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Egypt Going Under
August 20, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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Anti-Utopian Nightmare heading towards apocalypse

The small percentage of Americans who follow global news realize Egypt has been in turmoil for a long time now. For two decades (1981-2011) the nation was ruled by Hosni Mubarak. Per Wikipedia: "Domestically, Mubarak faced serious problems. Even though farm and industry output expanded, the economy could not keep pace with the population boom. Mass poverty and unemployment led rural families to stream into cities like Cairo where they ended up in crowded slums, barely managing to survive."

In theory Mubarak headed a parliamentary system, in reality it approached being a dictatorship. In 2011 a revolution began. It was relatively bloodless and new elections were held. Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came out on top. While there was nothing in particular wrong with their rule, nevertheless the Egyptian military held a coup in 2013. Eventually the head of the military, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, had himself elected President. He has suppressed all opposition political activity, so while on paper Egypt is still a democracy, in effect it is back to dictatorship.

For ordinary people, across the political and economic spectrum, things keep getting worse. Most ominously, food is in short supply. Recently the International Monetary Fund agreed to lend Egypt $12 billion, but there is a question as to whether el-Sisi can achieve the "significant economic reforms," that are part of the package. Asking Egyptians to tighten their belts is the underlying cause of the overthrow of Mubarak.

Call the the political danger from implementing the loan conditions Scylla, and the Charybdis is the inability to import even the essentials need to run the economy, and its political dangers.

There are two main parts to the Egyptian disaster. This simple table (data from Wikipedia) shows the essential source of the disaster:

Population of Egypt

Egyptians, most of them, were on food rationing in 2006. So what did they do? They added 19 million mouths to feed in the space of 10 years. Brilliant.

What Mubarak should have done, and Morsi should have done, and el-Sisi should do, is implement a one-child policy. But Egypt is a patriarchal, religiously conservative society. Even explaining the nature of the problem, and its solution, is off-limits, except in some relatively small, enlightened, science-based circles.

In Julius Caesar's time Egypt was the breadbasket of Rome. But back then it had a couple of million of its own people to feed, so the grain grown along the Nile could be exported.

There is no conceivable way that Egypt can grow enough food to feed over 90 million people. There are nations, however, that are able to live mainly on food imports, like England (or the U. K., if you think that will last much longer). In 2007 (I'm using The Economist Pocket World in Figures, 2007 Edition) the U. K. imported $40 billion in food, which helped them feed about 59 million people. But the U. K. exported $184 billion in finished manufactured products alone. The U. K. is an industrialized, post-imperialist nation. And its population is growing far slower than Egypt's.

Egypt has little or nothing to trade for food. It used to produce cotton goods in quantity, but other nations now can undercut it in prices. It's main industry is tourism, which employs about 12% of the work force. Nothing wrong with tourism, but if the tourists don't come, say because they are afraid of terrorist attacks, there goes what little economy there is. Natural gas and petroleum is a big industry, but given its population, most production goes to internal consumption.

Other nations, or collective institutions like the IMF, can give Egypt money to buy food and other modern necessities, but the era of international largess appears to be coming to an end. Very few countries have regular food surpluses any more. Industrialized nations can trade real goods for what food is available on the open market. Even the U.S. is a net food importer most years (though this year maybe not, given the bumper corn crop).

There are no generous donor nations left in the world. Europe learned its lesson from Greece, Italy, and Spain. America has plenty of impoverished people of its own. Even relatively prosperous China is not interested in something-for-nothing scenarios.

So, el-Sisi either has to kill a lot of his own people, and watch significant sections of the population starve while he maintains his dictatorship, or there will be another revolution and a new dictator, who will face the exact same problem. Very likely the failure of the moderate Islamist government by the Muslim Brotherhood means the next Islamist government will be even more traditional, which means no birth control, and more starving children of Allah to become the cannon fodder of future revolutions or wars (conquering Saudi Arabia would be pretty easy, and would solve all of Egypt's problems, at least in the short run).

Faced with daily hunger, people don't make good decisions. The right decision is to not have children. No political or social system, not socialism nor capitalism or any mix of the two, or Islamist or Atheist, can fix a society that has dug a hole as deep as the Egyptians have dug for themselves. Sadly, it is not just an Egyptian problem. The entire world is overpopulated. The entire world should be limiting families to a single child.


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