The Youth Bulge and Anger over Unemployment in Egypt

February 11, 2011 • Daily Email Recap

Youth in many countries suffer unemployment – no matter what level of education they have. Thanks to Peter Sawyer of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for this story out of Egypt. See Pulitzer has begun a reporting project investigating the driving forces behind the recent upheaval in the Arab world, with a particular focus on the role of demographics. The title of the project is “North Africa: The Young and the Restless” and the reporter is Ellen Knickmeyer, former AP Africa bureau chief and Washington Post Middle East bureau chief. She is traveling across North Africa.

Incidentally, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is offering travel grants, funding international travel costs associated with reporting projects on topics and regions of global importance, with an emphasis on issues that have gone unreported or under-reported in the mainstream United States media as communicated through multi-media projects that combine print/photography and video to explore the issues. See

Ellen Knickmeyer’s first major piece (printed below), “The Arab World’s Youth Army” was on the front page of the Foreign Policy website. Pulitzer expects her to produce a lot of material so if you’re interested in keeping up, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for her project ( See a second related article below, followed by an OpEd by Bob Walker and an analysis by Lester Brown. Also, see Lisa Hymas’ report on Egypt’s population problem in Grist at

The Arab World’s Youth Army

On the gray winter mornings at this out-of-the-way farm town on the scrubby brown steppes between the Mediterranean coast and the Sahara desert, you still see a few old farmers in hooded brown cloaks rolling to market on donkey carts. The occasional old woman, hunched against the cold, comes down the main road through town, tugging a camel.

But come about 9 a.m. in Sidi Bouzid — where 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi lived, burned himself to death, and launched at least one revolution in the Arab world so far — the blue metal courtyard gates creak open on the squat stucco houses around where he used to live. Out marches an army: broad-shouldered men in their 20s and early 30s in hooded sweatshirts with Sacramento Kings’ emblems, or other allusions to Western culture. Young women, crisply dressed in fashionable calf-high boots, clinging long sweaters, and humongous bug-eyed sunglasses. The crowd, growing in number as it streams into Sidi Bouzid’s main streets, strides purposefully out of narrow neighborhood gravel lanes smelling of dried sewage.

For full article, visit:

MIDDLE EAST: Population growth poses huge challenge for Middle East and North Africa – – International Herald Tribune

Rapid population growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) carries serious implications for employment, access to services and the cost of subsidies. These could spell serious political consequences in what is already a politically unstable region.

Population data for MENA are extremely sensitive and need to be treated cautiously. Nonetheless, it is clear that MENA since the 1970s has experienced a dramatic rise in population compared to other parts of the developing world.

For full article, visit:

Thanks to Bob Walker, Executive Vice President of the Population Institute, for this OpEd published by the Huffington Post. See

Today, the world asks “Who will rule Egypt?” Tomorrow, the world will ask, “Who will feed Egypt?” For regardless of which leader or faction emerges triumphant in the Egyptian power struggle, the new leadership will have to feed a population that is heavily dependent upon food subsidies and imported grain for its survival. And that will be a daunting task.

There was a time when Egypt was the breadbasket of the civilized world. The Roman Empire was long sustained by Egyptian wheat. Today, Egypt imports about half of its wheat, corn and other staples, and spends about $15 billion a year in food subsidies.

Few nations are as dependent on food imports as Egypt. It is, in fact, the world’s largest importer of wheat. It’s no coincidence that the current turmoil coincided with a surge in wheat commodity prices. Food inflation was far from the only reason people took to the streets, but it was a contributing factor. Food prices in Egypt have risen 17 percent in the past year, and in a country where 40 percent of the population lives near or below the poverty line, that’s no small matter.

The immediate food challenge in Egypt is logistical. The street demonstrations have temporarily shut down the food distribution chain, from grain warehouses to bakeries. Within a matter of hours or days, major food shortages could develop, and add to the chaos that is now enveloping the country.
While reports differ as to how extensive Egypt’s grain reserves are, a shut off of grain imports would imperil Egypt’s ability to feed itself. The political turmoil has already weakened Egypt’s credit rating, and a prolonged power struggle could easily endanger the country’s ability to import more wheat.

The United States and Europe might offer some assistance. Given Egypt’s strategic importance, that would make sense. But don’t count on it. Pakistan is of enormous strategic interest to the U.S. and the West, but when floods devastated Pakistan last year, U.S. and other donor nation assistance fell far short of what was needed to address the crisis.

The larger question, however, is how will Egypt feed itself in the future. The current political crisis is likely to slow economic growth and scare away foreign investors. Even before the rioting, Egypt was not growing fast enough to reduce the vast number of unemployed young people. Unemployment has remained high for years.

Egypt’s population , currently 81 million, is growing at 2 percent a year. By 2025, its population could reach 104 million, and by 2050 it population could be close to 140 million, an increase of 70 percent.

Rising population will mean less land available for agriculture, and if upstream usage of Nile river water increases, as appears likely, there could be less water for Egyptian farmers in the years ahead. Egypt’s dependence on imported food will likely grow.

And Egypt, of course, is not the only country in the world that is increasingly dependent on food imports for survival. To feed its people in the decades ahead, Egypt will need to outbid other consumers of wheat for wheat imports, and that will require a booming economy. Otherwise, Egypt’s elaborate program of subsidized food will collapse, and Egypt’s poor will be at the mercy of world food prices.

As uncertain as Egypt’s political future is at this juncture, its food outlook is even more worrisome.

Thanks to Lester Brown for this article.

Environmental and Demographic Forces Threaten State Failure

Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the Middle East at the start of 2011 have reminded the world just how politically fragile some countries are. But the focus of international politics has been shifting for some time now. After a half-century of forming new states from former colonies and from the breakup of the Soviet Union, the international community is today faced with the opposite situation: the disintegration of states. As an article in Foreign Policy observes, “Failed states have made a remarkable odyssey from the periphery to the very center of global politics.”

