Recent History

For the purpose of this website it is impossible to give justice to a complete history of recent events in the Middle East. However, we provide an outline of the key areas of crisis which have caused significant numbers of people to flee their homeland and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and in Western countries, such as Australia.

Map showing Arabs outside Arab countries
Map showing Arabs outside Arab countries. Source: --Arab League User (talk) 14:14, 21 June 2008 (UTC) / Arab Hafez at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It is important for service providers to have a background understanding of the socio-political factors which have caused mass migration and the eventual resettlement of Arabic speaking peoples to Australia. For many Arab migrants and refugees now living in Australia, their experience of war and trauma have contributed to the personal, socio-economic and cultural challenges which they now face as residents and participants of the broader Australian community.

Flag of Egypt.
Flag of Egypt. Image courtesy of

As with many other parts of the Middle East, Egypt was under Ottoman rule for centuries. In this period, the Egyptians had their own ruler and were at arm’s length of the Ottoman headquarters in Istanbul. After conflict with the French (Napoleon), the British and the Turks, the Egyptians asserted their position and provided Egypt the opportunity to develop its own infrastructure, navy, economy and trade relations with European powers.

European interests in Egypt were significantly represented through the presence of British and French officials and entrepreneurs in the thriving cities of Alexandria and Cairo during the 19th century. The strategically important role of Egypt as the link between Europe and Asia was marked by the 10 year construction of the Suez Canal, which was opened in 1869 with contributions and subsequent vested financial interests from European powers.

Decades of increasing conflicts between the British and Egyptian nationalists lead to the declaration of independence for Egypt in 1922. However, independence did not end the tensions between the ever present European interests, Egyptian royalists and Egyptian nationalists (Wafd).

Anti-European sentiment continued to grow and culminated in the 1950s and 1960s with the rise of pan Arab nationalism under Nasser. Additionally, the rise of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the Suez Canal crisis saw Egypt position itself firmly as the leading nation of the Arab world.

More recently, the political turbulence since the Arab Spring uprising (2011) has seen violence on the streets of cities across the nation and increasing uncertainty for the future, as Egyptians pursue reforms towards democracy. A key concern for supporters of democracy in Egypt is the resolution of the place for religion in secular political institutions.

Migrants/Refugees to Australia

The events of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in Egypt saw growing resentment towards residents of European descent who were predominantly those of the elite and middle classes. Their unwelcome presence caused many to leave Egypt and migrate to Western countries, including Australia.

In the early 20th century there were only a handful of Egyptians living in Australia. But after World War II the numbers of Egyptian born migrants arriving in Australia increased significantly. The diverse languages spoken by Egyptian born Australians reflect the multicultural character of the cosmopolitan cities of Alexandria and Cairo, from which they emigrated. Although many speak Arabic, there are significant numbers who speak Greek, Italian, French and English. Because of their multilingual skills, many worked as interpreters/translators for the government services in the 1960s and 1970s.

More recent arrivals from Egypt have been predominantly represented by Egyptians of the Coptic Orthodox religion who have fled persecution by the country’s growing Islamist movements.