Egypt – difficult to see a happy ending

18 February, 2011

Here is a challenge for all you optimists out there.  Study the facts about Egypt set out below, and consider how likely it is that the current unrest will result in a stable, peaceful country.

  • In the past 25 years, Egypt’s population has risen by over 60%, from 50 million in 1985 to around 81 million today, with an average age of 24.   This rise places a heavy burden on housing and food production.  Population continues to grow, at 2% per annum. 
  • Based on information from the CIA World Fact Book, in 2009 government revenues were $46.82 billion and expenditures were $64.19 billion, a deficit of 27% .  For 2010, the Factbook reports government debt amounting to 80.5% of GDP.
  • Tourism normally accounts for more than 11 per cent of gross domestic profit, but is being dramatically affected by the recent unrest.
  • Egypt imports about half the food eaten by its 79 million people and is struggling with double-digit food inflation. In 2010, the oil minister stated that Egypt imports 40% of its food, and 60% of its wheat. 
  • Egypt is the world’s No. 1 wheat importer.
  • Food prices are rising steeply across the world, and recently rose to the highest levels since the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization began indexing them in 1990.
  • A massive government subsidy program provides bread for the poor
  • Egypt  is mostly desert and depends almost entirely on the Nile River which is in decline.
  • Egypt’s total water consumption had increased by 17 per cent in the five years up to 2010.  A report by the state-run Central Agency For Public Mobilisation And Statistics (CAPMAS) predicts that annual water resources would decline by 15.2 billion cubic metres by 2017 – from a required 86.2 billion cubic metres. 
  • In 2010, several African states that share the Nile with Egypt signed a treaty without Egypt or Sudan which would allocate to them more of the Nile waters at the expense of Egypt. A 1956 treaty allocated the majority of the Nile river waters to Egypt’s needs. The new treaty, if it takes hold, is a serious threat to Egypt.  Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation has said That Cairo will take “whatever steps are necessary” to protect its “historic rights” to the Nile waters to ensure the nation’s survival.
  • In the past, the Nile would flood annually, expanding and then retreating, leaving behind a thick fertilized soil layer. But since the building of the Aswan dam, that flood cycle has not occurred.  As a result, the soils are depleted of all natural supply of nutrients that plants rely upon. So Egypt is dependent on fertilizer and on various other chemicals to keep their soils going, and is therefore very exposed to oil price fluctuations.
  • Half of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.
  • H5NI avian influenza is a significant problem in Egypt.
  • 17% of adult Egyptian males cannot read or write; 41% of adult females cannot read or write.
  • According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, the Egyptian public is radical in its religious views. 82% of Egyptian Muslims want adulterers punished with stoning; 77% want robbers to be whipped and have their hands amputated; 84% favor the death penalty for any Muslim who changes his religion.

That’s quite a daunting list of challenges.  Watch this space.

“…. the dissolution of the old order should make the soul rejoice, but the frightening thing is that what the departing order leaves behind is not an heir but a pregnant widow, and that between the death of the one and the birth of the other is a long night of chaos and desolation.”  (Alexander Herzen)

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