Egypt

Key facts

  • Capital city: Cairo
  • Land area: 995,450 sq. km
  • Population: 102,334,403
  • Population density: 102.802 per sq. km
  • Gross domestic product (GDP): 365,253,000,000 USD 
  • Gross domestic product per capita (GDP per capita): 3,569.207 USD
  • Gini index: 31.500
  • Average life expectancy: 71.990 years
    • Average female life expectancy: 74.350 years
    • Average male life expectancy: 69.742 years
  • Infant mortality rate: 1.730%
    • Infant female mortality rate: 1.610%
    • Infant male mortality rate: 1.850%
  • Adult literacy rate: 71.168%
    • Adult female literacy rate:  65.506%
    • Adult male literacy rate: 76.495%

This data was last updated on 15/01/2022 and has been collated from the World Bank’s Open Data database. To submit any queries or corrections regarding this data, including any questions about how to use this data, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Background

Egypt is the most populated Arab country and holds a high youth population. Its strategic, geopolitical location encompassing the Suez Canal naval chokepoint, alongside its role as host to valuable artefacts inherited from Ancient Egyptian civilisation, have made the country attractive as a target of foreign intervention and historic colonialism.

Egypt is situated in Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea between Libya and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Red Sea north of Sudan. Egypt’s land also includes the Asian Sinai Peninsula, thus making it the only geographically contiguous African landmass to span two continents. Its longest river and the world’s longest river, the Nile, stretches over 4,000 miles and ends at the Mediterranean Sea. Through the nutrient-rich soil created by the Nile, Egypt’s agricultural production is rife in spite of only three percent of the country being arable.

In 2020, Egypt exported 4.8 million tonnes of agriculture, making both its agricultural and its tourist industries a source of employment for the country’s youth population. Historically, most of Egypt’s population has always been densely concentrated along the banks of the Nile and on the river’s delta, though Cairo is also very densely populated.

Overall, corruption and political uncertainty plague the country, and Egypt hosts a high unemployment rate of over 10% (as of 2020), making the unemployment rate relatively high for a MENA nation. We are unsure of the extent to which these unemployment figures consider unregistered refugees and IDPs who are excluded from the labour market.

Egypt has gone through numerous political identities. The British colonised Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries, and much of the country’s wealth was transferred to the British Empire, including Ancient Egyptian artefacts which now attract substantial tourist revenues at the British Museum in London.

Following World War I (WWI), the Ottoman Empire took advantage of a power vacuum in the region and established a post-war monarchy that ended in 1953, resulting in the ascension of a republic led by military strongman Mohamed Naguib. After his participation in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Naguib continued to climb Egypt’s military ranks in spite of the country’s defeat at the hands of Israelis. Naguib, alongside future Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, participated in the anti-imperialist Egyptian Revolution of 1952 that placed Naguib as the first President of Egypt following the fall of King Fuad II (King of Egypt and Sudan).

Thus, revolution continues to play a role in Egyptian history and integrates with a wider Arab revolutionary spirit. In the same decade (the 1950s), Sudan gained independence from Egypt and Britain, whereas Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia gained independence from France. Morocco, emerging as North Africa’s only post-independence monarchy, developed a sense of national exceptionalist identity that can be contrasted to the pan-Arab identity that the Egyptian Republic continued to follow.

Like Tunisia’s post-independence President Habib Bourguiba, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a prominent secularist who swiftly cracked down on young political Muslims by imprisoning notorious Muslim Brotherhood members; these members were swiftly subjected to extrajudicial torture.

Prominent Muslim Brotherhood members included Sayyid Qutb, author of the infamous Milestones book which justifies the Machiavellian misuse of democracy by aspiring Islamists, as well as Hassan al-Banna, founder of the brotherhood and grandfather of controversial Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan.

