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Diaspora Impact on Homeland Politics

As the same factors explain both emigration and revolt could it be that emigrants, or some of them, played a direct role in revolts and the process of political change that followed? Put in other terms, was exit, sometimes, transformed into voice? This could happen through different channels: the return of migrants or exiles to take part in the revolution, their participation in elections in their homeland, or their contribution to disseminating ideas that, in turn, affect political developments, often referred to as political remittances.

Return of Exiles

From the outset it must be said that the revolts in Arab countries were conducted from within by local people and owe very little to the direct involvement of diasporas. It is true that several high-profile figures of the Arab Spring have a history of migration or exile. This is the case in Tunisia. There, the winner of the first post-revolution presidential election, Moncef Marzouki, and the leader of the Islamist party Ennahda, which won the 2011 parliamentary elections, Rached Ghannouchi, both returned from a long exile in Europe just days after former President Ben Ali was ousted.

In Egypt several popular figures of the Revolution were at the time established abroad. Take Mohamed Elbaradei, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and overt opponent to President Mubarak; or Wael Ghonim, the internet activist, whose Facebook page—run from Dubai—provided, in real time, key information on developments during the Midan Tahrir demonstrations in Cairo. In the case of Syria, the main opposition institution, the Syrian National Council, was created abroad (in Istanbul in 2011) by exiles of the Muslim Brotherhood and other political movements.

In the other countries of the Arab Spring—in particular Libya, Yemen and Bahrain—no eminent figure of the uprisings seems to have come from the diaspora and such figures’ experience abroad was at best a few years spent overseas as students or civil servants.

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