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Egypt: Update to EGY14773.E of 14 July 1993 regarding treatment of Palestinians, especially whether there are restrictions on Palestinians (or non-Egyptians generally) attending university, obtaining employment and owning business

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 15 January 2001
Citation / Document Symbol EGY36158.E
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Egypt: Update to EGY14773.E of 14 July 1993 regarding treatment of Palestinians, especially whether there are restrictions on Palestinians (or non-Egyptians generally) attending university, obtaining employment and owning business , 15 January 2001, EGY36158.E, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The following information on the Palestinian refugees in Egypt can be found in a study by Abdel Qader Yasin, a Palestinian journalist living in Egypt, published by BADIL-Resource Center for Palestinian and Refugee Rights:


It is almost impossible to determine the exact number of Palestinian refugees in Egypt. There was no census of refugees in 1948, in part because of political sensitivity about refugees in the country. Some estimates placed the number of initial refugees at around 11,600. By 1960, the number of Palestinian refugees in Egypt had reached about 15,500 and reside in 14 Egyptian districts. The number of Palestinians climbed to 33,000 in 1969. In 1976, Palestinians comprised the largest number (29.3%) of all non-Egyptian Arabs in Egypt. Iraqis were next at 19.9%. Jordanians at that time formed about 5.65% of all Arabs in Egypt. A high percentage of Jordanians, however, were Palestinians holding the Jordanian citizenship since they were settled either in the East or West Bank of the Jordan River. In the 1980s the number of Palestinian refugees reached 35,500 with some 8,000 of this total regarded as residing illegally in Egypt.

In spring 1995, the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior announced that the government had conducted a count of Palestinian Gazans who were residents in Egypt and holders of Egyptian travel documents. According the Interior Ministry there were 89,000 Palestinians in this category. The survey also revealed that there were about 10-20,000 Palestinians residing in Egypt without official permits. Palestinians who entered Egypt in 1948 numbered about 35,000 in spring 1995. The total number of Palestinians residing in Egypt reached 135,000-145,000. The number of Palestinians holding Egyptian travel permits reached 257,000 in 1996, but this number cannot be regarded as the exact number of Palestinians in Egypt. Many Palestinians who possess Egyptian travel documents are forbidden from entering Egypt and thus find residence and employment elsewhere.

Employment Status

Initially, Palestinians who fled to Egypt were forbidden to work. This prohibition included voluntary work. The government of Mohammed Fahmi al-Nakrashi, believed that "work [would] make the Palestinians forget their homeland." This attitude resulted in discrimination against the Palestinian refugees in many areas in addition to employment, including residence and travel.

Discrimination against Palestinians was relaxed somewhat with the 1952 revolution. In 1954, a series of laws were drawn up which accorded Palestinians the same employment rights as Egyptian nationals. Professionals, such as doctors, midwives, and dentists were accorded the same rights of employment as Egyptian nationals. Palestinians also received treatment in Egyptian hospitals and medication without charge. In addition, Palestinians, unlike other Arabs residing in Egypt, were granted commercial licenses and were able to import and export goods.

In the early 1960s, Palestinians in Egypt were employed as professionals in industry, economics, construction, and other areas. Palestinians also worked in the service sector in restaurants and hotels etc. During the 1960s, moreover, opportunities abounded for investment by Palestinian capitalists. Approximately 20 Palestinians owned medium sized factories; another 55 owned real estate, including hotels, while 15 owned farms. Many others invested in construction. Between 1967 and 1973, Palestinians in Egypt owned about 222 commercial establishments, including 58 restaurants and shops, 74 clothing and jewelry shops, 32 tourist agencies and trading offices, 46 leather factories and many others in manufacturing.

The advent of the Sadat regime with the sudden death of Nasser in 1970, however, brought with it a period in which life became more and more difficult for Palestinians. After the murder of the well-known Egyptian writer Yousef al-Seba'i in Larnaka, Cyprus on 18 February 1978, by Abu Nidal, the persecution of Palestinians increased. Palestinians began to face an increasing number of obstacles and legal restrictions reminiscent of the collective punishment used by British Mandate authorities and Zionist forces in Palestine during the Second World War (1939-1945) and after 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza.

New legislation in 1978 stripped away the status of Palestinians; no longer were Palestinians considered to hold the same employment status as Egyptian nationals. The Ministry of Labor decided to bar Palestinians from trade and commerce. Unlike other foreigners, only those who had been married to Egyptian women for more than five years were excluded from these two decisions. Palestinians were also denied the right to own cultivated land. Egyptian women married to Palestinians were treated the same way. These new laws drove many Palestinians to the Gulf States.

