Since the first oil boom of the mid-1970s, Egyptian laborers have flocked to Libya as a result of both free movement agreements and abundant job opportunities.
Although the number of Egyptian migrants in Libya tends to ebb and wane with the level of conflict, higher wage opportunities have nevertheless proven consistently attractive for Egypt’s chronically underemployed population.
The following timeline lays out some of the trade agreements that have encouraged Egyptians to seek better opportunities in Libya, although in recent years there have been more restrictions on travel.
The timeline also shows the development of recent events in Libya, including the ongoing targeting of Coptic Egyptian workers throughout 2014 and the rising numbers of Egyptians attempting to leave Libya as internal conflicts continue.
September 11, 1971: The 1971 Egyptian Constitution is ratified through a public referendum. The constitution allows for greater temporary and permanent migration from Egypt.
1973: Oil prices begin rising and a large market for foreign labor in Gulf countries — Iraq and Libya — develops.
1975: An estimated 370,000 Egyptian migrants are working in Arab countries.
1980: Egyptians working abroad increase to about one million.
1983: The Emigration and Sponsoring Egyptians Abroad Law is issued, guaranteeing the right to emigrate as per the constitution and setting up provisions for maintaining strong ties with Egyptians overseas.
1990: Egypt and Libya sign the Four Freedoms Act, which allows free movement across the border between the two countries and gives Egyptian and Libyan citizens the right to work in both countries.
1992: The UN imposes sanctions on Libya in an attempt to pressure it to hand over two citizens suspected of involvement with the blowing up of a PanAm airplane over Lockerbie in Scotland, in 1988. This causes a decrease in the flow of immigration from Egypt to Libya.
1996: 2.8 million Egyptians are working abroad.
February 4, 1998: The Community of Sahel-Saharan States or CEN-SAD is formed following a conference in Tripoli. Member states include Libya, Egypt and Sudan, among 21 other countries in North and Central Africa. The agreement is aimed at facilitating the free movement of individuals, freedom of residence, work, ownership and economic activity between member states.
1999: The Lockerbie suspects are handed over for trial in the Netherlands and United Nations sanctions are suspended, increasing the flow of Egyptian migrants to Libya.
2000: CAPMAS data shows that around 332,600 Egyptians are working abroad in Libya.
2004: Minister of manpower signs agreement requiring work permits for Egyptian migrants seeking to enter Libya.
March 8-14, 2007: A report from Al-Ahram at the time states that an estimated 35,000 Egyptians returned to Egypt due to new regulations from Libya’s Ministry of Manpower. The regulations require Egyptians to pay a monthly 25 Libyan dinar income tax, 14 dinars in insurance, 15 dinars for an Arab identity card and 60 dinars for an accredited work permit.
February 17, 2011: Libya’s “Day of Rage”: Thousands protest against Muammar Qadhafi’s rule across Libya. Qadhafi’s forces fire live ammunition at protesters, allegedly killing more than a dozen demonstrators. The “Day of Rage” is said to have launched the Libyan revolution. The unrest in Libya causes between 800,000 and 200,000 Egyptians to return home between February and November 2011. Before the Libyan revolution there were approximately two million Egyptians living abroad in Libya.
October 20, 2011: Qadhafi is killed and captured by rebel fighters in Sirte.
January 1, 2012: The Libyan government requires Egyptians to obtain work visas before entering Libya. The new visas don’t have to be long-term, they can be for 30 days in order to permit entry, but must be stamped by the Libyan National Transitional Council and the Libyan Embassy in Egypt.
December 31, 2013: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that by the end of 2013 the number of Egyptians working abroad in Libya is between 700,000 and 1.5 million. Remittances from these migrants amount to approximately US$33 million.
July 28, 2013: Libya decides to close the Musaid border with Egypt indefinitely following a series of assassinations in Libya’s eastern cities. Protesters in Libya attack the offices of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, whom they believe are responsible for the attacks.
August 12, 2013: Libya denies entry to over 2,000 Egyptians attempting to reenter the country following the Eid holidays in August, saying they did not have residency permits. Mada Masr’s report states that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced over 4,000 Egyptians entered Libya in 2013.
September 2, 2013: The Egyptian Consul in Tripoli is attacked by unknown assailants.
September 15, 2013: Two other Egyptians, a Muslim and a Copt, go missing in the Misrata area.
January 25, 2014: Armed men kidnap five Egyptian embassy staff in Tripoli. The Operation Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries (ORLR) claims responsibility for the action and demands the release of Shaaban Hadiya, the chairman of ORLR, in exchange for the four embassy staff. The embassy staff are released two days later to Egypt, as is Hadiya to Libya. The Egyptian Embassy closes its offices in Tripoli.
