Located in the northeast corner of Africa, Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and the second most populous on the African continent. As of August 2014, the country boasts 87 million inhabitants living on just 7.7% of the land. More than half live in urban areas, and even the rural population is concentrated on the arable land adjacent to the Nile, the life blood of Egypt. Only 3% of Egypt’s land is arable, making a small section of the country very densely populated; in Cairo, over 2,100 people live in each square kilometre.
The Egyptian Constitution ensures freedom of religious belief and practice for members of the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Muslims represent the great majority of the population, while Christians compose the remainder. Members of religious minority groups that are officially recognized by the government are able to worship and gather with their religious communities without harassment.
The UNDP Human Development Index ranks Egypt 110 out of 187 countries and territories in 2013. Roughly 26% of the population lives on less than 8.5 Egyptian pounds per day, equal to about one euro per person. The greatest concentrations of poverty can be found in informal settlements built on private agricultural land, squatter settlements built on public desert land, and inner city slums.
Despite some improvements in recent years, millions of people still have limited access to basic resources. One-quarter of births occur without the services of a skilled health professional. Services for special needs individuals are largely non-existent. The unemployment rate is high, particularly among young adults. The UNDP estimates literacy at just 74%, and gender inequity is pervasive. Some estimates indicate that the population will exceed 100,000,000 by 2020, which will place additional burdens on limited resources and the oversaturated job market.
The Egyptian economy relies on four primary sources of income: tourism, remittances from Egyptians working abroad, revenue from the Suez Canal, and oil. Employment opportunities in the public sector have shrunk as the oversized bureaucracy has been downsized through civic sector reform. Approximately one-third of the workforce is employed in agriculture. However, the limited availability and unequal distribution of agricultural land, the lack of market access, and patterns of exploitation all serve to limit the income of most farmers.
In recent years, the government of Egypt has encouraged the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in community development and social services. If the quality of life for poor Egyptians is to improve, civil society will play a large part in the solution. In addition to providing basic needs, NGOs are addressing citizens’ concerns about civil rights, political freedoms, and judicial reform.