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Resource Scarcity A Root Cause To Egypt’s Turmoil

August 24, 2013


The world has watched for many months as events unraveled in Egypt.  It is has been sad to witness.  But what is at the core of the turmoil?  As a lover of Middle Eastern history and news I found the following a compelling read as it brought many of the resource arguments into such sharp focus.

With more than 600 people killed and almost 4,000 injured from clashes between Egyptian security forces and Muslim Brotherhood protesters, the country’s democratic prospects look dismal. But while the violence is largely framed as a conflict between Islamism and secularism, the roots of the crisis run far deeper. Egypt is in fact on the brink of a protracted state-collapse process driven by intensifying resource scarcity. 

Underlying growing instability is the Egyptian state’s increasing inability to contain the devastating social impacts of interconnected energy, water and food crises over the last few decades. Those crises, already afflicting other regional states like Yemen and Syria, will unravel prevailing political orders with devastating consequences—unless urgent structural transformation to address those crises becomes a priority.

A major turning point for Egypt arrived in 1996, when Egypt’s domestic oil production peaked at about 935,000 barrels per day (bpd), dropping since then to about 720,000 bpd in 2012. Yet Egypt’s domestic oil consumption has increased steadily over the past decade by about 3% a year. Since 2010, oil consumption—currently at 755,000 bpd—has outpaced production. It is no coincidence that the following year, Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

As food subsidies have declined in the context of declining state revenues, local food prices have shot up. Once upon a time—in the 1960s—Egypt was completely self-sufficient in food production. Encouraged by international financial institutions to foster its export capacity, Egypt is now a net food importer, importing about 70% of its food and thus, vulnerable to global food price fluctuations.

Egypt is already water scarce, and the combination of local climate change impacts, water mismanagement and regional geopolitics could choke off the country’s water supplies by 2025, when it will need 20% more water than it currently has. But around this time, its thirsty neighbors like Ethiopia and Burundi may well have loosened Egypt’s current grip on the Nile River, which supplies 95% of Egypt’s freshwater, for their own use.

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