More recent notable Muslim Brotherhood members include former-President Mohamed Morsi, who allegedly died of torture and detention under the command of current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Another young Islamist movement that faced the wrath of Abdel Nasser’s crackdown was Hizb ut-Tahrir. This organisation was distinct from the Muslim Brotherhood in its pan-Islamist vision which also directly contradicted Nasser’s pan-Arab philosophy (also known as Nasserism). Former members of this organisation include Maajid Nawaz and Ed Husain who, after imprisonment as young students in Egypt, have since reformed, having become founders of the controversial and recently closed Quilliam organisation in the UK.

We believe that Abdel Nasser’s crackdown on Islamist organisations only pushed Islamist youth ideology further into clandestine channels and is likely partly responsible for the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring.

We also believe that Abdel Nasser orchestrated two moves that intentionally or unintentionally forged Arab youth identity and pan-Arab identity for generations to come. The first was his nationalising of the Suez Canal, blocking international actors from trading freely between Europe and Asia through Egyptian waters. This resulted in an international crisis, a resurgence of Arab pride and the devaluing of British currency resulting from conflict in Egypt, a US oil embargo and subsequently reduced British exports.

Many historians believe that the Suez Canal crisis marked the end of British dominance in the global system, and we share this perspective. Recent events relating to a vessel blocking the canal in Spring 2021 only underline how pivotal the naval choke point is for international trade and domestic employment in Egypt.

The second substantial move enacted by Abdel Nasser was the formation of a new pan-Arab state called the United Arab Republic which encompassed modern-day Egypt, Syria, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. Eventually, there was a Cold War-era military coup in Syria which led to the demise of Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab vision and created the rise of a new socialist republic in Syria.

The rise and fall of the United Arab Republic are some of many examples of Egypt’s pivotal role in the formation of evolving Arab political systems and identities across time.

The vast majority of Egyptian youths speak the Egyptian dialect of Arabic and are Sunni Muslims; over 15% of Egyptians are Coptic Christian, otherwise known as Egyptian Orthodox. Some areas of Egypt house Jews, Protestant Christians and Shi’a Muslims, but these populations are small in numbers and their populations have reduced even further in recent years. There is also a small Baha’i population residing in Egypt as well as a small atheist community, but we understand that they do not enjoy adequate representation within Egyptian institutions as their views risk infringing upon local blasphemy laws that could subject “heretic” Egyptian youths to punishment by law.

Regarding the Egyptian dialect of Arabic, this had gained rapid popularity across the MENA region with the emergence of regional satellites that provided a platform for notable Egyptian singers, authors and the highly successful Egyptian cinema industry. As such, most Arab youths across the MENA region are familiar with Egyptian popular culture, local celebrities and the Egyptian dialect, making Egypt a pivotal and influential nation in the formation of popular Arab thought.

Pivotal singers from Egypt include Umm Kulthum, an early symbol of Arab feminism who broke through the patriarchal ranks of Arabic classical music, and famous actors include Adel Imam, many of whose films have touched upon political issues subsequently exposing the actor to regular arrest under various Egyptian presidents. This battle between progressive ideas in popular culture on the one hand and Egypt’s ruling class on the other can be witnessed even today as President el-Sisi has banned, for instance, the popular Maharagan genre of music that is making waves across the Arab world.

Economy

During the recent Arab Spring, ISIS fighters had sought to take advantage of Egypt’s pivotal role in the formation of young Arab and Muslim identity. The main motivators for the uprisings in 2011 were a lack of civil liberties and social justice, clearly reflected in the motto of the uprising: “Bread, Freedom & Social Justice” (عيش، حرية، عدالة اجتماعية or ‘Aīsh, Huriyya, ‘Adāla igtimā‘iyya in Arabic).

ISIS fighters radicalised some of the country’s disenfranchised youth and began to spread in the Sinai Peninsula, creating conflict at Egypt’s border with Israel. ISIS extremists often offered employment opportunities and a warped sense of greater purpose to young, unemployed Muslims who felt under-represented by Egypt’s authoritarian and “secular” system.

