Samir Mohammed, a 30-year-old peasant in this prospering Nile River village 25 miles south of Cairo, is restless again.
In 1980, he went to Libya, worked on a farm for three years, and brought back enough money to double his half-acre plot, build a modest mud-brick house, get married and buy animals and a television set. He even has a cassette recorder.
Now his savings are exhausted, and he wants to go abroad again, to Saudi Arabia if possible, because, as he says, "I got used to having a lot of money, and my land doesn't earn me that much." In his new-found wealth, opportunities and aspirations, Mohammed is a typical example of the 2 million to 3 million today. Together, they are sending back to their villages $6 billion to $10 billion annually.
These billions of dollars flowing from Egyptian workers in the Arab world to their families is transforming life in Egypt's villages radically, putting the social structure of this highly class-conscious nation in turmoil.
"A silent revolution," as sociologist Saad Iddin Ibrahim calls it, is taking place, whose full implications for the central government and Egyptian society are still only dimly perceived but are widely expected to be far-reaching.
Some Egyptian and American analysts see this revolution as part of the late president Anwar Sadat's "open-door policy," declared in 1974. That policy not only encouraged free enterprise and foreign investment but literally opened the door to mass Egyptian migration for the first time since the 1952 revolution. Sadat's policy coincided with the start of a decade of vast oil wealth in the Arab world that set off a boom in the sparsely populated Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and a tremendous demand for labor, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. In Iraq alone today, there are more than 1 million Egyptians, many settling down to stay.
Other economists see this revolution as a byproduct of the peace process that got under way in earnest in November 1977 with Sadat's historic trip to Jerusalem. This, they contend, allowed the government to release the work force from the war effort to go abroad and reap "a personal peace dividend."
The sweeping social change that has hit Egypt in the past decade has had a profound effect in the cities as well as in the villages.
In Cairo, the old social and intellectual elite seems totally disoriented in today's fast changes, struggling to find its bearing in a new economic landscape where even an Egyptian housemaid has become too costly to afford.
Today, an illiterate maid easily can earn twice the starting salary of a university graduate or teacher, and many wives working as secretaries in private firms bring home bigger paychecks than their husbands employed by the government.
Mohammed Heikal, an Egyptian writer and political commentator well-known abroad because of his close association with the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, discussed the upheaval in an interview at his own plush, wood-paneled apartment overlooking the Nile next to the Sheraton Hotel in Giza.
"The whole social and intellectual map is changing," he said. "What is needed is a social survey of Egypt. The layers have changed and are changing. It's the effect of education -- 9.5 million in our schools and universities -- and $6 billion from the Arab world."
"Nobody is trying to relocate who is who and what is what," he added in self-acknowledged bewilderment.
It is in the villages that the deepest changes seem to be taking place as Egypt's poorest come into heretofore unimaginable wealth and opportunities.
In the past decade, the standard farm wage has soared from a half pound -- less than a dollar -- for a dawn-to-dusk workday to five pounds for an eight-hour one complete with a meal, cigarettes and tea breaks.
Tenant farmers suddenly have become landowners, and illiterate peasants, or their sons, have become plumbers, carpenters and masons, earning $9 to $12 a day. This is four or five times the wages of the village teacher or civil servant.
Those going abroad -- from landless peasants to doctors, engineers and teachers -- are piling up savings that can equal the wealth of the big old families who once ruled the villages like lords and pashas but can no longer afford the high wages to keep their estates going.
"The returning workers put a lot of economic pressure, but also political pressure, on the villages," said Abdul-Moheim Mashat, a Cairo University professor who is studying the effects of this mass migration. "They are going to compete with the old, established order."
Mashat, a specialist in national security affairs, said in an interview that those returning may pose a danger not only to the dominant old families in the villages but to the central government as well.
They are coming home, he said, with "religion and new wealth," two factors making for far greater political activism and thus raising the potential for violence and social struggle.
"When those people came back, they will pressure the government to allow them to participate in politics. Unless the government adjusts to these demands, they will go into the opposition," he predicted.
So far, he does not see the ruling National Democratic Party making those adjustments. He cited an article in the local press in December that criticized it for having "no ties to the streets or the villages."
Mashat predicted that the opposition Wafd Party, which won 58 of the 448 seats in legislative elections last May, will be the main beneficiary of this migration and receive a "big push" in elections expected in 1989.
