Where’s the water?

While most of the topography of the Middle East is dry, barren, and filled with vast deserts, Egypt however, has the famous Nile river running through it thus providing for a varying landscape that differs quite greatly from most of its neighbors. Egypt definitely is a desert which sets a backdrop for the pyramids, but the areas bordering the river are green and lush providing for a diverse landscape.

nile river
Courtesy of Africa-facts.org

Even though Egypt has the Nile river which provides a huge amount of water and irrigation to the region, there has been political mishandling of water sources causing water scarcity in recent years. Poor and uneven water distribution and inefficient irrigation techniques are major key factors that affect water security in Egypt presently. The Nile River serves the country’s industrial and agricultural demand as well as serves as the primary source of drinking water for the citizens. How can one river provide so much without having some negative effects or drawbacks?

Along with the increasing population, which was talked about in a previous blog, as well as rapid economic development, and constant changing politics there has been an increase in pollution and environmental degradation which is threatening Egypt’s accessibility to water which in turns threatens Egypt’s future.

egypt nile

Major Factors Affecting Water Security

Politics 

There are a variety of factors that affects Egypt’s’ Water security but one of the biggest ones is the rising regional political conflicts and battles over water resources. According to the Japan Times, “Egypt stands out as having the largest population at risk and being the country, other than Iraq and Yemen, with the most existential hydrologic problem.As every schoolchild learns, Egypt is the gift of the Nile and the Nile is by far the globe’s longest river. Less well known is that most of the Nile’s volume, 90 percent, comes from the highlands of Ethiopia and that the river passes through 11 countries. For uncounted eons, its water flowed to Egypt in uncounted quantities.” (2)

Why is this a problem you may be thinking? Well, Ethiopia realized that much of their water leaves their land, therefore they want to constrict the water supply downstream and build a dam called the Grand Ethiopian Resistance Damn or (GERD). This is a problem because “86 percent of Egypt’s water originates in Ethiopia” (2) meaning that if the supply is stifled, not cut off, just lessened, it can put Egypt’s entire population at risk. Both Burundi and Ethiopia which share the Nile have been taking advantage of Egypt’s unstable politics and have been working to guarantee their share of the Nile as each country in the region is facing some kind of water scarcity and environmental degradation because of it.

Ethoipia dam

Mismanaged Resources

As their political government has been changing from almost year to year, there has been a huge impact on the river due to lack of laws and environmental regulation. For example, pollution from agricultural runoffs, industrial effluents, and municipal sewage are being recklessly dumped into the Nile River, gradually making its water unfit for human consumption. (1) Sewage water from slums and many other areas in Cairo is discharged into the river untreated due to lack of water treatment plants which can affect the crops that the water is eventually used for irrigation thus polluting crops as well.

As long as Egypt’s population continues to grow and government stays mostly unstable, there will be huge effects down the line for Egypt and it’s future existence. Currently, there needs to be long-term planning and regional agreements with nearby countries so that all of the region can continue to share these limited resources in a way that can enable all of their survival, rather than just ensure a temporary survival for the one or few.

Sources:

Egypt’s Educational Failure

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MENA’s investment into human beings

Within the MENA region overall, governments made human development a policy priority after many gained their independence from colonial and imperialistic powers. Governments invested in social and public infrastructure creating social mobility. They worked to create public welfare programs and expanded government employment thus investing into their citizens and future of their countries.

However in the 1980’s and 1990’s, there was a decline of investment in human development and less of a focus on social programs and supporting the lower and middle classes. Previously the middle class, which benefited most from these investments, were finding it increasingly difficult to remain stable while the lower classes slowly lost their dreams of lifting themselves out of poverty.

Health and education play a huge role in social and economic development while investment n human capital is essential to a country’s overall productivity.
For the MENA region, however, investment in human capital is essential as many nations in the region have few natural resources besides the oil-rich gulf countries.

