Community Barriers of Sustainable Development
in Rural Egypt
Mohamed Nabil Gamie
Department of Rural Sociology, College of Agriculture, University of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt.
Few concepts have matched the popularity of “sustainability” in development literature. In spite of this substantial appeal, consensus on the meaning of the concept itself is lacking. No body, however, argues with the desired nature and high value attached to the meaning of sustainability. It is extremely complicated and substantially multifaceted. Thus, the more the researcher hits of the aspects of sustainability the more validity attached to his arguments. Allen, et. al (1991) sees no consensus on “what combinations of resources or practices should be sustained.” The same perspective is also held by Gale and Cordray (1994: 1) as presented in their article on “making sense of sustainability: Nine answers to ‘what should be sustained.” The following table illustrates their nine types of sustainability:
Table 1. Gale and Cordray’s nine types of sustainability
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*Richard P. Gale and Sheila M. Cordray, “making sense of sustainability: Nine answers to ‘what should be sustained?’, Rural Sociology, 59(2), 1994, pp. 311-332.
It seems to the present writer that system “preservation, integrity, and self-reliance” ( close to no. 7 in the table above) compose the core nature of development sustainability, particularly with regard to contemporary development trends in third world countries. Sustainability, is probably concerned more with “continuity,” whereas “development” is distinctly concerned with “improvement,” in addition to sustainability itself. In that sense, sustainability is used as an adjective to describe either “development,” other things or processes such as those posted in Gale and Cordray’s typology above to insure integrity, self reliance and continuity of systems’ viable performance.
“Preservation and continuity” stands for Douglas’ (1984) sustainability (food sufficiency, stewardship, or community stability), for Batie’s (1989) and Keeney’s (1989) concern for future generations, and also stands for “environmentalism,” the other side of the political banner upheld by post-developmentalists today.
Hajer (in Lykke, ed., 1992) emphasized the important notion of “socio-sphere” in his analysis of the indices of environmental performance. He contends that sustainable development is viewed as a story line without a clearly defined set of instructions that allows decision makers to interpret its meaning context-specifically. He points out to the important notion that environmental performance should be designed to monitor not only the changes in the physical environment (compartment indicators or quality of environment indicators), but also structural change in the political economy (sectoral indicators.) The concept is comparable to the indicator classification as symptoms of environmental degradation, on one hand, and root causes on the other.
One good example of sustainable development that won the status of UN best practices is the Canadian community of Hamilton-Wentworth where sustainable development was based primarily on continuity, capacity building (empowerment) and self-reliance (basically with regard to the environmental socio-sphere) through developing partnership between government, industry and community organizations. Hamilton-Wentworth's Sustainable Community Initiative is an example of how a community visioning exercise can empower the citizens with the ability and desire to make the fundamental changes required for sustainability. The initiative was built on a particular development philosophy, i.e., sustainable development, emphasizing environmental, social, and economic issues, and focusing on development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, (Best Practices Data Base, 1998), thus, creating viable social systems.
Rural Development in a Sustainable Perspective : Before defining rural development, it might be helpful to view its opposite, backwardness. Backwardness seems to be a relative phenomenon, value-laden concept, highly complex and involving all structural and functional components of given societies. Its causes have been attributed to so many variables with scholars often confusing causes with symptoms. The most effective approach to conquer backwardness is probably through comprehensive attack on the stymied structures, standing supported by the status quo of which the government itself is a central part. Importance of creating valid visions for political, cultural, socio-economic restructuring is mostly emphasized in the way of combating backwardness and in pursuit of rural development.
Backwardness is probably best faced through sustainable rural development. Thus, sustainability is a quality of the development process. This quality is the one that makes development continuous, self-reliant, autochthonous, environmentally friendly and productive. This quality includes both structural and functional elements. Table 2. below shows such elements arbitrarily classified into structural and functional.