According to a 1985 census, 86.5% of all Palestinians (above the age of six) were employed. Women comprised only 8.1% of all Palestinian laborers. About a third of the laborers were self-employed, with the remaining employed in the public or private sectors. The reason for the small number of workers in agriculture is related to the lack of cultivated land. Additionally, Palestinians themselves preferred to stay in the Egyptian cities rather than the countryside. Most of them directed their efforts, therefore, towards industry, commerce, and other similar sectors. Approximately 2,500 Palestinians are managing investments worth 15-20 million Egyptian pounds in hotels, restaurants, transportation, and many other services.


In 1955 Palestinian students began to receive assistance from the Egyptian government. In 1965-66 about 1,192 students received 48 Egyptian pounds each (about US$110). Those who excelled in their studies received 100 Egyptian pounds. Enrollment of Palestinian students in Egyptian universities increased rapidly until it reached 5,642 students (from the Gaza Strip only) in mid fifties and sixties. Palestinian and Egyptian students alike were exempt from university fees. The number of government scholarships to Palestinians at that time reached about 1,030.

Since the early 1960s, many Palestinians who were active in the Palestine Student's Union became active leaders of the resistance including, for example, Yasser Arafat, Salah Khalaf, Farouq al-Kadoumi, Tayseer Koba'a, Amin al-Hindi, Zuhair al-Khateb, Nadim Khoury, Mo'in Basaso, Lutfi Ghantos and Dr. Kamal al-Khalidi.

This situation came to an end, however, with the killing of al-Seba'i. In 1978, the Egyptian Minister of Education announced that Palestinians would not be allowed to study at government schools. Those students whose parents were working with the special 'Ayn Jaloot Units, and those students whose parents worked in public sectors in Gaza were exempt from this new restriction. New laws resulted in significant hardships for Palestinian students. Students were required to pay fees (about 600-1200 pounds sterling) and were forbidden from entering certain colleges such as medicine, pharmacology, science, politics, economics, and journalism.

With the implementation of this legislation, the number of Palestinians students in Egypt was reduced to 10% of that before the signing of the Camp David Accords. Following the signing of the Accords hundreds of Palestinian students were arrested and imprisoned in Cairo, Alexandria, and Asyut. A number of Palestinian writers and journalists were also arrested and deported to Baghdad at their own expense.

Political Situation

In the early 1950s several clubs, like the Arab Palestine Club, were established in Egypt to strengthen the relationship between Palestinians and Egyptians, provide assistance, and raise awareness about the Palestinian refugee situation. As soon as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in summer of 1964, it adopted Cairo as a center for its offices. Permission to open a radio station, The Voice of Palestine, was granted by Egyptian authorities in the same year. After the war in 1967, the Egyptian authorities allowed Fateh to work in public. A second radio station operated by Fateh was opened following the battle of al-Karama, Jordan in March 1968. The two stations were unified a year later.

The Popular Front, on the other hand, had to secretly open an office in Cairo under the name of the Bahranian Liberation Front. Fateh, also, was not immune from the changing political conditions in Egypt. In 1974, Egyptian authorities closed down the party's radio station after it aired criticism of Egyptian acceptance of the Roger's Plan to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The station, however, was later re-opened. Members of both the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine also faced arrest and deportation by the Egyptian security police. Palestinian members of the communist parties faced a similar fate after the Camp David Accords.

Palestinians in Egypt also organized unions. In 1963, about fifty Palestinian women formed the Palestinian Women's League, which eventually became part of The General Union of the Palestinian Woman in 1965. Another union for worker's rights was also established in 1965, but shifted its activities to Damascus after the Camp David Accords. The General Union of Palestinian Writers adopted Cairo as its center following its establishment in 1966. A second writer's union, the General Union of Palestine Writers and Journalists, which was formed in Beirut in 1972, also opened a branch in Egypt. This branch continued until the Camp David Accords when four of its member were arrested and deported.

Only Fateh was allowed to work openly along with members of the Palestinian National Council. Nevertheless, other parties continue to garner support from Palestinians in Egypt. In fact, most of the Palestinian community in Egypt remains opposed to the Oslo Accords. This opposition finds substance in the writings of Palestinians like Dr. Ahmed Sudki al-Dajani, Moh'd Khalid al-Az'ar and the author (1999).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Yasin, Abdel Kader. 1999. Palestinian Refugees in Egypt. Bethlehem: BADIL. [Accessed 10 Jan. 2001]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

One source did not respond to an information request

Journal of Palestinian Studies

Middle East International

Middle East Report

The Middle East


Internet sites including:


Human Rights Watch


Amnesty International

Revue d'études palestiniennes

Le Monde diplomatique


Les 100 portes du Proche-Orient

Middle East Review of International Affairs

Across Borders Project

Arab Human Rights Association

The Palestinian Return Center

Institute for Palestinian Studies

Refugee Working Group


Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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