Since the old families have all joined the ruling party, the struggle of the "new rich" to displace them in the village social and economic hierarchy inevitably will pit them against the official party, Mashat said.
It is clear from even a brief visit to Dahshour and talks with peasants and other residents that much has changed in the ways of thinking and living in this booming village of 13,000.
At least 1,000 of its inhabitants have gone abroad already, and every day 15 more apply to the village council for passports, according to Nabil Abdulrazik Bayoum, a council member.
The story of the new wealth emerging from this mass migration, initially largely to Libya and now to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, can be told and seen in dozens of ways.
"Fifteen years ago, if you had come here in a car you would have been mobbed," Bayoum said. "Today, there are 50 to 60 cars and trucks in the village and nobody notices."
Houses are no longer built with mud but with red-clay brick, and one can tell immediately from the size and fancy designs on their facades which family has sent a son or father abroad and which has not yet.
A telltale sign of the new wealth, according to Bayoum, is the cost of land. A decade ago, an acre cost about 1,000 pounds -- about $1,200 at the current official exchange rate. today, a plot called a qirat, 175 square yards -- about 1/27th of an acre -- costs seven to eight times that amount.
Land has become so costly and fragmented into qirats that the consolidation of plots into larger tracts to allow for mechanization of agriculture has become extremely difficult. A big business today is selling off these tiny plots for construction of buildings, a main factor in Egypt's loss of 1 million acres of agricultural land in the past 12 years.
Three village council members who gathered to talk here recently said the real sense of Dahshour's new wealth cannot be appreciated fully from the soaring land prices or the new homes, either.
Television sets, for example, have invaded the village, and "100 percent" of Dahshour homes, they insisted, now have one.
Television sets have become a controversial symbol of "progress" in Egyptian villages. The Cairo press in early January complained that Egypt's peasants no longer work as hard as they used to. It blamed the problem on the coming of electricity and television to the villages.
Asked whether this was true, Bayoum and his assistant, Abdul-Moneim Ebeid, agreed. Both are agricultural extension agents for the village council.
"Television has decreased production, definitely," Bayoum said. "They spend the night watching TV and don't have energy to work the next day." In addition, he said, "workers have enough money not to work if they don't want to."
Another sign of what the Cairo press sees as peasant "laziness" causing the decline of the Egyptian village as a productive unit has been the trend to build bakeries and buy flour from the cities instead of growing it locally. Subsidies on flour made it cheaper to buy it from the state than to grow wheat before the government raised prices. Farmers also have used subsidized bread to feed their cattle because it is cheaper than fodder.
The usual pattern of family life in the Egyptian village today is for one member to go abroad and stay however long it takes to save enough money to set up a business.
"It's the people who don't have enough money to start life here who go abroad and stay two or four years," explained Ebeid. "First they want a house and land. Then they buy a small shop, a car or truck or something to make money."
Ebeid is a good example. His cousin went to Libya and with the $24,000 he saved up, they built a two-story building on the family's quarter-acre plot to raise chickens. They buy 10,000 one-day-old chicks, then raise and sell them in batches in a 45-day cycle.
Ebeid, 25, who learned iron-welding at a vocational school, said they could have bought more land with the same capital but "the profits are better because everyone needs chickens and eggs." There are now eight such poultry projects around Dahshour.
Ebeid, who has a fiance, has set his eyes on adding a third floor to the chicken building and then putting up a house before he gets married. An interesting side effect of the new wealth in the villages is that many more men are marrying second wives, according to Mashat.
Bayoum, 30, is even more ambitious. He has a degree in agricultural engineering from Cairo University but is now working for a master's degree in literature so he can get a better job teaching in Saudi Arabia, or another Arab gulf country. He plans to stay abroad for five years.
A teacher with a master's degree can save up to $12,000 a year in Saudi Arabia, he said. In Dahshour, a teacher earns only about $600 to $720 a year.
Teachers earn so little in Egypt that Dahshour is in full crisis because "they have all gone abroad," according to Bayoum and other residents.
Bayoum has no intention of remaining a teacher, however. He plans to buy agricultural machinery and rent it out to farmers around here when he come back.
It is not just opportunities for new jobs and wealth that have radically changed for Egyptian villagers. Their thinking has too.
"Traveling abroad has changed ideas, particularly the idea about the importance of education," Bayoum said.
"People are not only more aware of education, they are even trying to limit the number of children. They understand there are too many babies," added Ebeid.
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