Egypt: Shocking numbers in the population census must prompt new ways of thinking

Hassan Abou Taleb
Thursday 12 Oct 2017

The new census figures show the continued existence of a range of issues for policy-makers, including illiteracy, early marriage, and a youth bulge

In the light of the results of the population census announced a few days ago, there is no excuse for executive officials collaborating with specialised experts not to draw conclusions, and accurately identify the social transformations that Egypt has witnessed in the last three decades on one hand, and the indicators that lead to a certain kind of development on the other.

Consequently, they should be ready to think in a different way from the way they are thinking right now.

According to the new results, Egypt’s population has doubled during the last 30 years. It has increased from 48 million in 1986 to 95 million in 2016 within Egyptian territory.

Rural areas in Egypt are predominant concerning population numbers, as the inhabitants of both the Delta and Upper Egypt total 54 million, constituting 57 percent of the total population.

This may partially explain the illiteracy rate, which still exists in spite of its decrease from 25 percent in the previous census to 18 percent in the current one.

The total number of illiterate people has reached 5.7 million illiterate in the age group between 10 and 34 years old. It also partially explains the increase in education dropouts, or those not enrolling at all, which has reached 30 percent of the total population and an absolute number of 29 million people.

The direct conclusion of these shocking numbers is that the countryside, whether the Delta or Upper Egypt, doesn’t receive the amount of care needed to enhance its development in the general sense.

Developing life in the Egyptian countryside will remain one of the major problems facing the targeted sustainable development plans. The government and the executive bodies therefore have to make countryside development one of its most important objectives in the next decade, and deploy quicker rates of execution than in previous years.

An increase in early marriages in rural areas among girls who are under 18 is a warning sign and proof of the mediocre governmental and voluntary efforts in raising societal awareness of the danger of this phenomenon, leaving the scene to those disseminating backward ideas and values.

Statistics reflect the predominance of Salafist religious ideas that back early marriage for girls immediately after reaching puberty without taking into consideration the dangerous effects of this behaviour on the health and development of such families.

As a result, new generations will come to life lacking the simplest qualifications to be productive citizens capable of competition in the market of modern labour, not the backward market which it seems to be prevalent to a great extent.

The numbers also suggest that Egypt is a youthful society, as more than one third of the population, to be specific 36 percent, is between 15 and 34 years of age. This translates to a dire need for thousands of schools and teachers and several million graduates of university, intermediate institutes and high school.

Each one of those graduates will need a job opportunity or else he will join the greater percentage of those unemployed.

Consequently, this will constitute a pressure on societal cohesion and present a bigger chances for extremist groups, of all religious and behavioural kinds, to increase their ranks. This poses a danger to public stability.

At that time, security confrontation won’t be enough, no matter how severe, because the matter is related to values and practical outputs produced by groups viewing themselves as marginal and believing that society and the state have inflicted grave injustices on them.

Accordingly, their loyalty towards their homeland will be affected greatly and many will be ready to work against it very easily.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has pointed to the existence of 10 million closed apartments. It is a huge number. The question is, why have their owners closed them?

I think that the accurate answer requires knowing the rest of the details in the light of the population census, which will clarify the societal map of these closed apartments and their relationship with the current rent law.

This law differentiates between what’s known as old rent, which allows the resident to stay in the apartment indefinitely, enables him to leave it to his sons as an inheritance, and turns him into an everlasting owner in return for a meagre rent determined 40 years ago.

This constitutes a grievous injustice to the real-estate landlords and the fault should be laid at the door of everyone who insists upon the continuity of this collective injustice and justifies it with flimsy reasons that have nothing to do with the principles of right and justice.

There is the other law known as the new law that permits the landlord to rent his apartment according to market prices.

But this landlord is taking a risk to some extent, if his rights are not fulfilled according to the contract. If that happens, the courts won’t give him justice, and nor will the law enforcement bodies.

He may live the rest of his life without retrieving the apartment he thought would be a source of revenue that would improve his livelihood.

The multiple ways of dealing with apartments, whether old or new, drive many landlords to leave their apartments vacant instead of facing dire consequences. For one to sacrifice anticipated revenue is much safer than entering the labyrinth of going to police stations and courts. They consider it an acceptable sacrifice, for it allows them to save the apartments for their offspring to live in after marriage.

There needs to be justice for everybody and accompanied by decisive judicial bodies and law enforcement personnel who do not shirk their responsibility and swiftly do justice for the wronged, or this phenomena, which seems strange on the surface, will multiply, reflecting a deep crisis in society and in institutions.

Perhaps enacting clear and just legislation that is applied equally in all cases and which takes into account the principles of right and justice will make these apartments one of the ways to solve the housing crisis, and will be one of the factors of change in favour of societal stability, and an element of alleviating economic pressure on the landlords of those closed apartments.

Certainly, the population census details will help in scientific assessment of Egyptians’ lifestyles, and will reveal their fears and concerns. It will also reveal their points of weakness. I hope that all the details will also be available, without any withholding, for any Egyptian who wants to discover more about the society in which he lives.

Maybe this availability will motivate him to submit an idea or an opinion that will lead to a big leap, or even just one step, forward.

The writer is a political analyst.



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