About Egypt

Where is Egypt?

Picture of the countryside in Egypt

The Arab Republic of Egypt is a transcontinental country with a unique geographical position in Northeast Africa, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, on the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and its connection to Sub Saharan Africa through the Nile Valley. Egypt is at the center of the Arab world and controls the Suez Canal, the shortest sea link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The country is defined by desert and the Nile, the longest river on Earth. The Nile flows north out of central Africa, cascading over the cataracts (waterfalls) through Upper (southern) Egypt and Lower (northern) Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea—with a mountainous desert to the east, a rolling drier desert to the west, and the vast Sahara to the south.


Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Red Sea to the east and south, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west.


With over 90 million inhabitants (two-thirds of which are below 29 years), Egypt is Africa's third most populous country after Nigeria and Ethiopia, and it has the highest population in the Arab world. About 95 percent of Egyptians live along the Nile—on less than 5 percent of Egypt's territory — making the Nile Valley one of the world's most densely populated areas, especially in greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.


The main sources of foreign currency are remittances from workers abroad, Suez Canal fees, tourism, and oil. The Aswan High Dam, completed in 1971, provides hydroelectricity, as well as a controlled water supply for year-round irrigation and desert reclamation.


The country has witnessed significant political and economic changes since 2011. Through this transition, which includes periods of political unrest, the main income sources of the economy have been negatively impacted, particularly in the tourism sector, as well as revenues from the Suez Canal, oil and remittances from Egyptians working abroad, affected by the global economy.


Egypt ranks 108 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index (HDI), with an HDI value 0.690 which put the country in the medium human development category. Between 1980 and 2014, Egypt’s HDI increased 52 per cent. Based on the current population growth rate of 2.2 per cent, the total population is expected to exceed 100 million by 2030. This poses numerous development challenges considering that 26.3 per cent of Egyptians live below the poverty line, high unemployment rates (13.2 per cent) particularly among youth (34 per cent), is almost triple among female young people of their male counterparts, significant inequalities between urban and rural areas, poor quality of public services, etc.


Despite the visible progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Egypt has not reached the anticipated targets for poverty reduction, environment protection and gender equity.  On the latter, while positive trends are beginning to emerge, there are many issues concerning gender equality and the empowerment of women that pose challenges to development.  Egypt ranks 131 on the Gender Inequality Index out of 155 countries. Women hold only 2.2 per cent of parliamentary seats, 44 per cent have reached at least secondary education compared to 60 per cent of their male counterparts, and 23 per cent participate in the labour market compared to 74 per cent for men (Human Development Report, 2015).

At this point in Egypt's History...

Boat sails carrying Millennium Development Goals logos from the Sailing the Nile projectPhoto: Moe Adel / CC 2.0

Egypt has witnessed a prolonged struggle for democracy that was at its highest intensity during the period of January 25, 2011 when massive young and determined activists took the streets of Cairo and other major cities, and sustained a largely peaceful demonstrations for a period of 18 days, until President Mubarak stepped down and a new political phase in the country’s history began. Since then, the country has undergone dramatic and continuously changing political, economic and social situations which affected Egypt and its development partners development priorities and actions. 


Along with the rest of the United Nations development system, UNDP is responding to the new needs the Egyptian citizens face as they work to build a new Egypt that fulfils their demands for “bread, freedom and social justice”.  At the same time, UNDP remains engaged on a wide range of development issues that have been on the country’s agenda for some time and which require sustained attention.

Challenges Facing Egypt

Poverty Challenges include persistence in poverty (reaching 26.3% in 2012/13) despite relatively improved economic growth, large disparities and inequitable growth; a shrinking public sector; inefficient safety net programmes unable to target the poor; and the digital Divide, making the poor very vulnerable to economic shocks. With unemployment standing at around 13%, the majority are youth and three times higher among women; shrinking public sector; key reforms are required to generate long-term employment aiming at equitably benefiting underprivileged Egyptians.


Governance Challenges include governance issues that had been previously identified and potentially amplified following the January 25th revolution such as poor accountability, weak political parties, low citizen participation in political life, marginal role for representative civil society participation in monitoring outcomes of development, low trust of citizens in Government, especially in the security forces, weak citizen’s voice in setting development priorities, weak women's position in public and political life, violation of human rights practices in some state institutions.


Environment Challenges include increased pressures on water resources and decrease in per capita share of water, lack of quality sanitation systems, climate change risks including water resources, coastal zones and agriculture; land and coastal zone management; solid waste management; loss of biodiversity; and depleting oil and gas resources. The latter has led the government to approve importing coal to be used as a source of energy for cement factories to compensate the shortage in gas supply which may have an impact on air quality. The situation is aggravated by heavy energy subsidies estimated at about 6% of the GDP in 2011/2012, posing an obstacle to improving energy efficiency and investing in renewables.