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Additional resources for Egypt: Internal Challenges and Regional Stability (Chatham House Papers)
As the death rate has halved in the past 30 years, the rate of population growth has become more rapid. Since only 3%–4% of Egypt’s land is currently habitable or cultivable, the country is now one of the most densely populated in the world. This is a major constraint on policy-makers. The pressure of population, coupled with the urban drift of recent years, has put considerable strains on infrastructure and basic services in the main cities. Scarce cultivable land is used for housing when it is badly needed for food production.
The same applies to foreign policy issues: the country has lived with the Arabs, and lived, more or less, without them; it felt the heavy hand of the Soviets and experienced the armtwisting of the Americans. None of the options has been without pain. Only the religious militants seem to know what they want: ‘Islam is the solution’, they cry, but their intellectual concerns remain as vague operationally and as marginal to the details of modern life as ever. Stability is therefore to some extent the function of inertia, and of a perceived lack of alternatives.
Similarly, when reform of the government’s finances was tried, THE ECONOMY 33 it was not a success. A 1977 IMF programme was abandoned after reductions in subsidies led to food riots—an experience which subsequently deterred President Mubarak from making similar cuts in government spending. Mubarak, who became president in 1981, began by calling for a ‘national debate’ on the pressing economic problems. But, in reality, the causes of the economic problems, such as inefficient government interference, were clear.