Overall there has been an increase in life expectancy at birth (LEB), a lower rate of infant mortality, (IMR) and an increase in education closing the male-female gender gap and increasing literacy. Regardless there are still significant gaps in national, regional, gender, and social classes in accessed to basic social services including unequal educational experiences.

The Misallocation of Educational Resources in Egypt

There were  huge class and urban/rural bias that determined how Egypt’s educational resources were spent and made a vast impact on his present day educational system as well as the literacy rate of the country. For example, “in the late 1970s, while over 90% of urban Egyptian children were in school, only about 60-70% of rural children were enrolled.” (1) There was also a gender bias as well with “88% of rural boys enrolled compared to 89% of urban boys while 92% of urban girls were enrolled” (1) by the year 2000.

Egypt has experienced some of the worst effects of class bias in the region. “Fifty years after Nasser’s revolution, 44% of adult Egyptians could not read and write.”(1) Adversely Egypt had over 30 universities thus indicating that there as a gap in educational spending. Almost 1/3rd of Egypt educational budget was investing into universities which only accounted for 6% of students in the country in the late 1990’s.

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Another huge problem occurred in Egypt’s history of attempts at democratization. The Wafa party who seized power in 1952 opened secondary schools to anyone who completed primary school and made them free. Then after the removal of the Monarchy and establishment of Egyptian republic, these trends continued and called for Universities to be tuition free as well as entitled to a government job upon completion. As talked about in previous blogs, education or lack thereof is not always the main issue in the MENA region but the job availability or the lack of job creation from the localized labor market.

Generation Lost-Present Day Educational Problems 

Egypt obviously hasn’t had an easy road paved towards democracy or adequate education. President Sisi has to address a generation lost who had poor education and were never taught to read or write.” A recent survey administered by CARE Egypt, an NGO that collaborates with the Ministry of Education, found illiteracy rates in some schools as high as 80 percent.”

As talked about in Egypt’s previous history before with its misallocation of educational resources, presently, the situation hasn’t altered much. “Though Egypt’s public education system is the largest in the region, it has one of the lowest rates of public spending. In 2011, 3.5 percent of the country’s GDP, roughly $9.5 billion, was spent on education — an amount that translates to roughly $300 per student per year. Other estimates put that number substantially lower, from $250 to as little as $129. In 2013, spending on education rose to 4 percent of GDP, with promises for additional future increases.”(2) Egypt is still barely investing in its education and teachers feel the effects as well as students. There are broken textbooks, run-down schools, and teachers are constantly protesting for actual livable wages. There is a whole other, almost black market, lucrative economy of private tutoring to make up for the public education gap which in turn provides extra income to teachers.

“The need for change could not be more urgent. Government sources show youth unemployment numbers near 30 percent; roughly another 30 percent are probably under-employed. New generations of unequipped young people entering an already struggling labor force could have a disastrous impact on the country.” (2) The constant changing politics and an unstable government is a direct cause of educational reform stagnation. After the ousting of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government led by Morsi, didn’t take effect.

“The need for change could not be more urgent. Government sources show youth unemployment numbers near 30 percent; roughly another 30 percent are probably under-employed. New generations of unequipped young people entering an already struggling labor force could have a disastrous impact on the country.”

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Overall Sisi could make a huge impact in the present and future development in his country by investing in the education and making up for a lost generation of learners. By educating the youth and investing in human capital, Egypt could actually make use of its Arab Spring uprising and show the world that it wasn’t a waste. The president could make a long lasting, much-needed change for one of the regions most evolving countries.

