Although many regard Egypt as a wealthy nation — no doubt based on Hollywood images of pyramids and ancient riches beyond measure — the truth is that unemployment and poverty cripple the nation. The fact that large percentages of its population are young people who are grappling with that joblessness, destitution, and ballooning food prices adds fuel to the volatile mixture of political and personal discontent that exploded against the government in Cairo.
Nearly half of all Egyptians live under or just above the poverty line, which the World Bank sets at $2 a day, according to an Associated Press report that noted the additional hot button of increasing tensions between Muslims and Christians.
|Egyptian youths protest miserable conditions in their country. (AP Photo)
“I support change,” Sami Imam, a 53-year-old retired teacher who took part in protests last week, told the AP.
“The police cannot kill us because we, to all practical purposes, are already dead,” the father of four said as he clutched Egypt’s red, white, and black flag. “I have not visited the butcher in six months,” he said, in a reference to Egypt’s rising meat prices.
The Land of the Pharoahs barely scrapes along economically because of its exploding population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile River.
Those conditions “all continue to overtax resources and stress society,” the CIA World Factbook notes, adding, “despite the relatively high levels of economic growth over the past few years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remain poor.”
A similarly stark assessment comes from the United Nations Children’s Fund, with a study noting that the situation for children has deteriorated despite efforts of the government, public institutions, and grass-roots organizations.
“The income gap in Egypt has steadily increased since 2000, and almost 7 million children were living below the income poverty line in 2008,” the report says. “This is almost 1.3 million children more than about 10 years earlier.”
Various statistical databases show that Egypt has:
- A population of 80 million, with 33 percent 14 or younger
- An unemployment rate of 9.7 percent
- 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line
- Experienced a three-fold increase in the number of malnourished children under the age of five since 2000, with the number at 1.5 million in 2008
- A literacy rate over 71 percent, with males at 83 percent and females at 59.4 percent
- A labor force of 26 million, with 32 percent working in agriculture, 17 percent in industry, and 51 percent in the service sector.
- More than 20 million Internet users, ranking the country 21st in the world, and 55 million cell phone users, which is 19th in the world.
- A religious population that is 90 percent Muslim, 9 percent Coptic, and 1 percent Christian.
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