Sceptics of recent uprisings in Egypt not only point to the rise of radicalisation in the country, but also claim that Egypt remains relatively unchanged following the Arab Spring, with one autocrat simply replacing another. As previously mentioned, the unemployment rate in Egypt remains high even under the new regime, but the country’s youth unemployment rate is even higher at approximately 30% (2020). As explored throughout this subsection, corruption plagues the country and black market activity is rife. Like the cases of Morocco and Libya, we understand that the human trafficking economy in Egypt is likely exacerbated by the country’s positioning on the Mediterranean coast.

Whilst the country’s tourist industry had recovered following the Arab Spring (notwithstanding the recent COVID-19 pandemic), another source of income comes through the sale of valuable artefacts on the black market, an industry catalysed by recent instability and the temporary spread of ISIS across the MENA region. It is therefore unsurprising that our Arab Youth Survey respondents from Egypt score their general economy “slightly unfavourably”, with those living in Egypt expressing a “reasonable” desire to migrate from their country.

Subsequently, policymakers should not be considering solutions to other issues such as human trafficking, illegal immigration and black marketeering without addressing employment issues and, ultimately, corruption in Egypt.

The Egyptian economy is also heavily dependent on agriculture as well as on cash remittances that come from Egyptian nationals residing abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. However, rapid population growth and a limited amount of arable land are straining Egypt’s resources and economy, and Egyptians based in other countries often report being subjected to workplace discrimination relating to their minority migrant statuses.

Another area of concern that we have identified for Egyptian youths progressing into their futures is the notable income inequality levels in the country that can make progression between various economic classes increasingly cumbersome.

Several MENA nations boast high aggregate GDP figures due to their high populations, but these figures do not consider the way in which income is pooled and distributed among their residents. According to a damning report by Voice of America, a third of Egypt’s population lives in poverty. This means that, despite often holding many employable skills such as English as a second language, much of Egypt’s youths live in dire conditions and are not fulfilling their economic potential.

Poverty in the country has likely catalysed recent COVID-19 statistics that reveal that Egypt has the highest coronavirus death rate in the MENA region. Population density and poor healthcare infrastructure do not assist in mitigating against the pandemic in Egypt. Consequently, survey respondents from Egypt report a “slightly unfavourable” view of their healthcare institutions, and poverty likely prevents Egyptians living in rural areas from travelling for necessary health check-ups.

Human rights

Egyptians have been subjected to historic colonialism, economic displacement and reports of discrimination as migrants in other host countries. Internalised discrimination is another phenomenon that exists within Egyptian society. Black immigrants from Sudan report being subjected to racial abuse, and class discrepancies consequently intersect and emerge between the upper and lower echelons of Egyptian society. Classism in Egypt prevents the fair distribution of wealth, encourages nepotism and results in a youth employment crisis whereby young Egyptians are often overlooked for positions that are instead filled by well-connected individuals with limited skills, qualifications and experience.

Egypt is additionally known for the risk of regular detention and extrajudicial torture that voices for reform and democracy in the country become exposed to. A recent, high-profile case involved the death of a young Egyptian filmmaker who worked on a video that mocked President el-Sisi; Shady Habash was 24 at the time and was imprisoned for more than two years without trial. Amnesty International claims that Egyptian authorities continue to resort ‘to a range of repressive measures against protesters and perceived dissidents, and that these measures include forced disappearances, mass arrests, torture and other ill-treatment’.

The death penalty is still practiced in Egypt and makes extrajudicial proceedings particularly concerning if they are not handled appropriately. Mistreatment at the hands of Egyptian authorities affects young offenders who are reprimanded, held and accused of vague terrorism charges. As a result, Egyptian prisons are ‘severely overcrowded’ and lacking adequate sanitary facilities; this does not aid in recent efforts to counter the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Survey respondents from Egypt subsequently hold a “slightly unfavourable” view of the country’s press freedoms, political representation, women’s opportunities and general human rights. Survey respondents did, however, report a “slightly favourable” regard for religious freedoms in Egypt despite the occurrence of discrimination targeted against religious and non-religious minorities.

