We Four in Egypt

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The cost of bread in Cairo

My mom forwarded to me a recent article from the LA Times about the economy of everyday life in Cairo. According to the article, the price of bread has doubled in the past year, from 25 to 50 piasters, from less than five cents to a little less than ten cents. Pennies indeed to an American, but consider that (as the article mentions) some doctors here make only $45/month.

On Sunday, the New York Times had a story about how the rough economy in Egypt means young people can’t afford to get married. The Times estimates that couples need about $21,000 (yup, US dollars) in order to afford the bride price (ugh), ceremony, apartment, and furniture.

Unmarried young people are increasingly turning to religion to offset their unhappiness. The Times says that this religious fervor has repercussions beyond the nation and region:

Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood. …

In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.

With 60 percent of the region’s population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervor has enormous implications for the Middle East. More than ever, Islam has become the cornerstone of identity, replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism.

The wave of religious identification has forced governments that are increasingly seen as corrupt or inept to seek their own public redemption through religion. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Algeria, leaders who once headed secular states or played down religion have struggled to reposition themselves as the guardians of Islamic values. More and more parents are sending their children to religious schools, and some countries have infused more religious content into their state educational systems.

More young people are observing stricter separation between boys and girls, sociologists say, fueling sexual frustrations. The focus on Islam is also further alienating young people from the West and aggravating political grievances already stoked by Western foreign policies. The religious fervor among the young is swelling support for Islam to play a greater role in political life. That in turn has increased political repression, because many governments in the region see Islamic political movements as a threat to their own rule.

While there are few statistics tracking religious observance among the young, there is near-universal agreement that young people are propelling an Islamic revival, one that has been years in the making but is intensifying as the youth bulge in the population is peaking.

I don’t think I can add anything here. Read the article, and let me know what you think.

18 February 2008 - Posted by | food, in the news


  1. Unfortunately this is a very common story in the developing world.

    This person also wrote about a similar experience in Ethiopia


    Comment by Addis | 21 February 2008

  2. I think the response to the NYT detailed on racialicious is an interesting counterpoint – it gives the reader another perspective on the Western interpretation of Islam. I am hugely curious about how you read this? (I noted you have racialicious as a blog you read, so I assume you’ve had a look?).

    *waiting* with CHSFS

    Comment by MM | 24 February 2008

  3. MM, how funny that you asked about my thoughts on the Racialicious post, since I actually commented on it over there. Here’s my take on this article: what little I do know about, I agreed with. It matched my perception of Cairo, but that wouldn’t be so surprising, since the guy who wrote the article is an American expat in Cairo like Mr. Four and me; it just stands to reason we might have similar experiences (even though this was written as news, of course).

    I disagreed with Fatemeh’s arguments at Raciliacious, not because of her take on Islam, but because I think she just doesn’t get what it means to be a poor person. And that’s what a lot of that article was about: how some Egyptians deal with poverty so extreme they can’t get married, which is a pretty basic part of what it means to be an adult here in Egypt (where most people live with their parents until they get married, even if they marry at age 40).

    I’m not saying I know what it means to be poor. But I at least see in part what people are dealing with on a daily basis. I also think Fatemeh has a hard time reading anything in the mainstream media about Islam. It’s like her hackles are always up. To her credit, she seemed open to criticism in a later comment.

    So what’s your take on it?

    Comment by Ms. Four | 24 February 2008

  4. […] factory workers who wanted to lodge protests about low wages and high inflation (issues I’ve blogged about elsewhere), and morphed into something national. Free speech may not be a uniquely American […]

    Pingback by The Strike « We Four in Egypt | 8 April 2008

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