Egypt

An image of the country's flag.

Egypt‘s 80 million people live and work on only a small fraction (4%) of the country‘s land area. All of this area is concentrated along the Nile River. The Nile is essential to their survival as it enables a large rural population to produce a significant amount of food as well as high-value exports and to contribute 15% of GDP. It also provides the water needed for industrial and residential uses. Egypt‘s agricultural resource base is under tremendous pressure from urbanization, population growth, and economic expansion in industry, tourism and other sectors. Salinization and desertification degrade a significant amount of agricultural land each year.

Land access is a significant issue, particularly in Upper Egypt. Agricultural land per capita is low, and rural landlessness is high, due partly to a 1992 law (Law No. 96) that stripped about 1 million registered tenant families of permanent and heritable land rights. This law removed rental ceilings and reinstated landlords ‘eviction rights for the first time in decades. Egypt‘s recent reforms to its land-registration system have clarified land rights and facilitated land market development for many Egyptians; prior to these reforms (as recently as 2006) only about 10% of real property in Egypt was registered.

Women have the legal ability to own and inherit land, but the legal framework and social custom discriminate against women, resulting in low levels of women‘s land ownership. Rules on government allocation of newly reclaimed land discriminate against women. The Government of Egypt (GOE) plays a critical role in managing the Nile-based water supply for both agricultural and non- agricultural uses by: regulating the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses; developing ―new lands in upper Egypt and the Sinai to reduce pressures on both urban and agricultural resources; and preserving the substantial areas of historical interest along the Nile that support the tourist industry. Most water in Egypt goes at no cost to agricultural use, and Egypt‘s water use is considered low by regional standards. Egypt‘s participation in the regional Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) will make it incumbent upon the GOE to continue to reassess its objectives regarding the use of this crucial resource.

Many observers have identified ways in which state governance of highly constrained land and water resources could be improved. Rights of women and tribal groups are often not recognized and/or respected by national or local authorities. Several government reforms, such as Law No. 96, have been implemented in a heavy-handed way, creating widespread difficulties for millions of Egyptians. Water distribution and management systems have been partially and ineffectively decentralized; much water could be conserved through improved irrigation management and a focus on water efficiency in crop selection and agricultural production techniques. Many external investors and donors continue to support Egypt‘s efforts to make optimal use of its land and water resources.

KEY ISSUES AND INTERVENTION CONSTRAINTS

  • Continued attention to agricultural efficiency and sustainability. The Government is actively reclaiming desert land for both agricultural purposes and more dispersed urban development in both upper Egypt and the Sinai. Lessons from older settlements and agricultural areas should be brought to bear to accelerate progress toward sustainable and efficient agricultural production. Donors could work with the GOE toward high-quality completion of these projects, which will require that: land and water rights are allocated appropriately and fairly; property registration is comprehensive; and water efficiency is maximized. Donors could work with the GOE to develop and implement allocation and registration policies that do not discriminate against women.
  • Land reclamation for women and tenants. Land reclamation policies provide opportunities to allocate land to women and to tenants dispossessed under the 1992 law.
  • Implementation of recent land registration reforms. The government has recently taken steps to reduce the time and costs of formal registration of property. However, some land remains unregistered and insecure, constraining the ability of many residents to utilize the full potential of the land they possess. External assistance could be helpful in:implementing effective public-awareness campaigns; providing registration and titling assistance to ensure that women, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups are able to register their property; and supporting the development of local institutions that will govern property registration fairly and transparently.
  • Assisting the government to reduce urban sprawl and improve slum conditions. Donors could work with Egypt to reduce urban sprawl through an assessment of urban land markets and legal and regulatory impediments to developing land within urban boundaries, including an evaluation of current construction, land-use planning regulations, and zoning enforcement. Donors could also continue to support the GOE in its efforts to improve slum conditions, including efforts to regularize land rights within informal settlement areas.
  • Building capacity to adapt to climate change. Egypt is already experiencing severe water poverty. The situation is not likely to improve as climate change and population growth combine to raise the risks of inadequate water supplies, conflict over the available supplies, and greater exploration of Nile resources by other members of the Nile Basin Commission. External assistance could help Egypt to assess and adapt to the future consequences of climate change on land, water and other natural resources.
  • Develop alternatives for conflict resolution and improved access to courts. Conflicts over land are common in Egypt, creating civil unrest in some cases and impeding a functioning land market in others. External assistance could help Egypt to identify systems to resolve land disputes outside of the formal court system, and to ensure that vulnerable socio- economic groups have adequate access to these systems.
  • Improved civic representation and access to law. A number of Egyptian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been instrumental in representing the needs and interests of poor and disenfranchised populations. For example, the Land Center for Human Rights has done an impressive job of documenting natural-resource-related problems of the rural poor and marginalized, and advocating for their rights. Increased donor support for Egyptian NGOs and their efforts could complement support for the Government’s efforts to democratize. Donors could work with NGOs to develop new research on women’s access to justice, including access to land and property.

SUMMARY

The vast majority of Egypt‘s territory is unusable or low-value desert. Its agriculture and population are largely confined to the narrow Nile River Valley and Delta, about 4% of Egypt‘s total land area. All of the limited agricultural land is irrigated and most is productive, but significant amounts are being lost each year through degradation and urbanization. The government is countering this trend with massive and expensive efforts to reclaim land from the desert.

Agricultural land is scarce, and a combination of population growth and competing uses have reduced agricultural land per capita. Landis relatively equitably distributed due in significant part to Nasser-era land reforms. However, rural landlessness is high and has been recently worsened by a 1992 law (Law No. 96, which was fully implemented in 1997) that eliminated permanent and heritable land rights for approximately 1 million households.

In urban areas, despite recent regularization and slum- improvements projects, over 12 million people live in informal settlements; over half of these live in Greater Cairo. Urban boundaries have stretched outward, encompassing agricultural and desert land as urban populations swell.

Recent changes to the registration system have streamlined registration processes, reduced fees, and automated records. Prior to these changes (less than five years ago) only about 10% of real property was registered; the effects of the improvements to registration have not been fully realized. Some customary rights are recognized in law, but only individual rights, not the communal rights of tribes or clans, are recognized.

While women have the legal ability to own and inherit land, the legal framework and, particularly, social custom discriminate against women, resulting in low levels of women‘s land ownership.

The agriculture sector is by far the largest user of water, and Egypt‘s water use efficiency is slow by regional standards. Egypt faces water quantity and quality problems. Agriculture is by far the largest user of water and some observers consider Egypt‘s water-use efficiency to be low by regional standards. The largely centralized system of water irrigation and use is becoming more decentralized, primarily through Water User Associations (WUAs), but this process has been only partially effective. Egypt will need to make serious changes to its water policy and practices in order to meet the water needs for a growing population.

The mining industry in Egypt, including petroleum, gas, phosphates and gold, is significant, contributing nearly 15% to the national GDP in 2009. The GOE has worked with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in recent years to draft a new minerals law and encourage private investment in the sector.

Published / Updated: September 2010