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Egypt

Poverty In Egypt On The Rise, With Urban-Rural Divide Deepening

Poverty is getting worse in Egypt, particularly in rural areas, according to a study released by the government statistics agency. Analysts blame the worsening situation in rural regions on the government’s bias in recent years towards funding urban devel

Rural parts of Egypt are still waiting for their 'Arab Spring'
Rural parts of Egypt are still waiting for their 'Arab Spring'

CAIRO - Measuring poverty in Egypt, like everything else, now means looking at before and after the fall of the Mubarak regime. But it is equally important to look at a rural-urban divide that risks creating new divisions in the country.

Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of Egyptians living at or below the World Bank's official poverty line of $2 per day increased from 19.6 percent to 21.8 percent, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) study found.

Instances of poverty increased at a much higher rate, 4.6 percent, in the rural parts of Upper Egypt, where 43.7 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the study. Urban governorates, such as Cairo, Giza and Alexandria, saw poverty increases as well, but by 1 percent, as compared to 6.9 percent for the overall population.

"During Mubarak's reign, Egyptian developmental policies exhibited a notable urban bias that led to such a high rate of poverty in rural areas," said Reem Saad, a professor of Social Anthropology at the American University in Cairo. "In my research, I saw many rural residents collecting money among themselves to provide basic infrastructure that people in urban governorates never have to think about."

The urban bias in distribution of national wealth, coupled with the "do-it-yourself attitude" the government has taken toward rural areas, are causing income and development to lag in these areas, Saad argues.

Politicians as "sons of peasants'

"I've seen many cases where villagers are forced to pay for the most basic services, such as building a school for their kids and securing a post office building by reinforcing the walls," she says.

But if the autocratic Mubarak ignored the needs of rural Egyptians and allowed more of them to fall into poverty, the post-Mubarak transition indicates that there might be reason for optimism, as potential presidential candidates realize the need to address rural poverty.

Karama Party candidate Hamdeen Sabahi recently declared himself "a son of peasants," referencing his upbringing in the rural Kafr al-Sheikh governorate in an effort to endear himself to rural communities.

Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) boasted of its developmental achievements between 2005 and 2010 during the November 2010 elections, but CAPMAS's findings differ from the NDP narrative.

Naggar estimated that a minimum wage earner back then could purchase – in today's money – LE1900 (US$319) worth of staple products. Today, after the minimum wage was adjusted to LE700 (US$117), most Egyptians still cannot afford to provide anything close to what they could afford back then.

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Photo - Ed Yourdon

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