crucially dependent on Upper Egyptian laborers who provide a cheap and flexible source of labor for this burgeoning activity.


Table of Contents


                        Front Matter (cover page, dedication, acknowledgments, contents, etc.)

Chapter 1         Introduction

Chapter 2         The Egyptian Setting

Chapter 3         Rural–Urban Migration in Egypt and Other Developing Countries: A Statistical and

                        Literature Review

Chapter 4         Research Questions and Methodology

Chapter 5         Who Are The Migrants and Why Do They Migrate?

Chapter 6         Work Status and Experiences of Migrants

Chapter 7         Living Conditions in Places of Origin And Destination

Chapter 8         Family, Population Issues, and Plans For The Future

Chapter 9         Conclusions


Appendix: Questionnaire Survey



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