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07/23/2020 13:38

“Migrant Dreams” – Dreams, Expectations and Goals of Egyptian Migrant Workers in the Gulf States

Presse-und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)
Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren Berlin e.V. (GWZ)

    In his most recent book “Migrant Dreams. Egyptian Workers in the Gulf States” (AUC Press 2020), Samuli Schielke explores the question: Which dreams for a good, or at least better life, motivate migrant workers? He argues that migration may be motivated by different expectations, yet the experiences of labour migrants often set limits to their imagination. The exploitative conditions under which migrant workers in Europe and the Gulf states live compel them to focus their efforts on realistic projects that can be measured in terms of money, such as building a house and starting a family.

    The Arab Gulf states are infamous for their harsh laws that enforce the obedience of the migrant worker majority of the population, through which the extravagant standard of living of the citizens is secured. Nevertheless, in Europe and beyond similar conditions exist as well. The Coronavirus pandemic has accentuated the health risks and the economic consequences of the safety measures that itinerant and migrant workers all over the world are facing. Uncertainty over dismissals and salaries, and forced returns to their country of origin worsen the situation of people who already are confronted with discrimination and exploitation.

    In his new book, Samuli Schielke devotes himself to questions that have become ever more pressing within the context of the pandemic. Throughout one decade of ethnographic fieldwork, he studied the hopes and expectations of Egyptian migrants in the Gulf states. Which dreams of a better life prompted their migration? How are their wishes and goals influenced by their situation? What impact does the migration process, together with its economic and legal precarities, have in turn on their dreams of a better life? Furthermore, how do these dreams influence their social surroundings, such as their families and community upon returning home?

    Migrant Dreams is based on conversations with Egyptian men from a low-income, rural background, who migrated to the Gulf states. A majority of them returned to their home country within few years, but migrated again in the last decade. In their conversations these men reflect on their goals and dreams that they hoped to achieve through migrating. The story of a man named Tawfiq leads the reader through the book. A man of poor, rural beginnings, he faces the the same processes, has many of the same dreams, and encounters the same obstacles as millions of others. As an extraordinarily talented observer of his community, and as a poet who also pursues some other dreams, Tawfiq develops ideas his conversations with the author that help to understand the world they live in in a more comprehensive fashion.

    Migrant Dreams is a book that both narrates and analyses. The stories of Tawfiq and the other labour migrants offer an important insight for those interested in the lives and experiences of migrant workers, beyond their typical representations in the media. The book also makes a theoretical argument about how dreams and ambitions contribute to the shape of economy, politics, and power relations between the rich and the poor.

    The anthropologist Samuli Schielke has been working as a research fellow at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) since 2009. From 2008 to 2014 he worked together with the artist and curator Daniela Swarowsky on the documentary films “Messages from Paradise” #1 and #2 (from 25 July accessible online for free under http:/, that questions the dream of a better life away from home. Since this year, Schielke works on the research project “The Search for a Normal Life”, funded by the Fritz Thyssen foundation. This project addresses a key paradox of globalisation: the possibility of a stable, normal life at home relies on destabilising processes of growth, expansion, and mobility. Central to his research are the trajectories of men from rural regions in northern Egypt, that stretch along trans-local migration networks in Egypt to Western Europe and the Gulf states.

    Interviews with Samuli Schielke can be arranged in English, German, Arabic and Finnish. Please consult with Lena Herzog via

    Contact for scientific information:

    Dozent Dr. Samuli Schielke:

    Original publication:

    Samuli Schielke: Migrant Dreams. Egyptian Workers in the Gulf States. The American University in Cairo Press 2020, 137 pp.:

    More information:

    http://CV Samuli Schielke:
    http://Research project “The Search for a Normal Life“:
    http://Documentary “Messages from Paradise“ #1 und #2:

    Criteria of this press release:
    Journalists, Scientists and scholars, Students, all interested persons
    Cultural sciences, History / archaeology, Social studies
    transregional, national
    Research results, Scientific Publications

    Book cover "Migrant Dreams"

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