Between Divorce and Hardship: Stories of Egyptian Men Working in the Gulf


Between Divorce and Hardship: Stories of Egyptian Men Working in the Gulf

Photo credit: UN Women

The Ghorba it was an indirect reason that led to my divorce,” says Amr Alaaeldin, a 35-year-old Egyptian engineer based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Ghorba“, which loosely translates as “strangely,” is a term used to describe living in a country other than one’s own.

More than five million Egyptians work in the Arabian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia accounting for the majority of Egyptian immigrants. In the 1960s and 1970s, as Egypt’s population increased and its economic situation worsened, many Egyptians began to move to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries; the latter is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. With a growing demand for labor in the GCC, Egyptians sought better job opportunities and an improved standard of living. Unfortunately, however, many of those who emigrated without their families found themselves faced with strained family and romantic ties.

In September, Egyptian anthropologist Farah Hallaba launched “Being Borrowed,” a collaborative creative project addressing Egyptian migration to the Gulf. Based on their belief that this experience is “underrepresented and understudied”, the multi-output collective attempts to address temporality, family dynamics, belonging and more, through personal narratives.

Broken relationships and struggling homes

When Alaaeldin first traveled to Saudi Arabia for work, his wife accompanied him. After only a year, he realized that it would not be financially viable for her to stay with him. Between delayed salaries and rising expenses, Alaaeldin decided it was best for his wife and newborn to return to Egypt. Two years later, the rift between the couple grew and divorce was the final result.

Like Alaaeldin, Mohamed Hasan, 48, recalls that when he was graduating in 1998, it was a common phenomenon for ambitious people to leave Egypt in search of higher salaries, improved living standards, successful careers and stability after the retirement According to him, no one planned to work in Egypt after graduation.

Hasan, who currently resides in Kuwait and works in the health administration, traveled to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at two different times during his career. In 2000, he traveled there for the first time, only to return to Egypt in 2006. He decided to travel again in 2009 and returned once more in 2011, hoping for brighter financial opportunities in Egypt after the revolution He was disappointed to find that Egypt’s economy had only collapsed, prompting him to return to Saudi Arabia.

As a father of two, Hasan admits that his relationship with his son and daughter was definitely affected by the distance.

“I have a relationship with [my children] until today, but it is not very strong. Sometimes, unfortunately, I feel like it’s a bit financial[ly driven]Hasan explains.

From his experience, Hasan firmly believes that long distance relationships don’t work.

Through phone calls, video calls and instant messaging, many parents try to maintain and nurture the bond between themselves and their children. However, only a few manage to do so.

Many struggle to live independently of their families and, despite their attempts to adapt, often fail. However, returning to Egypt is rarely a viable option.

“Any husband who lives away from his wife or his children, or ends up with separation or divorce, and a bad relationship with his children, or his whole relationship with the family becomes cold; He becomes like a visitor to his own house,” Alaaeldin tells Egyptian Streets.

Despite the struggles, Alaaeldin would still choose to emigrate in retrospect, but this time along with his family.

“I originally planned to travel for five years. But I had no idea that my father would die, that my financial responsibilities to my family would increase, that health emergencies would arise, and so on,” says Alaaeldin.

Photo credit: UNICEF

Opportunities and priorities

Similarly, Adel Botros, who worked for several years in Qatar, initially planned to live there for a maximum of two or three years. Currently retired and settled in Egypt, Botros remembers that the hardest thing about being away was not seeing his daughter grow up.

“Life in the Gulf is very expensive, so it wasn’t practical for my wife and daughter to live with me when I was traveling,” adds Botros.

“Although I definitely wish I could have lived with my daughter here in Egypt, if I had stayed, I would not have been able to offer [my wife and daughter] the life they lived or give my daughter the opportunity to do her bachelor’s degree in Canada and her master’s degree in France,” Botros tells Egyptian Streets.

Many men often travel to the Gulf with plans to stay for two to five years, hoping to earn enough money to return to Egypt, buy a house and start a private business.

That said, not everyone who travels does so willingly: some are forced to.

Emotional struggles; between parents and children

Photo credit: Farah Hallaba, Being Borrowed

Maged Atta, a 57-year-old financial manager, never intended to travel; but when the company he worked for opened a new branch in the United Arab Emirates, he was forced to relocate. Still, he planned to stay for three years before returning to Egypt. However, since the company was still in its infancy, Atta and his wife decided it was too risky to move the whole family there.

To compensate for not living together, Atta’s wife and two daughters spent summer and winter holidays with him, and he used to travel to see them as often as he could.

Although Atta is grateful for his family bond, which he describes as strong, there were also many difficult days.

“My oldest daughter once told me she was emotionally tired of the hellos and goodbyes,” Atta recalls. “When she got older, she told me that she and her sister used to cry themselves to sleep and hide it from their mother because they knew she was under pressure to raise them alone here in Egypt.”

It is a common practice that when a member of the family lives abroad, the rest of the family hides from him the shortcomings that occur, the health emergencies, so as not to worry them.

This was the case of Atta’s family; She was never told about the emotional struggles they were facing. On the other hand, there were times when he, as a father, struggled alone.

Although traveling comes with its own challenges, many Egyptian men continue to choose to work in the Gulf rather than trying to make a living in Egypt.

With a struggling economy, an ongoing devaluation of the Egyptian pound, and Egyptians suffering constant price increases, migration to the Gulf is likely to continue, if not increase, in the coming years, even if it means severing family ties and ruining homes

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