Egypt — June 2005

Sociopolitical Situation

In April 2005, the police arrested and brought in for questioning about 200 people from the slum areas north of Cairo, home to families of suspected Islamic militants, implicated in two attacks against tourists. A suspected militant was killed when a nail-filled bomb he was carrying exploded in one of Cairo’s main squares next to the Egyptian museum. Seven people including four tourists were injured.

On May 4 and 6, 2005 street manifestations took place in Cairo and in several other areas by the Muslim Brotherhood that were brutally repressed by the security forces. The Muslim Brotherhood criticized President Mubarak, requesting that voters not renew his mandate and totally refusing the candidacy of his son.

Egypt’s increase in domestic production as measured by the GDP growth rate accelerated from 1.9% per year in 1991–1992 to 5.2% in 1995–2000. In 2001, per capita gross national income had risen to US $1,490, which categorizes Egypt as a middle-income country.

Egypt has reached record tourism levels, despite the Taba and Nuweiba bombing in September 2004. The development of an export market for natural gas is a bright spot for future growth prospects, but improvement in the capita-intensive hydrocarbons sector does little to reduce Egypt’s persistent unemployment.

Current official estimates place unemployment at 9% (although it is widely believed to be higher) and labor-force growth at around 3% annually. Female unemployment is almost three times that of men.

The current administrative system in Egypt is one of the most centralized in the world. All services (water distribution and sewage, education, health, energy distribution, garbage collection) are run centrally. Provision of services is executed locally but the central government maintains a strong control over the finance and the administrative systems by which local services are provided. This has reduced cost effectiveness and accountability of local administration units, as well as impacted on the quality of the process planning, execution and follow-up of the central authorities.

The government has struggled to ready the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.Egypt has considerably improved the well-being of its people. The education and health services provision has dramatically improved.

Religious Situation

The population of Egypt is estimated at 70.5 million of whom almost 90% are Sunni Muslims. Shi’ite Muslims constitute less than 1% of the population. Approximately 8-10% of citizens are Christians, the majority of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Christians are dispersed throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians tends to be higher in Upper Egypt (the southern part of the country) and some sections of Cairo and Alexandria.

The tensions between the Christians and Muslims are omnipresent and are reflected in many aspects of daily life. Presidential decrees are required for the building of new churches, while repair permits are issued at the governorate level. In 1999, President Mubarak issued a decree making the repair of all places of worship subject to a 1976 civil construction code. This places repair of churches and mosques on equal footing before the law and facilitates church repairs. However, local permits for such repairs are still subject to approval by security authorities.

Christian observers believe that government officials, particularly at the local security levels, zealously enforce regulations pertaining to church projects while exercising lax oversight of the repair and construction of mosques. As a result of restrictions, some communities use private buildings and apartments for religious services or build without permits.

Various ministries are legally authorized to ban or confiscate books and their works of art upon obtaining a court order. The Islamic research Center at Al-Azhar University has legal authority to censor, but not to confiscate, all publications dealing with the Qu’ran and Islamic scriptural texts. In June 2003, the Ministry of Justice issued a decree authorizing Al-Azhar sheikhs to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law. Local media, including state television and newspapers with some governmental oversight, gives prominence to Islamic programming, which sometimes implies the primacy of Islam among “the heavenly religions”.

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