Egyptian exile in England
: a study in the mechanisms of contentious politics

  • David McKeever

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Does exile affect activism and if so how? This question is both perennial and timely given the frequency of political upheaval and the current salience of migration. Non-democracies use exile to end domestic opposition. Existing research has gone someway to challenging the assumption that exile does put a stop to activism but for the most part has focussed on the effects of exile on individual psychology. In this thesis exile is viewed through the lens of social movement theory as a political process, not a legal category or personal identity, meaning it is not necessarily the end of activism. The case of Egyptian activists exiled in England is studied in depth, taken as illustrative of processes typical of exiled activism. The analysis contributes to research on Arab activism, particularly highlighting the ways individual activists can be both constrained by and actively shape their own political context, even from exile. The case study draws on primary and secondary sources including a series of biographical interviews with exiled activists. The analysis, based on three layers of coding, compares activism in Egypt with exiled activism in England and uses the participants’ critical self-reflections to explain the causal mechanisms mediating the changes. Contrary to reasonable expectations that exile is a spontaneous response to a change in political context, the conditions for exile predate banishment and lie within the institutions of dictatorship which decertify activism. Decertification itself continues throughout the exile process as the fear of repression becomes internalised within the movement. Within the sanctuary of the host country a process of brokerage counteracts decertification as activists network with newfound allies and modify their repertoire. However, in the case described in this thesis, a third mechanism, boundary formation, survives exile, bringing old intra-movement hostilities to the new context.
Date of AwardJun 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMarkus Ketola (Supervisor), Rory O'Connell (Supervisor) & Maire Braniff (Supervisor)


  • Social movements
  • Exile
  • Egypt
  • Political opportunity

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