Rhein on Energy and Climate

Three years after the “Arab Spring” Egypt is much worse off than during the Mubarak era. The Military are firmly in control and prepare for being “legitimised” by the forthcoming Presidential elections.

Democracy and rule of law are farther away than ever. The economy is in shambles. Tourism has been severely hurt and energy supply depends on emergency oil supplies from the Gulf countries.

Necessary short-term actions must not blind the actors against the structural burdens the country faces; and Europe should offer its help tackle them.

These burdens are largely linked to its population explosion which is bound to provoke rising social frustration.

Egypt’s population has almost doubled since 1975, from 45 million to 85 million people in 2013, becoming the biggest country in this part of the world, exceeding the populations of both Turkey and Germany. With some 120 million projected for 2050 it is expected to overtake also Russia and Japan.

The population bulge will confront Egypt with four major issues:

  • job creation: how to find jobs for a young population that already suffers from more than 13 per cent registered unemployment in an unattractive business environment;
  • social services: how to finance schools, hospitals, water/energy supply and housing for a rising population concentrated in crowded urban areas;
  • resources: how to provide more than 100 million citizens with water, food and energy, which proves already difficult for the present population;
  • de-concentration: Egypt will have to “colonise” the desert to relieve the demographic concentration in the fertile plains along the Nile, an expensive and long-term process that has begun.

The rapid population increase will become very costly and require huge private and public investments.

In the last few years per capita income has stagnated, the growth of the economy not exceeding that of the population of almost two per cent, hampering job creation and urgently required investments for energy, infrastructure and water supply.

Without multi-billion dollar assistance by the Gulf countries the socio-economic situation of the country would be even more precarious.

During the 1980-90`s Egypt had actively tackled population growth; but due to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood during last few years population growth has surged again.

The secular military regime is likely to be more open for an active population policy, especially in the country side where women lack the knowledge and willingness to restrain their offspring.

That is why the EU should explore the government`s readiness for a long-term population programme, which should combine education and distribution of contraceptives, in particular to women in the countryside. Having already been involved in financing female school programmes in rural regions the EU would only have to add a birth control dimension to these programmes, which might be entrusted to the Egyptian National Population Council (NPC), a well-established institution.

This would be more sustainable than financing infrastructure for which loans and private investors are better suited than grant financing.

Engaging with women and primary education would be an opportunity to return to a field of financial assistance that the EU has almost completely abandoned. This would be more than necessary as the USA and many other countries have withdrawn from what is unfortunately being considered a delicate mission with no short-term visible results.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 6/5/2014

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