 

 

Sources:

  • (1) Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print
  • (2) http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/23/egypts-generation-lost/
  • (3)http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalCompetitivenessReport_2013-14.pdf

Egypt’s Demographic Stifles its development

eyptian work force
Courtesy of Linkedin.com

 

Demographic change was and is an underlying cause of the Arab uprisings. Overall demographics in the Middle East consist of a majority of young unemployed populations. There has been a supposed “youth bulge” in the MENA region in the late 1970’s, but the Arab Spring occurred in most countries much later in 2011-2012. What explains this phenomena? “Demographic trends must be contextualized within larger socioeconomic settings if they are going to be related to major political events or movements. (1)” There is a gap between the educated youth and the jobs that the labor market creates that are available. (1)

Rapid population growth can have a huge effect on the development of a country, especially in Egypt which has the highest population of people within the MENA region. “From 1994 to 2014, the population grew by 46 percent, from 60 million to nearly 88 million—an increase of more than the total populations of Syria and Lebanon combined.(2)”

To help curb population growth, countries have introduced family planning programs. Although neither unemployed youth or rapid population growth are sole socio-economic determinants in the development of a country, the demographics are key components. However in Egypt, rapid population growth has always been a problem that is only getting worse. “The Egyptian population has been growing at unsustainable rates for decades, but 2013 was a year of record growth, with the number of births reaching 2.6 million (compared to about 0.5 million deaths). This population boom comes at a time when the Egyptian government has struggled to provide even basic government services, and the authorities seem unprepared to deal with the additional stressors that emerge from the accelerating population growth rate seen in the country. (3)

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Courtesy of Tahrir Institute of Middle East Policy 

Although Egypt has a had exponential population growth, Egypt also has to increase its economic activity of the people but has to overcome. Egypt lacks a basic public education system that provides an adequate education to all of its school-age populations. Poor education is not the only social problem. The country through its various recent revolutions cannot cover the basic needs of its citizens, thus causing socio-economic conflicts that hinder belief in the government and long-term economic planning measures. Each politician wants to satisfy its population with a short term plan, but really population growth, fertility planning, education structures, etc are all long term projects that lead to greater development 20 years down the line, not five.

Although Egypt’s future looks bleak, as the government is constantly changing and looks unstable the government has put more of a focus on empowering women and girls within its workforce. Most of the MENA region has a low participation of women within its labor force thus undermining development, so the Egyptian government push for encouraging more woman to become involved is a refreshing one. “The current government has made the health and wellbeing of girls and women a national priority. In 2014, the government developed a national strategy to combat child marriage, aiming to cut the prevalence of child marriages in half between 2014 and 2019. The government is also developing a national strategy for women’s reproductive health. These strategies are consistent with global principles articulated at the ICPD, the Millennium Development Goals, and the proposed SDGs, while upholding Egypt’s national laws and religious and cultural values. These and other policies, such as the new law criminalizing sexual harassment and the 2008 law setting 18 as the minimum legal age for girls to marry, are important steps in the right direction for Egypt. (5) “

Overall Egypt is on the right track, but must have consistent government stability and put laws into real life practice to see effective change.

Sources:

  • (1) Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print
  • (2) UN Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.
  • (3)Wagih, Ahmed. “Population Growth in Egypt: More People, More Problems? – The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.” The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. N.p., 23 Apr. 2014. Web.
  • (4) LaGraffe, Daniel. “The Youth Bulge in Egypt: An Intersection of Demographics, Security, and the Arab Spring.” Journal of Strategic Security 5, no. 2 (2012): 65-80.
  • (5) 1 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2014, Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience (New York: UNDP, 2014). 2 UN Population Division, World Population Prospect

Egypt can’t escape its authoritarian history

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Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Political Regimes in the Middle East (Egypt)

The MENA region is usually considered a part of the world that has a number of authoritarian style governments whether monarchical or somewhat totalitarian. Most authoritarian republics in the Middle East fall into one of two categories: RPLA which stands for Resource Poor Labor Abundant or the RRLA category which stands for Resource Rich Labor Abundant. Those who rule the countries in the RRLA category have an easier time maintaining their rule as they can provide coercive force through secret police, push for limits on freedom of expression through intimidation, as well as temporarily satisfy their populations by providing for social services such as free education and health care. Some authoritarian governments such as Kuwait and Oman can be said to have populations who are satiated by their governments and, therefore, have very few uprisings or protests in recent years.

