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Although Egypt has social benefits programmes in place, they – like the health system – are under considerable financial pressure as the social sector as a whole is substantially underfunded. At the same time, the impacts of the reduction of subsidies, e.g. on bread, are particularly severe for poorer demographic groups.
Most revenue generation takes place in the informal sector. The majority of workers in this sector have no entitlements to state benefits and, for example, do not receive the minimum wage which was recently introduced.
The social situation is further exacerbated by high population growth (close to 2 per cent in 2020). In the past 30 years, the population of Egypt has almost doubled and now stands at 102.3 million. One third of the population is under the age of 15. In many families, children have to contribute to the household income. Many children aged 5 to 15 are working regularly in the construction sector, in mining, in agriculture or in domestic service. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child labour in agriculture has substantially increased as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Egypt is currently ranked 97th out of 191 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI).
Situation of women
The promotion of gender equality is one of the Egyptian government’s stated objectives. The proportion of women in politics and administration has increased significantly in recent years. In the day-to-day life of society, however, the division of roles continues. For example, there are very few women in leadership positions in business. The small percentage of women in the regular labour market has decreased further as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the World Bank, women’s participation in the workforce in Egypt amounted to only around 15 per cent in 2021.
Sexual harassment and violence against women are widespread in Egypt. Female genital mutilation, which has been banned since 2008, is still practised, particularly in rural areas.
Poor living conditions in metropolitan areas
Some 95 per cent of the Egyptian population lives along the Nile Valley and in the Nile Delta on about 4 per cent of the country’s land surface. This means that these regions are some of the most densely populated in the world. In the metropolitan areas, agriculture, industry and human communities compete for usable land and particularly for scarce water resources.
The extremely high population density and ongoing industrialisation have led to environmental problems on a massive scale. In conurbations, worsening air and water pollution negatively impacts on local residents’ conditions of life. There is also a lack of affordable housing for poor people in these areas. Illegal settlements are proliferating in an uncontrolled manner without an appropriate social or technical infrastructure.
The government is responding by upgrading the slums and building a large number of new towns. The most ambitious project is the construction of a new administrative capital around 50 km east of Cairo. However, the upgrading of run-down residential districts is often accompanied by forced clearances and forced resettlement, and many of the new housing areas remain uninhabited as they are not aligned with people’s needs or financial capacities.
President al-Sisi has launched a large-scale development initiative for rural regions which encompasses the expansion of infrastructure (irrigation, wastewater, roads, energy supply, waste recycling), improvements in education and health care, housing development and support for agriculture.