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People and Society

famous pyramids, Coptic language, Libyan Desert, Arabian Desert, Coptic Christians

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The population of Egypt is 81,713,517 (2008 estimate). The people live almost exclusively in the Nile Valley, the Nile Delta, the Suez Canal region, and the northern coastal region of the Sinai Peninsula. There are small communities in the oases of the Libyan Desert and in the oil-drilling and mining towns of the Arabian Desert. There is also a small population of nomadic Bedouins. Egypt’s overall population density is 82 persons per sq km (213 per sq mi), but the population density in the inhabited portions of the country, which make up less than 5 percent of its land area, is 1,900 persons per sq km (4,900 per sq mi).

The population growth rate, which was about 2.5 percent per year in the 1980s, declined steadily in the 1990s as the country’s birth rate fell. In 2008 the rate of population growth was 1.68 percent. The birth rate was 22 per 1,000 persons, and the death rate was 5 per 1,000 persons.

For most of Egypt’s history, the majority of the population was rural and agricultural. In the second half of the 20th century, limited availability of agricultural land prompted peasants to migrate to the cities in search of work. By 2005, 42 percent of the population lived in urban areas.

Principal Cities

Cairo is Egypt’s capital and largest city. Including Giza, located on the west bank of the Nile adjacent to Cairo, the population of metropolitan Cairo was 7.5 million in 2003. Cairo serves as the commercial, administrative, and tourist center of Egypt. Other major cities include Giza, Alexandria, and Port Said. Giza is the location of three of Egypt’s most famous pyramids. Alexandria is Egypt’s principal Mediterranean seaport. Port Said, located at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, is the site of an important free trade zone and various shipping services.


Nearly the entire population of Egypt speaks Arabic. However, only well-educated people easily understand standard Arabic. Colloquial Egyptian Arabic is the language of daily conversation. Many Nubians also speak their ancestral language. Berber is spoken in a few settlements in the oases of the Western Desert. Coptic Christians use the Coptic language, descended from ancient Egyptian, for liturgical purposes, but it is not a language in daily use. English and French are common second languages among educated Egyptians.

Social Issues

Egypt’s most serious social issues are poverty and overpopulation. There are few wealthy people and many poor people. When adjusted for inflation, the incomes of peasants and working people rose only modestly between the mid-1970s and the end of the 20th century. Overpopulation has strained the physical infrastructure—including roads, sewer systems, water supply, and utility lines—and social service networks of Cairo and other cities. Middle-class housing is expensive and difficult to find. Violent crimes, relatively rare until the late 20th century, have increased as urban life has become more difficult.

Social Services

Employees of the government and of state-owned enterprises receive substantial social benefits, including health care, a pension, and unemployment insurance. Large private firms also may provide such benefits. Smaller privately owned firms are not required to do so, and most do not. Egypt has no system of income support for the poor. Under the open door policy, which aimed at encouraging private enterprise and loosening state controls on the economy, government subsidies that lowered the prices of basic consumer goods were radically cut. As a result, the prices of these goods rose considerably. However, bread sold in poorer neighborhoods is still subsidized.

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