Table 2. Structural and functional elements of
sustainable rural development
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Development is not spontaneous evolutionary process. Political commitment and clear vision of development goals and means should be adopted by policy makers and top executives. Effectiveness with regard to meeting the public’s needs, accountability and transparency are supposed to be the overriding criteria for policy making. However, Reactionary, “pain-relieving,” appeasing and political accommodation tones and status-quo oriented policies seem to dominate the policy and decision making scene in the Egyptian development scenario. As mentioned above, sustainable development requires a structured network of actors represented mainly by a contractual or semi-contractual partnership of government, private sector, citizens and civil organizations. Community viability and self-reliance could be secured through this structural arrangement.
Rural development is, thus, defined as "sustainable planned progressive movement for significantly changing the structures and functions of rural social, economic, political and cultural systems through promoting the complex of production and service activities catering for coordination, comprehensiveness, complementarities and balance between private and government roles, through popular participation and optimum utilization of natural, material and human resources in order to attain equitable economic prosperity, social welfare and psychic satisfaction for the majority of the rural population (Gamie, et. al. 1988).
Historic and Macro-level Perspective of Rural Development in Egypt: Because of limited space, the present paper does not intend to delve into historic and macro-level causes of village underdevelopment in Egypt. However, it might only be mentioned that facing the barriers of sustainable development in rural Egypt needs to recognize such causes and insure the implementation of necessary measures for redressing them. In fact, deeply rooted historic conditions have led to, and perpetuated, the following dimensions of backwardness: (a) Dependent apathetic personality of the rural person. Paramount among his personality traits are lack of trust in government, belief in superstitions and sorcery and lack of popular participation in public affairs. (b) Backward social institutions. (c) A widened rural-urban development gap.
Also, international conditions such as the international power structure, historically and contemporarily inundated by conflict, imposed certain constraints from the center to the periphery nations for the sake of status quo. The following techniques were used by the center: (a) Military, (b) political, (c) cultural, i.e., education and training, mass media, international organizations and institutions,. . . etc. and (d) economic techniques, i.e., loans, credit, globalization of production and multinational corporations. These techniques led to the emergence of three types of third world dependencies, i.e., industrial, agricultural and financial which strongly affected the developing nations including Egypt and its rural sector in particular.
On the national level, the following conditions are also responsible for much of the Egyptian village underdevelopment: (a) Government weakness, lack of ideological clarity and easy succumbing to national and international pressure groups. (b) Belief in primacy of economic development along with misunderstanding and underestimation of social and normative (institutional) development. (c) Misconception and obsession with the necessity of social and political stability to the extent of fostering stagnation. (d) Modesty of the planning process and lack of contrived action in comparison with spontaneous reactions. (e) Government hesitation in facing required structural changes and emphasis on welfare rather than productive development. (f) Inflation of government apparatus, excessive centralization of governmental management and “bureaucratic paganism. ” (g) Lack of efficiency and effectiveness of utilization of human and material resources. (h) Urban exploitation of rural areas and historic neglect of agriculture.
The study’s General Hypothesis: Government Monopoly of Development: The peculiar history of oppression and exploitation of Egyptian citizens practiced by the Pharaohs, colonialists, feudalists and contemporary bureaucracy has crystallized a government sponsored “development” pattern, in which the citizens were only subjects. Thus, it is hypothesized that development is not even an old historic phenomenon, but when it was born particularly in the twentieth century it was kept in the government womb. Community viability, i.e., viable human and social capital, were kept to a minimum. Self-help activities and public participation in development were minimized because of the inherited centralist credo and the exploitative relationship of government toward people. It is thus hypothesized that the imbalance between government and public participation in development in favor of government is the major cause of rural community underdevelopment in Egypt.
