A geographical perspective is key to understanding the economy of Egypt, which
is starkly divided between the Nile and the desert and dependent on a few
A broad-ranging overview, Egypt: An Economic Geography opens with an
overview of Egypt as a "transition economy", combining advanced technologies,
well-educated workers, and energy resources with underdeveloped sectors,
unemployment, inequality and corruption, and resource constraints. As background
there''''s a brief account of the varied strands of Egyptian identity and the
status of women and Coptic, Nubian and Bedouin minorities, and a potted history
of modern Egypt.
A survey of Egypt''''s geology and mineral resources, and its climate, soils,
and the threat of desertification, is followed by a closer look at different
regions: the Western and Eastern Deserts, the Sinai and Suez, and the Nile
Valley and Delta. The deserts are far from featureless, with oases and
groundwater resources which have inspired large-scale but largely unsuccessful
artesian irrigation projects.
The Nile remains central to Egyptian water resources. Here the Sadd el-Ali,
the Aswan High Dam, has limited the effects of droughts and floods, but has also
created or exacerbated many problems: loss of old agricultural land to
salinization, erosion, or reduced silt deposition; increased evaporative water
losses; and security (a collapse of the dam in an earthquake could kill tens of
millions of people).
Governance of the Egyptian economy has shifted several times, from
state-control under Nasser, through Sadat''''s Open Door policy, to increasing
liberalisation under Mubarak. Egypt still has serious over-employment in the
state sector, however, and has problems in education and migration and as a
"rentier" state, dependent on the Suez canal, remittances from overseas workers,
and oil revenues.
Agricultural labourers or fellaheen still account for around a
quarter of the Egyptian workforce. Inequality in land tenure decreased with the
socialist reforms of Nasser, but has since returned almost to historical levels.
And crops and crop distributions have changed: rice, fruit and vegetables have
increased in importance as bersim, maize, and especially cotton have declined.
Much work has been put into land reclamation projects, with limited success.
Egyptian industry ranges from small scale agrarian and craft production,
using local raw materials, to newer capital- and technology-intensive
operations. Problems come from haphazard investment, often poor state guidance,
and resource constraints.
Tourism is a major part of Egypt''''s economy, and is increasingly diverse: the
old cultural tourism centred on Luxor is now less significant than "sport
tourism" centred on the Red Sea, while tourists from other Arab countries and
domestic tourism are also important. Terrorist attacks and regional political
instability can drastically curtail tourism.
Finally, turning to urban centres, the Ibrahims survey the growth and sprawl
of Cairo and Alexandria, and cover Beni Suef as an example of one of the much
smaller regional capitals.
Topics without a strong geographical element — notably macroeconomics and
political economy — are omitted, while transport is dealt with only in passing.
Otherwise the reach is broad and inclusive. The Ibrahims take some policy
stances: they are critical of much government planning, though they give praise
where they feel it is merited, for example with Cairo''''s transport system.
The presentation of Egypt: An Economic Geography is lively, belying
the potentially dry material. Maps are used to good effect, while thirty small
halftones are not directly tied to the text but illustrate aspects of Egyptian
life and landscape. The result should be appealing for anyone involved with
modern Egypt, from students of development economics to tourists, who is looking
for a pe