The Language of Food

PL 480 in Egypt

by Jean-Jacques Dethier , Kathy Funk
published in MER145

“I went down to Cairo with a little wheat in my pocket and they had the red carpet out for me there…. I was speaking the language of food and they understand.” -- US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, 1974


For more than a decade now, the political embrace of Washington and Cairo has directly affected what Egypt’s 45 million people eat and how much they pay for it. Once a leading granary for the entire Mediterranean, Egypt today is one of the largest food importers in the world, and one of the largest markets for US agricultural exports. Each year more than $4 billion worth of imported food comes through its ports. About one quarter of this comes from the United States.

New Lands Irrigation

Promise or Panacea?

by Douglas Gritzinger
published in MER145

Once irrigated and lush but now barren, the Mesopotamian plain circling the ruins of Gilgamesh’s Uruk makes present day calls for food security via vast new irrigation projects appear shortsighted. Irrigation today suffers the same problems as in ancient times -- salt buildup in the soil, collapsing dams, irrigation channels narrowed and blocked by silt buildup -- plus some new ones, such as pesticide runoff. But irrigation planners figure they have learned a few things since Gilgamesh’s time. We can expect Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others to go on building new, expensive irrigation projects until they finally reach the limits of their water supplies. Reaching these limits should take only two or three more decades.

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Interview with Mohamed Sid-Ahmed

by Joe Stork
published in MER147

Mohamed Sid-Ahmed is a Contributing Editor of this magazine and Managing Editor of Al-Ahali, the weekly of Egypt’s left opposition party, Tagammu‘. Joe Stork spoke with him in Washington in early May.


You recently attended the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers. What were your impressions?

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The Ear of Authority

by Timothy Mitchell
published in MER147

A confidential report compiled in October 1966 by the Criminal Investigation office of the Egyptian army accused Ahmad Hasan, former member of parliament and former government-appointed head of his village, of 11 “criminal and terrorist” offenses.

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Rescheduling the Camp David Debt

by Joe Stork
published in MER147

Egypt’s current debt crisis is one of the fruits of Camp David. Much of the principal and interest now in arrears or coming due was contracted in the heady days when oil prices were soaring and the treaty with Israel and military alliance with Washington certified Egypt as a credit-worthy customer for Western banks and governments. The United States in particular stepped up its economic and military lending to Cairo.

With Friends Like These

Coptic Activism in the Diaspora

by Michael Wahid Hanna
published in MER267

In June 2010, amidst escalating controversy over the construction of a mosque and Islamic community center near the former site of the World Trade Center, two Egyptians found themselves on the receiving end of xenophobic abuse as a crowd accosted them with calls to “go home.” Unbeknownst to the angry mob, the two Arabic-speaking men, Joseph Nasralla Abdelmasih and Karam El Masry, had come all the way from California to join the protest against what was dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque.” In fact, Abdelmasih and El Masry, who were eventually escorted away for their own safety by police officers, were involved with “The Way,” a Christian satellite television program established in 2010 that broadcasts in English and Arabic.

Copts Under Mursi

Defiance in the Face of Denial

by Mariz Tadros
published in MER267

Throughout his 2012 presidential campaign, Muhammad Mursi was keen to emphasize that he would be a president for all Egyptians, not just supporters of the Society of Muslim Brothers, and that he believed in equal citizenship for all, irrespective of religious affiliation. The majority of Egypt’s Coptic Christians were nonetheless suspicious of the Muslim Brother candidate, and in the first round many voted for one of the other main contenders, Ahmad Shafiq or Hamdin Sabbahi. Almost a year into Mursi’s presidency, it is clear that the Coptic minority -- roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population -- did not overestimate either the threat to their rights or the strain on social cohesion that would attend a Mursi victory.

Egypt's New Political Map

A Report from the Election Campaign

by Bertus Hendriks
published in MER147

Compared with 1984, the atmosphere of the 1987 Egyptian elections was decidedly less free. The outcry of the opposition in 1984 primarily concerned the forged results on election day itself. [1] In 1987, the pressure on the opposition during the campaign was much stronger. The Emergency Law, extended almost routinely every year since Husni Mubarak came to power, offers the regime an array of measures for interfering in the campaign. Administrative detention was used to intimidate opposition militants. A country-wide wave of arrests of Muslim Brothers, particularly prospective poll watchers, started a few days before the elections. According to the Amal Party newspaper, Al-Sha‘b, ten days later more than a thousand were still detained.

Egyptian Political Parties

published in MER147

Alliance (Tahaluf)
An opposition list formed for the 1987 elections by the Socialist Labor Party, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Socialist Liberals Party. Officially identified as the SLP list, since the Muslim Brotherhood, as a religious organization, cannot legally participate in elections.

Egypt: A Primer

by Martha Wenger
published in MER147

The People

Nearly 50 million Egyptians live in this flat, hot, dry land the size of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas combined. Most of them are crowded into a fertile strip along the Nile River and its delta. In greater Cairo, the 17th largest city in the world, population density is an astounding 27,092 people per square kilometer. Egypt‘s population is growing at a rate of 2.52 percent per year; almost half of Egyptian woman are in their childbearing years, marriage is nearly universal and contraception was practiced by only 24 percent of couples in 1982. Egypt is also becoming increasingly urban. By 1976 one-third of its people lived in cities of over 100,000.