“Regime change may be revolutionary and violent, and it can also be peaceful and incremental. (3)” For example, the Pahlavi dynastic rule, when moved to the Islamic republic or theocracy, as described in the Political Economy of the Middle East, was violent, while in Turkey moving from a single-party authoritarian regime to a two party system with contested elections was fairly peaceful in the early 1950’s. (3) The history of the country plays a huge role in its long-term political and economic future.

Prior to the uprising in 2011 and the Arab Spring which I discussed in previous blog posts, Egypt had been moving from Nasser’s single-party, authoritarian socialist regime toward a multiparty system in which private economic interests were increasingly integrated although current political changes have backtracked this a bit.

Will Egypt always revert back to Authoritarian style ruling?

Egypt can be described previously as an authoritarian system who “financially adopted quasi-socialist policies to justify their rule with promises of redistribution, social mobility, and a radical reworking of the social order that had prevailed in the colonial era systems. (3)” As discussed in the previous blog about the Arab Spring, if countries such as Egypt who are considered RPLA didn’t create economic improvements, they couldn’t maintain power and showed that they could be taken down which later led to Egypt’s revolution.

Mubarak became President after the more liberal, Sadat was murdered by an Islamist militant organization. He distrusted advocacy groups and used his security forces to crush militant Islamic groups. In doing so, he began to re-establish authoritarian rule after Sadat had allowed for a bit more freedom. He did, however, work more for the development of the country and accepted support from international institutions such as the IMF and world Bank.

However Mubarak’s Presidency was marked by corruption, cronyism, and government repression with increased poverty rates although there was huge macroeconomic reforms and privatization, which meant the money was going somewhere else rather than benefiting the people. Under Mubarak’s rule Egypt was on its way to a revolution when only the elite class really benefited from market reforms and the middle-class sector slowly began to feel the economic strain.

Mubarak
Photo Courtesy of media.nola.com 

When Morsi became his successor in new democratic elections in 2011 via the support and push of the Muslim Brotherhood, he was removed by the military-ruled government in who then cracked down on human rights thus bringing back authoritarian style ruling which was predicted by Al-Jazzera in stating “In spite of its supposed successes up to this point, the logic of the new authoritarianism cannot hold in a future Egypt that is not only democratic but embodies the principles of political pluralism as well.(1)” The hope for Egypt to further its democratic transition was crushed with the reversal of the election by the military.

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Courtesy of Middle East Monitor  

Egypt’s Future

Presently, Egypt has returned to military rule and repression under Al-Sisi thus going back to its past and moving away from modernization and liberalization.

Under Al-Sisi, the 2011 revolution has almost completely reversed itself. In The Middle East Monitor, Nasim Ahemd describes Egypt’s present situation as this, “Egypt’s massive U-turn from the spirit of the 25 January Revolution and the alarming rise of political repression and human rights abuses following the overthrow of President Morsi has been documented widely by numerous human rights groups. The statistics are chilling; 529 people were sentenced to death in a trial lasting just a few hours, for example.” He then goes on to state, “A dark cloud is hanging over Egyptian politics. Al-Sisi’s first electoral victory last May was conducted in this climate of fear, repression and intimidation that lead to mass arrests. Human Rights Watch reported that more than 16,000 people were arrested and that the mass arrest of thousands of political dissidents, whether Islamist or secular, has all but shut down the political arena and stripped Egyptian elections of any real meaning.”

The spirit of the revolution has seemed to have dissapear at least from the public view as the population has to live under a repressive, military backed ruler. Egypt’s future remains uncertain, but the theme of authoritarian rule in the MENA region certainly remains true for Egypt.

Sources:

  • (1)  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/12/2012124111437225259.html
  • (2) “Authoritarianism.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William Darity, Jr. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 213-214. Global Issues In Context.
  • (3) Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print.
  • (4) https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/africa/16535-can-egypt-escape-the-grip-of-its-authoritarian-past
  • (5) http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/28/egypt-elections-amidst-political-repression