The Failed States Index, undertaken by the Fund for Peace and published in each July/August issue of Foreign Policy, ranks 177 countries according to “their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration,” based on 12 social, economic, and political indicators. In 2005, just 7 countries had scores of 100 or more out of 120. (A score of 120 would mean that a society is failing totally by every measure.) By 2010, it was 15. Higher scores for countries at the top and the doubling of countries with scores of 100 or higher suggest that state failure is both spreading and deepening.

States fail when national governments lose control of part or all of their territory and can no longer ensure people’s security. Failing states often degenerate into civil war as opposing groups vie for power. In Afghanistan, for example, the local warlords or the Taliban, not the central government, control the country outside of Kabul.

One reason for government breakdowns that has become more relevant recently is the inability to provide food security-not necessarily because the government is less competent but because obtaining enough food is becoming more difficult. Providing sufficient food has proved to be particularly challenging since the rise in food prices that began in early 2007. Although grain prices subsided again for a while, they have remained well above historical levels and, at the beginning of 2011, are fast approaching levels similar to the spring 2008 peak.
Among the top 20 countries on the 2010 Failed States list, all but a few are losing the race between food production and population growth. The populations in 15 of the top 20 failing states are growing between 2 and 4 percent a year. Many governments are suffering from demographic fatigue, unable to cope with the steady shrinkage in cropland and freshwater supply per person or to build schools fast enough for the swelling ranks of children.

In 14 of the top 20 failing states, at least 40 percent of the population is under 15, a demographic indicator that raises the likelihood of future political instability. Many are caught in the demographic trap: they have developed enough economically and socially to reduce mortality but not enough to lower fertility. As a result, large families beget poverty and poverty begets large families.

Virtually all of the top 20 countries are depleting their natural assets-forests, grasslands, soils, and aquifers-to sustain their rapidly growing populations. The 3 countries at the top of the list-Somalia, Chad, and Sudan-are losing their topsoil to wind erosion, undermining the land’s productivity. Several countries in the top 20 are water-stressed and are overpumping their aquifers.

After a point, as rapid population growth, deteriorating environmental support systems, and poverty reinforce each other, the resulting instability makes it difficult to attract investment from abroad. Even public assistance programs from donor countries are sometimes phased out as the security breakdown threatens the lives of aid workers.

The conditions of state failure may be a long time in the making, but the collapse itself can come quickly. Before revolution in Tunisia helped spark unrest in Yemen in January of 2011, the country already faced several threatening trends. It is running out of both oil and water, and has the poorest population among Arab countries. The shaky Yemeni government faces a Shiite insurgency in the north, a deepening conflict between the north and the south, and an estimated 300 Al Qaeda operatives within its borders. With its long, porous border with Saudi Arabia, Yemen could become a gateway for Al Qaeda to move into Saudi Arabia.

Failing states are rarely isolated phenomena. Conflicts can easily spread to neighboring countries, as when the genocide in Rwanda spilled over into the DRC, where an ongoing civil conflict claimed more than 5 million lives between 1998 and 2007. Similarly, the killings in Sudan’s Darfur region quickly spread into Chad as victims fled across the border. Failing states can become training grounds for international terrorist groups, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen; bases for pirates, as in Somalia; or sources of drugs, as in Afghanistan and Myanmar (Burma).

Fortunately, state failure is not always a one-way street. South Africa, which could have erupted into a race war a generation ago, is now a functioning democracy. Liberia and Colombia, both of which once had high Failed State Index scores, have each made a remarkable turnaround.

Nevertheless, as the number of failing states grows, dealing with various international crises becomes more difficult. Situations that may be manageable in a healthy world order, such as maintaining monetary stability or controlling an infectious disease outbreak, become difficult and sometimes impossible in a world with many disintegrating states. Even maintaining international flows of raw materials could become a challenge. At some point, spreading political instability could disrupt global economic progress.

One of the leading challenges facing the international community is how to prevent that slide into chaos. Continuing with business as usual with international assistance programs is not working. Reversing the process of state failure is an even more challenging, demanding process than the rebuilding of war-torn states after World War II, and it requires a level of interagency cooperation that no donor country has yet achieved. Since state failure is, by its nature, systemic, a systemic response is called for-one that is responsive to the many interrelated sources of failure.

Within the U.S. government, efforts to deal with weak and failing states are fragmented. What is needed now is a new cabinet-level agency-a Department of Global Security (DGS)-that would fashion a coherent policy toward each weak state. This recommendation, initially set forth in a report of the Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security, recognizes that threats to security now come less from military power and more from the social and environmental trends that undermine states.

The new agency would incorporate AID (now part of the State Department) and all the various foreign assistance programs that are currently in other government departments, thereby assuming responsibility for U.S. development assistance across the board. It would be funded by shifting fiscal resources from the Department of Defense, in effect becoming part of a new security budget. It would focus on the central sources of state failure by helping to stabilize population, restore environmental support systems, eradicate poverty, and strengthen the rule of law through bolstering police forces, court systems, and, where needed, the military.

The DGS would make such issues as debt relief and market access an integral part of U.S. policy. It would also provide a forum to coordinate domestic and foreign policy, ensuring that domestic policies do not weaken the economies of low-income countries or raise the price of food to unaffordable levels for the poor.

These investments are in a sense a humanitarian response to the plight of the world’s poorest countries. But in the economically and politically integrated world of the twenty-first century, they are also an investment in our future.
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Adapted from Chapter 7, “Mounting Stresses, Failing States,” and Chapter 11, “Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population, and Rescuing Failing States” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at

Additional data and information sources at

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Current World Population


Net Growth During Your Visit