The Lack of Political Space of the Eritrean Diaspora in the Arab Gulf and Sudan: Torn Between an Autocratic Home and Authoritarian Hosts

  • Nicole Hirt
  • Abdulkader Saleh Mohammad
Keywords Eritrea, Arab Gulf, Sudan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, transnationalism, diaspora, authoritarian institutions, political space, remittances, diaspora tax


One third of Eritrea's citizens live in exile, and their government uses coercion, intimidation, and manipulation of patriotism to maintain financial flows from the diaspora through a rehabilitation tax and by delegating welfare responsibilities to its citizens abroad. Over one million Eritreans reside in Arab states, yet, we know little about their attitudes towards the homeland regime. Contrary to their compatriots in Europe and North America, they do not have political asylum and instead depend on work contracts for their residence permits. This makes them vulnerable to demands of transnational Eritrean institutions, which issue vital documents in exchange for fulfillment of financial obligations. The diasporic political space is doubly restricted, since authoritarian host states neither permit political activities, nor do they provide reliable protection from the Eritrean regime. This article explores the extent to which Eritreans in the Arab Gulf and Sudan can avert coercion by their home government, and how these states disempower diasporic contention.


Cover Image: Market in Asmara, Eritrea. Image by author.

Author Biographies

Nicole Hirt

Nicole Hirt is a political scientist and an independent researcher concentrating on the Horn of Africa, specifically on Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. She conducted several research projects in Eritrea. Her current research interests include processes of political opinion formation among diaspora communities, as well as transnational governance through mechanisms of repression and co-optation, and the persistence of authoritarian rule. She is also interested in the dynamics of European migration policies. Nicole Hirt is associated with the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, Germany.

Abdulkader Saleh Mohammad

Abdulkader Saleh Mohammad is a sociologist with long experience in teaching, research, and university administration. He was a professor at the Universities of Sebha, Libya and Asmara, Eritrea. He also worked as researcher for GIGA Hamburg and the University of Hamburg, Germany. He was a visiting professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oslo and Oslo University College, and a senior advisor to International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) in Oslo. Particular expertise includes rural and pastoral community development in the Horn of Africa, political sociology, ethno-social identities, traditional mediation systems, transnational governance, and diasporas.

Market in Asmara, Eritrea. Image by author.
How to Cite
HIRT, Nicole; MOHAMMAD, Abdulkader Saleh. The Lack of Political Space of the Eritrean Diaspora in the Arab Gulf and Sudan: Torn Between an Autocratic Home and Authoritarian Hosts. Mashriq&Mahjar, [S.l.], v. 5, n. 1, p. 101-126, jan. 2018. ISSN 2169-4435. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 23 mar. 2019. doi:
Special Section: Migration and Transnational Governance