Citizens Abroad: Emigration and the State in the Middle East and North Africa

Brand, Laurie A.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-521-10091-5, 246 pp.
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Ángela Suárez Collado

PhD candidate, Department of Arab and Islamic Studies,

Universidade Autónoma de Madrid,

(Translated from Spanish by Ann Barrington)

In Citizens Abroad, Laurie Brand sets out to fill the gap in migration studies concerning migratory flows and international movements between sending and receiving countries. She centres her book on an analysis of the emigration-control policies implemented by four MENA (Middle East and North African) countries, presenting a study of institutions established abroad by these countries for their expatriate communities, distinct from their embassies and consulates.

The first part sets out the author’s theoretical approach, which is based on three fundamental themes: migration policies, and literature on migration; transnationalism as a theoretical framework; and the concept of ‘the sovereignty of the State’. Brand starts from the premise of considering the State not as a passive point of exit and entry, but rather as a body of institutions with policies and practices which have their own role to play within the migration process. In order to understand their full reach, one must study them through the lens of transnationalism. Secondly, from a perspective located within the stated transnational paradigm, Brand considers the establishment of these bodies by using five different categories of analysis: history; international policy (concerning questions of host-country discrimination against their emigrants, and the need to preserve their loyalty); national economy (ensuring that emigrants do not lose their links with their country of origin, and that they continue to send remittances home); internal politics (faced with the possibility that new political forces might receive support from abroad); and security/stability (with the aim of ensuring that expatriate communities, sometimes formed by political exiles, do not destabilise their country of origin).

The whole theoretical concept that Brand builds in the first part of the book is complemented by the concepts that she develops concerning the historical development of the idea of ‘sovereignty’. Taking into account that these new practices and these new bodies are only the empirical expression of the renegotiation process which the State is carrying out regarding its own role and the capacity of its sovereignty, Brand defines as centrally important the need to differentiate the political community, which is determined by the territorial limits of the State, from the possession of citizenship. Both questions mean that these countries are attempting to reintegrate their expatriates and their descendants within their realm of authority, contributing to the collective redefinition of their sovereignty, which according to Brand has already surpassed its Westphalian definition (which conceives of nation-state sovereignty in terms of the principles of territoriality and the exclusion of external actors from domestic power structures).

The second part of the book is composed of four case studies. The two North African countries analysed are Tunisia and Morocco. Tunisia, according to Brand, is increasingly initiating a more markedly interventionist migration policy. In both case studies, complicated institutional flow-charts are developed in order to explain the state’s control of the labour market. As both countries have regarded their nationals’ exit abroad as an escape valve to relieve internal pressure on labour, the concern of the governments for their nationals abroad results in the establishment of ‘friendly societies’ which serve as an instrument of political control. There are other institutions, such as the Hassan II Foundation in the case of Morocco, and the Office for Tunisians Abroad in the case of Tunisia, which aim to maintain links of loyalty, especially economic links.

In the cases of Lebanon and Jordan, the relationship of both countries with their nationals abroad is determined by their respective historical development, which is conflictive in terms of both politics and identity. In the case of Lebanon, the expatriate communities play an important role in the life of the country: with a political system based on denominational affiliation, the different governments have tried to use these to their own advantage. As an example of a transnational body, Brand analyses the Lebanese World Cultural Union, created as a means of connecting the diaspora economically, culturally, and socially with Lebanon.
The case of Jordan, which did not consider the economic aspect of migration until the economic crisis of the 1980s, is given fairly summary attention. The main problem resides in controlling a Palestinian identity within its territory: Palestinian expatriates questioned the sovereignty and legitimacy of the Jordanian government but now, according to the author, with the passing of decades they pose no risk at all in terms of loyalty towards their adopted country.

In short, Brand examines, through her analysis of these case studies, the determining factors in the development of one or other policy towards respective expatriate communities: policies which result from the specific historico-political context, the systems of government of the sending and host countries, and the nature of a country’s sovereignty. Citizens Abroad leaves the door open to continue delving more deeply into the subject by means of a comparative study of policy, making it a highly recommended book for all those who study or work in the field of migration.