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new internationalist
issue 243 - May 1993

Country profile: Egypt

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Where is Egypt?   [image, unknown]
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The Egyptian Government recently hired Saatchi and Saatchi to burnish the country's image abroad. But even Mrs Thatcher's ad men have not been able to rescue this year's tourist season in the face of attacks on foreign visitors by Muslim extremists.

Meanwhile the Government appears to be operating a 'shoot-to-kill' policy for suspected Islamic militants - not at all in keeping with Egypt's former reputation of being a country of relative freedom and openness. This, the most populous and militarily powerful Arab nation, was better known as a democratic trend-setter.

During the 1950s and 1960s President Nasser championed socialism and nationalized many Egyptian industries. But economic difficulties mounted, compounded by costs of the wars with Israel, and there was an about-face from socialism towards pro-American capitalism. After Nasser's assassination by Islamic fundamentalists his successors Sadat and Mubarak performed ideological somersaults and received US aid for making peace with Israel.

Many Egyptians are now weary of politicians' rhetoric and long for what only the wealthy can afford: clean water, a house, a job and education for their children. Poverty is worst in the south where peasants and African Nubians receive few of the benefits found in Cairo and Alexandria.

During the free market 1980s, Egypt borrowed heavily. Though half its $60 billion debt was erased for joining the Gulf War coalition, repayment pressures are forcing cut-backs on food and fuel subsidies.

The free market's squeeze has also widened a rift between secular and religious that threatens to tear the country apart. mosque and at religious festivals. Islamic movements win converts with free clinics, food, clothing and education. The most extreme groups are also waging armed struggle, killing leading secular figures and members of the country's relatively prosperous Coptic Christian community. The regime hopes to outwit the Islamic fundamentalists by being more religious than they are. But symbolic gestures like inserting daily prayers into TV broadcasts don't seem to be working.

With attacks near tourist attractions, fundamentalists are poised to derail Egypt's biggest money-maker. The security forces are clamping down and thousands of Muslim leaders languish in prison, many are subjected to torture.

Mubarak says less today about leading Egypt towards real democracy. The small opposition blocs frequently accuse the ruling party and army of fraud, graft and election-rigging.

Egyptians often say that the flow of the Nile for thousands of years has imbued their culture with patience and quiet determination. But as Muslims and Copts, rich and poor, liberals and authoritarians battle to shape their country's future that patience will be tested as never before.

Jill Hamburg


LEADER: President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak

ECONOMY: GNP per capita US $640 (US 21,790)
Main exports: Cotton textiles and raw cotton, oil and aluminium.
Main imports: Grains, meat, wood, paper, steel, cars, industrial and telecommunications equipment. Main foreign currency earners are oil, remittances from workers abroad, tourism and Suez canal tolls. Agriculture employs most people, growing wheat, maize/corn, tomatoes, sugar cane and rice; also some fishing and livestock production. 96 per cent of the land is desert.

PEOPLE: 53 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 67 per 1,000 (US 9 per 1,000).

CULTURE: Mediterranean Egyptians and Nubians in the south share a common national culture.
Religion: 90 per cent Muslim, mostly Sunni; also Coptic Christians, other Christians and Jews.
Languages: Arabic; Berber, Greek, Armenian, French and English also spoken.

Sources: Third World Guide 1993/4; World Bank Report 1992; The Middle East Review 1992.

Last profiled in November 1982



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown]
Mercedes for some, but casual labourers only earn 30 US cents per day.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
59.6% for men, 30.2% for women. 90% attend primary school.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Food imports and US $31 billion debt.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
New anti-terrorist laws and shoot-to-kill policies. Deteriorating human rights situation.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Islamic fervour keeps women from work; paternalistic concern for women/children's welfare.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
60 years (US 76 years)

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Politics now

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Regime is well to the right of centre.


NI star rating

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]

New Internationalist issue 243 magazine cover This article is from the May 1993 issue of New Internationalist.
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