Understanding the Current Levels of Poverty in Egypt

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CAIRO — Poverty in Egypt is a growing problem that left many feeling helpless and led to economic and political instability. The main causes of poverty in Egypt are widespread inequality caused by government corruption, a lack of employment opportunities, and an inadequate education system.

Leading into the 2011 Egyptian revolution, widespread corruption was prevalent among the Egyptian government led by Hosni Mubarak. Under Mubarak’s presidency, which lasted from 1981 to 2011, inequality and poor distribution of wealth were extremely high. Forty million Egyptians lived below the poverty line as of 2001. This equaled roughly 50 percent of the country at the time. Widespread corruption is also thought to be a strong contributor to the prevalence of poverty.

Manipulation

In “Egypt’s Spring: Causes of the Revolution,” Ann Lesch raises the issue that many government officials in Egypt were manipulating state funds to directly affect areas that would benefit them and diverting funds from areas critical for the development of the Egyptian people.

Lesch gives the examples of Ahmed Al-Maghraby, minister of housing, and Mohamed Mansour, minister of transport. Both worked to divert public funds from investment in sectors such as education, agriculture, housing, and health services. Instead, they pushed for funds to be allocated towards sectors they each had strong ties with, the hotel and auto industries, respectively.

Lack of Transparency 

An additional lack of transparency in the government made it impossible for citizens to call for an end to corruption.

A lack of economic development prevented many Egyptians from finding employment. At the end of 2016, the total unemployment rate in Egypt was 12.4 percent. Both youth and women unemployment rates drastically exceeded that level, according to The World Bank.

The youth unemployment rate, remains tremendously high at 31.3 percent. The actions taken by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who entered office in 2014, are not effective in creating long-term employment opportunities. Projects undertaken to try and provide employment include the widening of the Suez Canal and the construction of a new capital city, both of which were unsuccessful.

Lack of Education

A major cause of poverty in Egypt is the lack of education, particularly for children living in poor rural regions. According to UNICEF, “3 percent or 320,000 children at primary school age never enrolled for school” or dropped out in 2015. Many of these children lived in poorer rural areas of Egypt and were unable to attend school for reasons including living too far from where schools are available, and a lack of understanding of the importance of education.

Additionally, preschool education is severely underdeveloped. Only 28 percent of children between the ages of 4 to 5 years old were enrolled. The quality of education provided to students has also contributed to poverty in Egypt. Fewer than 10 percent of schools met the Egyptian national standards for quality of education.

To combat the spread of poverty in Egypt it is necessary to create more jobs to build a strong workforce, improve the public education system, and introduce a new tax system. This will give people the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and work to redistribute wealth that has been concentrated in with a few citizens.

While an immediate solution to poverty in Egypt is unlikely to materialize, understanding poverty’s causes is the first step towards reducing its prevalence and alleviating the suffering of millions.

Garrett Keyes

Photo: Flickr

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