The author, among a group of scholars, envisioned the painful fact of stagnancy, inefficiency and underdevelopment of the Egyptian village socio-economic structure. Literacy increases at almost a stagnant annual rate of one percent, communities levels of education and unemployment rates are positively correlated, the agricultural base, i.e., the arable land was constant if not decreasing, the annual growth rate of agricultural production vacillated around a low 2 percent level, the annual proportion of government expenditure in agriculture was decreasing, the annual population rate of growth was constant around 2.8 percent and the demand for food increased annually with a rate of 12.5 percent during the 70s and 80s. These figures amounted to an increasing gap of around 13 percent between food supply and demand. The simple fact was that of every four loaves of bread consumed three were imported. Generally, 70 percent of the food bill was paid out to foreign countries.
Presenting this grim picture to the Egyptian Academy of Science and Technology, this group of scholars were able to win the funding of one of the most systematic and comprehensive studies of rural development in the history of Egypt. The study aimed at: (1) An attempt to understand and evaluate the concepts of development and underdevelopment particularly as applied to the less developed countries, (2) coining a reliable and valid definition of rural community development, (3) studying different strategies of rural development as implemented in different parts of the world, (4) pinpointing the most probable causes of village underdevelopment particularly in view of the historic, international, national, and local perspectives and (5) outlining implications and strategies for Egyptian rural development.
The methodology of the study included the use of different methods as historical, statistical, secondary data, and survey methods complemented each others. However, the present paper, because of limited space, will focus only on the community study.
The Sample: The sample was purposively selected to satisfy the analytic goals of the study. Around 6% sample of 257 villages out of 4200 Egyptian villages was selected. The sample villages were selected from 4 of the 26 Egyptian governorates, two from upper Egypt and two from lower Egypt. The analytical purpose of the study was satisfied by selecting variant communities with regard to the dependent variable, i.e., degree of development, in order to discover the concomitant independent variables causing such developmental variability. Development index was best expressed then by proportion of population engaged in agriculture (Gamie, 1974). For upper Egypt, the governorate of Giza, the most developed (10.24% population engaged in agriculture) and Minia, the least developed (25.13% population engaged in agriculture) were selected. For lower Egypt, the governorate of Gharbia, the most developed (15.64% population engaged in agriculture) and Kafr El-Shiekh, the least developed (27.07% population engaged in agriculture) were selected. Sample variability with regard to the dependent variable was more accentuated by selecting one half of the sample from mother villages (containing local governance units) and the other half from subsidiary villages. More variability was still created by selecting half of the mother villages sample as the highest ranking villages with regard to size of population, and selecting the other half as the lowest ranking villages also with regard to population size. The same was done in selecting the subsidiary villages. The following diagram represents the population and sample space.
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Variables and Measurement: Measurement of variables depended on Census data whenever applicable, official records of rural organizations, interviewing of village organizations’ directors, and interviewing of five informants in each village and averaging their responses for each item in the questionnaire. Variable components were standardized and averaged. Thus, each variable was finally expressed as a standardized T score with an average of 50 and a standard deviation of 10. The study’s dependent variable was the village, or community, level of development. Independent variables included the following 24 variables:
 This concept was coined by the author in 1976 to express the extremely ritualistic inclinations of bureaucrats. Laws are originally formulated by bureaucracy for the benefit of the public, but bureaucrats blindly apply them, and tend to worship these laws at the expense of public’s benefit.
 Under the team-leadership of Prof. Mohamed Nabil Gamie, this study titled "comprehensive analysis of the causes of Egyptian village underdevelopment" was executed by the Department of Rural Sociology of Alexandria University in collaboration with professors, experts and researchers from the Universities of Cairo, Ain-Shams, Al-Azhar, Al-Menia, Al-Mansoura, Kafr Elshiekh, Al-Menoufia, and from the Organization of Restructuring and Development of Egyptian Village (ORDEV), Mariut International Center of Rural Development and the Governorates of Giza, Menia, Gharbia and Kafr Elshiekh. The study continued for four years and the findings were reported in two main volumes both reaching 1240 pages.
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- Rural sociology sociology rural development measurement of rural development variables