Riham Kabbani


The Syrian "Exodus" is the biggest assemblage of refugees affecting not just neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey, comprising 95% of the Syrian refugees, but also European states, following refugees' decisions to undertake the "Death Journey" by crossing the Mediterranean Sea (Pierini & Hackenbroich, 2015). Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011 the refugee crisis involves at least 11 million Syrians, from which 6.3 million are displaced and 13.5 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance due to inexorable conditions (Mercy Corps, 2017) Protracted refugees situations take from five to twenty years. Numbers of Syrian refugees, who are hosted in Egypt, are ranging from 500,000 to two million, where only a fraction of them, 115,204, is registered (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) , 2017). Despite guarantees for individual considerations by the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, refugees are usually vulnerable, weary and aid dependent. At the same time, their individual contexts are neglected due to weak and fragmented policies enforcement, dwindling living conditions, legal restrictions and social and economic limitations for their livelihoods. Extant literature on refugees lacks a positive framing as enabling individuals and vital socio-economic and developmental tools. Shifting away from the traditional "refugee warehousing" approach, that denotes mobility restriction, idleness enforcement, aid dependency and incapacitated individuals, where their lives are put on hold in violation to the 1951 Refugee Convention law (Smith, 2006), and following successful case studies of refugees' entrepreneurial tendencies, such as in Dadaab and Kakuma Camps in Kenya and Zaat'ari in Jordan. Entrepreneurship may serve as a source of innovation and a mean of income generation, carrying other non-monetary gains for sustainable livelihoods (Montclos & Kagwanja, 2000). To date, refugee entrepreneurship is a nascent research field that is distinct from ethnic entrepreneurship and migrant entrepreneurship. Among recent studies, Garba, Djafar, & Mansor (2013) and Chrysostome (2010) tackled different aspects for ethnic and migrant communities when they pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Considering that each context has a unique set of challenges, few researchers have attempted to understand the relationship between refugees' entrepreneurial endeavors and their integration in hosting economies. Wauters & Lambrecht (2006) demonstrated qualitatively the entrepreneurship potential and analyzed associated socio-economic impacts of entrepreneurship among refugees in Belgium. In 2008, they assessed quantitatively their motivations and associated challenges (Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008). In another study by Mushaben (2006), it draws interesting findings that Turkish ethnic businesses bridged majority and minority cultures in German cities through their entrepreneurial efforts of "Do-It-Yourself-Integration" (DIY) processes. Consequently, "participatory consciousness" among males, and direct identification with the society for women resulted. Finally, within the third-generation of Turkish migrants, they start businesses outside the food sector and they are more likely to embrace the German citizenship (Mushaben, 2006). This research attempts to shed some light if entrepreneurial activities are enabling tools for integration in hosting communities. Following the administration of twelve in-depth interviews to Syrian refugees in Greater Cairo and by comparing empirical findings with literature, it proved that, as a consequence of disadvantages, that Syrians face in hosting communities, they pushed themselves to pursue entrepreneurship as a self-reliance strategy. Promoting factors of "ethnic-cultural" features, where Syrian businesspersons gain access to ethnic markets, labor and emotional support, enabled them to start first their offerings among their communities to enlarge their economic activities among members of hosting societies, by taking advantage of a common language, familiarity with the culture, and relative peace and stability. It is good to note that generalizations should be avoided in later research, especially when common factors of language proficiency and culture familiarity are missing. Additionally, without macroeconomic support of institutional bodies and policy makers, the sustainability of their economic work opportunities is at risk. Due to institutional voids, organizational and institutional barriers and lack of effective coordination among stakeholders, their political integration is set aside, at least for the short and medium terms. This research makes a theoretical contribution by stating that refugee entrepreneurship has common ethnic-cultural promoting factors as ethnic entrepreneurs with similar motives of "necessity based" migrant entrepreneurs of overcoming disadvantages they face in their daily routines. Their social links were necessary determinants for short-term acculturation through their informal economic activities that are illegal yet legitimate. Entrepreneurship among refugee communities cannot only rely on informal sources that are not replenished, as their economic sustainability and their political integration, as citizens in the hosting society, are both at risk. These findings have implications in better understanding of the dynamics behind refugees' pursuit of economic opportunities; how they maintain them; if they can sustain their endeavors and what performance indicators are used to determine their success following their motivations. As practical implications, recommended solutions are suggested to formalize these interactions for local economies development and refugees empowerment.

Degree Name

MS in Sustainable Development

Graduation Date


Submission Date

July 2017

First Advisor

Hatem, Tarek

Committee Member 1

El Enany, Nellie

Committee Member 2

Sheta, Ashraf


129 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Approval has been obtained for this item


I think one page to list all those who made this work possible is not enough. I feel truly grateful to have this chance to get in touch with strong willed people; to share with you lives of war survivors and be connected to my roots. First, I thank Allah, the almighty, to give me the needed strength to contribute to knowledge, help people and understand what strong faith and willingness are. I dedicate this piece of work to my two role models. To my one and only sunshine: to my mama, my rohy, Eng. Nayla El-Garrahy. I thank her for her continuous prayers, generosity and perseverance. I dedicate this work to my first and my one and only love, my habibi, my father, the entrepreneur and the philanthropist , Eng. Mohamed Kabbani, who taught me how to give without thinking and to strive for the lives of others, even at my own expense. Second, I dedicate this section in specific for the ongoing and prompt support and for her devotional supervisory efforts, to my dearest Dr. Nellie El-Enany, who was supportive and patient, and to Dr. Tarek Hatem, who believed that I could make this research and for his helpful insights. I also would like to thank the other members of my thesis committee, who accepted to take part and to provide me with their generous feedback to enhance the quality of my work. Third, I would love to truly thank my family, who missed my presence in many gatherings. I thank my beautiful Bisky; Bisho the rock, who always gave me the needed strength; Ranouni the kindest and my sweetheart; Boudi my second Habibi Elli meghalibna. I also thank the gang for the hope of a better future: The IT Guru, Felfel Gates; my beauty queen- Zouzity; Zimo Habibi El-Henayein and Joujou, Rohy min gowa wa neny einy, the wildest ballerina, who used to dance with me when I am down. I would like to express a note of gratitude and a sincere thank you to my second Family: The Science and Technology Research Center, especially to Prof. Ehab Abdel-Rahman, who gave me this opportunity, and for his ongoing support and to Mrs. Nelly Ragai Kamel for her noteworthy support. For sure, to the sustainability inspiration, Dr. Hani Sewilam and his amazing team at the Sustainable Development Center, including Hakan, Iman, Ignacio and Khaled. I specially thank the Social Research Center and Mr. Mohamed Hassan, in particular, who helped me in data collection and analysis. I also thank Dr. Mahmoud Shaltout for his ongoing support and for his comics that never failed to disseminate a great message including the benefits of hosting refugees in Egypt. I would like to thank my dearest friends: Dr. Neus Cardeñosa, Heba Macary, Huda Alaa, Rawnaa Yassin and their Sohbeit Kheir, Heba Adel Ali, Dina Fouad, Nermin Desouki, Heba Karamawy, Hanaa, Aliaa, Yasmine Kamal, Iman, Maiada,Nathalie, Ahmed Yassin, Hisham, Ismail, Amr, Ayman, Omar and Ziyad. Finally yet importantly, I thank people who were the most supportive in this research: Tarik Argaz, Radwa El-Shaafy, Hany El-Sharkawy , Khalid Al-Azim, Reem, Lina Kasah, Nahla El-Amin, , as well as, all Syrians for their proactive participation.