Egypt Economic and Social Issues

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Bread, Water and Birth Control in Egypt

In September 2003, in an interview with Al-Ahram, the Egyptian government newspaper, in response to a question about economic problems with a reference to a current shortage of bread - President Mubarak of Egypt stated, once again, publicly and forcefully that rapid population growth in Egypt was the primary cause of the country's economic and social problems. He added that the country was doing what it could to solve these problems, but that the government could only do so much. Implicit in his announcement was a patriotic call to the people to have smaller families. If the President of Egypt speaks out publicly about population growth, it must be a grave concern of state officials. Indeed, his wife has also made major speeches on the subject. Why are they speaking out and what are the numerous factors influencing the severity of the problem? In examining Egypt's population trends, birth control efforts, and the very basic problems of sufficient water for agriculture and household use and sufficient bread to feed the population, the question is: What are the ramifications of the present population growth trends in Egypt on water supply and bread supply? Is there truly a population crisis emerging in Egypt?

In Suzanne Mubarak's speech at a youth conference in 2002, she was more blunt that her husband: "My Sons and Daughters, …Every newborn on the land of Egypt every thirty seconds means a horrible and rapid population increase that our natural resources or productive energies cannot keep up pace with…. The solution of the problem is not any more confined to the Ministry of Health and Population. It has become the responsibility of the entire society…Youth participation in the awareness campaign…and in the illiteracy-fighting campaign…and the call for widening the base of educating females, especially in the countryside, is of paramount importance…Sustainable development is a means for the fulfillment of human beings welfare and enjoyment of all man's rights…and development is directly affected by the population problem."

In 2003, Egypt's population was estimated at 70 million; it is increasing at the rate of about 1.3 million people every year, or one new Egyptian every 30 seconds. Hosni Mubarak stated in that same interview, "If population growth continues the way it is, we will be 85 million people in ten years and we will not have enough resources." From the days of Nasser, Egypt has been committed to health care and free education for all, as well as subsidizing bread and other critical food products. Mubarak added in reference to bread - "the state will not be able to continue to provide such services with the population growth and we will be forced to impose heavy taxes on citizens, which would cause investors to flee."

Gone are the heady days of 1979 following the Camp David peace agreement with Israel when it was thought that peace and stability would bring economic benefits. Few of those dreams came to fruition and the more recent world paradigm involving terrorism has had a negative impact on development. And although there were, and are, internal constraints such as protective tariffs, policies deterring foreign investment, and structural adjustment policies, and external pressures of regional instability, foreign debt, and imposed SAP policies, the constant population growth has had a negative effect on the economy far outweighing other factors. When a country has increasing numbers of educated citizens for whom there is no employment the results is migration or poverty. (The brain drain exists at all levels of education and money sent home by 3 million Egyptian workers abroad is a major source of foreign exchange. An estimate by the Davis Migration study is $3.2 billion in 1995). In the countryside, poverty encourages families to have more children to assist with family income and in addition poverty creates unhappiness and...
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