Migration of young Arab brains!


By Doaa Hussein

Young Arab brains are the fuel of innovation and development in the Middle East, they constitute about 60 per cent of its population. However, little care is given about the fundamental role that their creativity can play in the progress of the already sluggish Arab economies.

According to a survey conducted by Sila Tech – a research centre – in 2010, about 26 per cent of the surveyed Arab youth want to migrate to other developed countries in search for better opportunities.

On the other hand, 2012 witnessed a vast return of intelligentsia to their origins, in the aftermath of the Arab spring revolutions, since they felt the need for change, that was dominating the region at that time, but this did not last long. Reportedly, western countries embraced about 50 per cent of Arab scientists, doctors, engineers, and other university graduates of different sectors.

The attractive conditions of western countries lured 80 per cent of Arab post graduate students to pursue their studies abroad (almost 54 per cent do not return back to their countries), which is equal to around an annual $2bn loss to the Arab World.

Another study conducted by the Arab League’s Department of Population and Migration Policies, unveiled that 70 per cent of graduated talents sought job opportunities overseas, due to the high unemployment rates in the Middle East.

Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon are considered the highest countries suffering from brain drain. For instance, Egyptian migrants in the OECD are mostly highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, engineers and teachers. More than three quarters of Egyptian immigrants in the USA, or in other OECD countries, hold a university degree.


The Arab league report for migration reported earlier that unemployment rate in Middle East countries reached 26.2 per cent, which means that about a quarter of university graduates face the devastating wait hood.

Most Arab countries lack sources of personal and professional innovation, consequently leading to high immigration of its talents (In Egypt, unemployment among people holding a tertiary degree is even higher than among those without higher education, as per  the World Bank’s report in 2008).


The Arab league report classified immigration in the Arab World to three paradigms: south-north, south-south, mix of both.

The first paradigm addresses the migration from developing countries to more developed countries.  According to a research report by Philippe Fargue and Christine Fandrich, that was published in 2012, the main receiving countries of Arab migrants in Europe are Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Egyptian, Lebanon and Syrian citizens claim the largest portion of Arab migrants in the previously mentioned countries, in search of better opportunities.  On a different note, turmoil and political unrest lead to the increase of Egyptian migrants from 2007 to 2011, with 19 per cent to Germany, 22 per cent to the UK, 45 per cent to Spain and 58 per cent to Italy, according to the research.

The second paradigm targets migration from Arab countries to other more developed Arab neighbours.

Surprisingly, other countries in the Middle East boast an absorption source of their neighbours’ talents, including UAE, KSA, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.  Linked-in reported in 2014 that UAE claimed the highest number of Arab migration to its land, with a high 1.9 per cent. The economic and political stability, as well as the advanced modernisation, prompted large numbers of non-Emirati Arab graduates to feel proud of being part of the UAE community.

In addition to that, Saudi Arabia boasts the 4th rank in the number of migrants (there are more than 9 million foreign workers in KSA).  According to the Arab League report for migration in 2014, which is based on UNDP indices, there is a hike in the number of Arab migrants to Gulf countries, increasing from 2.7 per cent in 2000 to 4.7 per cent in 2013, with an annual growth of 4.7 per cent.

Egyptian migration to the Gulf scored the highest, with 2.5 million in 2013, followed by 773 thousand Yemeni migrants.  Low population, accompanied by high development, made the Gulf the perfect destination for Arab workers.

The importance
of scientific research:

Scientific research and technical sectors are considered the two main pillars of progress in any country.

This was completely absorbed by western countries which are spearheading to a new world of innovation where humans can live on ‘Mars’.

In contrast, some Arab countries are lagging too far behind in this area, where a meagre 0.02 per cent of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is dedicated to scientific research, whilst industrial countries allocate almost 3 or 4 per cent of their GDP to the same sector.

Thus, there is no doubt of the reasons that around 100,000 scientists, doctors and engineers leave Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Tunis, Morocco and Algeria annually. 70 per cent of these scientists do not return home, while about 50 per cent of doctors, 23 per cent of engineers and 15 per cent of scientists move to Europe, United States and Canada, According to statistics obtained from the Arab League, ILO, and UNESCO.

In France, around one doctor in every 10 doctors is born in an Arab country.

“The Arab world still believes that state administration doesn’t depend on scientific research, and creativity,” said Dr Ibrahim Badran, head of future studies in Philadelphia University, to Jazeera Channel. He added “so rarely can we witness any Aarab country to resort to its experts in conflicts.”

Driving forces

1-Poor Economic climate

Nearly two thirds of the Middle East are branded as third world countries (underdeveloped) – characterised by poor money capital – and thus, lack opportunities. In contrast, globalisation offers great chances for Arab talents to unleash their creativity.

Arab students spend more than 19,000 hours in education, after graduation, they face high unemployment rates in their countries which eventually push them to migrate to other developed countries where they hope they can achieve their dreams.

“The continuous outflow of Arab brains means the loss of innovative skills, in exchange for specific amounts of money, and even if we gauged what we spent on these generations, the retarded economic and scientific states continue,” Dr Ibrahim Badran said, opposing the notion of fleeing in return for money.

2-Low income:

This is deemed to be the 2nd largest cause of brain drain. Arab talents receive very low average salaries in their own homeland, which crushes their dreams of marriage, and making prosperous future lives.

For instance, most Egyptian doctors, who work in state hospitals, earn a salary of L.E.1200 per month, which is considered the low average, accompanied with the relatively dipping annual rate of GDP allocated for health, which leads to rising numbers of doctors who migrate to other developed countries, mostly the Gulf.

Keys to Brain Gain:

“If globalisation is a river, we must build dams to generate power”, according to this proverb, the Arab League report for migration in 2014 presented two feasible paradigms for Arab countries to choose from.

The first paradigm can be witnessed in Northeast Asian countries, such as North Korea, which retrieved more than 70 per cent of its brains, through creating the same work environment that they had sought for in developed countries.

The second paradigm is more pragmatic, which allows the countries to benefit from expatriates, while still living abroad, through creating research networks, so that their homelands can keep up with the pace of innovation and development. This method was implemented by India, which is considered now a great hub for scientific research.




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