February 24, 2014: Unknown assailants kill seven Egyptians in the Libyan capital Benghazi. Media reports allege the killings were sectarian in nature, stating all the victims were Coptic Egyptians and were shot execution style through the head and chest.
March 29, 2014: Unidentified gunmen attack a fruit and vegetable market in Benghazi, opening fire on two Egyptian workers. The attacks result in the death of one of the workers and the tenth death in a series of murders targeting Egyptians in Libya in March. The Foreign Ministry calls on Egyptians living in Libya to take care and reasserts travel warnings, advising Egyptians to only visit Libya in urgent cases.
April 4, 2014: Armed Libyans detain 50 Egyptian truck drivers heading from Libya to Egypt. The captors are relatives of Libyan detainees in Egypt and call for their release.
May 15, 2014: The head of truck drivers in Kafr al-Sheikh reports that 350 drivers are taken hostage by militia forces in Libya and are taken to the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi. State-owned Al-Ahram reports their release two days later.
July 19, 2014: 22 members of the Armed Forces are killed in a drive-by shooting on Saturday near the Libyan border and the Farafra oasis. The Egyptian authorities promise to follow up on increased militant activity on the Libyan-Egyptian border in the aftermath of the fall of Qadhafi’s regime.
July 27, 2014: 23 Egyptian workers are killed in Tripoli following a rocket attack during the ongoing crisis between fighters from the town of Zintan and fighters from Misrata over control of the city. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry reiterates its statement urging all citizens to avoid traveling to Libya and calling for Egyptian residents in Libya to steer clear of the violence.
July 31, 2014: Armed assailants kill 15 Egyptians at the Libyan-Tunisian border as thousands of Egyptians attempt to cross. The gunmen are reportedly targeting Libyans attempting to blend in with the Egyptian crowd. At least 4,000 Egyptians trying to escape conflict-ridden Tripoli get stuck at the border.
August 25, 2014: Four Coptic Egyptians are kidnapped after armed men stop their car at a checkpoint in Sirte, as they attempt to return to Egypt. According to Amnesty International, the armed men force several Egyptians in the car to show their IDs and on discovering they are Copts, force them to get out of the vehicle and go to an unknown location. The Muslims are permitted to continue to Egypt. The fate of the Coptic Egyptians remains unknown. According to brother of three of the victims, they had decided to return home due to the escalating conflict in Libya.
August 26, 2014: Mina Shahat Awad, also an Egyptian Copt, is kidnapped from a checkpoint in Sirte as he attempts to return to Egypt. His fate also remains unknown. Since the Libyan uprising in 2011, Sirte has become the stronghold of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, according to Amnesty International.
October 15, 2014: The Associated Press reports Egyptian aircraft have been involved in the bombing of militias in Benghazi. However, Egypt’s presidential spokesperson denies the claims. AP quotes two unnamed military sources as saying, “use of the aircrafts was part of an Egyptian-led campaign against the militiamen that will eventually involve Libyan ground troops recently rained by Egyptian forces. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had previously denied that Egypt would intervene in Libya.
December 23, 2014: A Coptic Egyptian doctor and his wife are murdered in Sirte. Initial reports state their 18-year old daughter was kidnapped, but her body was also later discovered. A Libyan official states the crime was probably sectarian in nature as nothing was stolen from the couple’s home.
January 3, 2015: 13 Coptic Egyptians are abducted in Sirte by unidentified gunmen. The kidnappings are rumored to be sectarian in nature. A witness to the crime, Hanna Aziz, told the Associated Press that masked gunmen went from room to room in his building asking for identification papers to separate the Christians from the Muslims.
February 12, 2015: The Islamic State releases pictures of 21 abducted Coptic Egyptians in Libya wearing orange jumpsuits, handcuffed, blindfolded and driven by masked men along a beach.
February 15, 2015: IS publishes a graphic video showing the alleged beheading of the 21 abducted Coptic Egyptians. In response, Sisi dispatches the foreign minister to the United Nations Security Council, convenes the Defense Council to discuss the situation and declares a week of mourning.
February 16, 2015: Egypt in conjunction with Libyan forces launches airstrikes against houses allegedly sheltering IS militants in the eastern city Derna. The airstrikes kill 64 alleged Islamic State members and hit 95 percent of the intended targets, Libya’s military spokesperson Mohamed Hegazy reports. However, the New York based Human Rights Watch quotes a witness on the ground saying six civilians were killed in the air strikes, including three children.