Immigration of Arab Elites to the EU

Arab immigration series 2/3

By Professor Bichara Khader
Director of the Center of Studies and Research on the Contemporary Arab World
Catholic University of Louvain



The overwhelming majority of expatriate Arabs, or of Arab origin, residing in Europe consists of workers. But this should not obscure either the emergence of a new class of small entrepreneurs, civil servants, and employees, nor a fortiori, the presence of an Arab elite present in all fields: medicine, architecture, pharmacy, banking, literature, music, culture, arts and sports.

Reference is often made to England, and especially London, where are concentrated near two-thirds of the 300,000 Arabs residing in the country. But France remains the focal point of this elite (Cf. Rudolf Al-Kareh: “Al-Fikr al-arabi di Farança” in Chou’un Arabiyyah, 2002, no.109, pp.61-66), and for several reasons:

  1. the fact that France receives nearly 4 million of the 6 million Arabs settled in EU countries;
  2. The colonial past of France in the Maghreb;
  3. The links inherited from the French mandate in Syria and Lebanon;
  4. The reception given by France to Arab exiles and religious and political opponents (including Lebanese, Syrian, Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian);
  5. The mass exodus to France of thousands of professionals and intellectuals during and after the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1989;
  6. The emigration of many Arab newspapers and magazines in Paris;
  7. The positive role played by the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris as an important cultural center and indispensable link between intellectuals and Arab communities;
  8. The proliferation of publishers interested in Arab themes and translations of Arabic texts such as Sindbad, Actes Sud or Publisud, and academic journals (Journal of Palestine Studies, Arabies, etc…);
  9. The significant breakthrough of Arab professionals and managers in the sectors of industry, hotels, restaurants and banking;
  10. The emergence of a true generation of French writers from the Maghreb and Mashreq countries who have built a magnificent place in the world of literature and art, some of whom have won prestigious prizes such as the Prix Goncourt (Tahar Ben  Jelloun and Amin Ma’alouf);
  11. The emergence of an Arab elite in the world of music, both traditional, Ray (Khaled), and classical (Abdel Rahman Pasha, a Lebanese pianist, winner of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition);
  12. The breakthrough of immigrants of Arab background in the fields of film, theater, animation, television and sport;

To varying degrees, these elites play an important role in the literary, musical, cultural and sporting landscapes of France. Nevertheless, they are less present in the « political » and « media » systems. In addition, they do not see themselves as a sort of bridge between Europe and the Arab world, because, although concerned by what happens in the Arab world, they are reluctant to support Arab regimes, of which they are often very critical. Moreover, these elites operate individually and do not consider themselves an « organized lobby » capable of influencing policy makers. First, they are not organized as « pressure groups”, which they refuse to be as their origins and ideological affiliations are diverse and their relationships with countries of origin are problematic either because they are too critical of the regimes in power.

Nevertheless, by their presence, increasingly visible and recognized in many areas, they help correct some of the negative images about Arabs and Muslims and have become an integral part of the economic, cultural, intellectual and sporting landscapes of their host countries.