Slightly favourable attitudes towards religious freedoms in Egypt are probably the result of the relatively progressive nature of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, an institution that is responsible for many fatwas (Islamic rulings) that take a strong stance on religious extremism.

Al-Azhar University is one of the major Islamic institutions in the MENA region that takes on the task of religious advocacy. Despite its comparatively liberal nature compared with other institutions in the region – especially in Saudi Arabia – Al-Azhar has faced some criticism for directly complying with the imprisonment of its critics. One major criticism of Al-Azhar concerns the university’s allegedly pejorative attitudes towards women’s rights and gender equality.

Other gender-based issues in Egypt include the forceful subjection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) “determination” tests, as well as reported acts of domestic and sexual violence targeted at Egyptian women. Mass waves of sexual violence typically occur during crowded protests and demonstrations that call for regime change in Egypt, especially in Egypt’s famous Tahrir Square.

According to victims’ claims, ‘[i]mpunity for sexual violence against women in the public sphere in Egypt is the norm’.

Activists have also condemned the frequent practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt; the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) claims that ‘92 percent of Egyptian married women between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, 72 percent of whom [have undergone FGM] by doctors’. Furthermore, ‘63 per cent of women aged 15-49 believed the practice should continue’. Thus, action against gender-based violence in Egypt must commence with grassroots initiatives that address problematic attitudes towards gender roles throughout wider Arab and Muslim societies.

Finally, we note the issue of illegal child marriage which remains practiced in Egypt. Egyptian children are therefore not only at risk of extrajudicial violence at the hands of Egyptian authorities, but are equally exposed to risk of civic, gender-based violence.

Focus group feedback

The most eye-opening outcome of our Arab Youth Survey results from Egypt is the unanimous agreement among participants that there are no more opportunities afforded to Egypt’s youth population than there were three years ago. A female respondent under 25 years of age mentions that she most looks forward to an equitable justice system in the country, whilst all male respondents specify personal and career related future ambitions in place of political ambitions. Therefore, whilst survey respondents from Egypt appeared to agree that the Arab Spring has had limited success in affording a more equitable society for Egypt’s youth, their assessment of their society’s failures is driven by different considerations.

When asked which individual best defends the prospects of Egyptian society, male respondents either declined to answer or provided the names of popular figures, such as Egyptian football icon and exiled critic of el-Sisi “Mohamed Aboutrika”. Another male respondent under 35 years of age expressed that Egyptian football player “Mohamed Salah” best symbolises the future to him.

These symbols can either be interpreted as ambassadors for Egypt or as symbols of celebrity affluence. If we interpret these symbols as financially successful celebrities who represent an escape from Egypt’s class issues and employment crises, we can equally infer that young Egyptian males are concerned by continuously lacking employment opportunities in their country as well as other dire economic conditions.

Further testament to the discrepancy of expressed grievances among young Egyptian males and females are the answers provided for the “women’s opportunities” question in our Arab Youth Survey.

A young female respondent under 25 years of age expressed that she views women’s opportunities in Egypt “very unfavourably”. The male respondents, on the other hand, provided a mixed assessment for Egypt’s women’s opportunities ranging from “slightly unfavourable” at worse to “slightly favourable” at best.

As noted above, survey respondents from Egypt generally view religious freedoms in their country “slightly favourably”. Nonetheless, all respondents identify as Muslim and, given the apparent discrepancy between male and female results in Egypt for gender-based questions, we expect that Egyptians of other religious denominations would have provided a different assessment of religious freedoms in the country.

Due to ongoing crackdowns on free speech in Egypt, we faced substantial difficulty gathering results from a larger and more diverse pool of Egyptian respondents.

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