As the year 2000 approaches, humanity has passed an important milestone, one that has nothing to do with the new Millennium, but which may have many more consequences than the Y2K bug. On October 12, the world’s population officially passed six billion. While pundits debated whether this was cause for concern or celebration, it is worth noting how we got here and where we’re headed. Population issues are particularly relevant in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where the population has more than doubled in size since the mid-1960s and will likely increase by another 50 percent by the year 2025. 
Descriptions of Cairo are dominated typically by the stark imagery of an extremely concentrated population mass near asphyxiation. From this perspective, one need look no further than its inhabited rooftops, its streets choked with traffic and pollution and its crowded cemeteries, where the living reside with the dead — all confirm the most obvious symbols of overpopulation. Indeed, Cairo has a population concentration that makes it, along with Bombay, one of the densest metropolitan areas in the world. Despite the rapid modernization of urban infrastructure (subway, elevated highways, sewer and telephone systems), Cairo appears to be stricken by disorder and incoherence. To many, Cairo evokes all the dangers of urban excess, inextricable chaos and spiraling poverty.
Two of the most populous Arab countries, Egypt and Morocco, lie far apart in geography, in their histories and in the size of their populations. Egypt has 57 million inhabitants, more than twice as many as Morocco’s 25.5 million.  One thing they do share is a dramatic long-term rate of demographic growth. In the nine decades of this century, the populations of both countries have multiplied more than fivefold (from around 10 million in Egypt and less than 5 million in Morocco).
The development of population policy in the Islamic Republic of Iran provides fertile ground for reexamining the widely held assumption that Islamist ideology is the antithesis of modernity and surely incompatible with any form of feminism. Recent strategies that the Islamic Republic has adopted to build a public consensus on the necessity of birth control and family planning indicate the flexibility and adaptability of that ideology in response to political and economic realities.
Miryam lives with her family in Manshiyat Nasir, originally a squatter settlement at the foot of Cairo’s Muqattam hills, now largely a brick-built community of small apartment buildings and box-like single family homes. Most now have piped-in water and electricity. Her family is one of the thousands of zabbalin (garbage collector) families comprising a large Christian minority among Manshiyat Nasir’s mostly Muslim residents. They live in a two-story, warehouse-like structure perhaps 25 feet high and about 20 feet square. Off to the side of the main living space, a narrow room has just enough space for a loom; a walled-in area behind the house is home to the family’s 18 pigs.
The question of population and development needs to be framed first and foremost as a question of equity. The articles in this issue address explicitly the matter of gender equity in families and societies, in ways that challenge the notion that Middle Eastern birth and fertility rates can be neatly attributed to Islam and Muslim cultures. Beyond this, we insist that the underlying theme is resource equity. As Philippe Fargues notes, the so-called demographic crisis in many Middle Eastern societies today is a social crisis, arising from the demand for more equitable access to jobs, schooling, housing and health care.
About 30 years ago, a World Bank economic survey mission concluded that “Morocco will continually find itself having to run faster in order to stand still.”  A few years later, a Moroccan demographer warned that if the population were to continue to grow at current rates, “all efforts at development, no matter how grandiose, would be inevitably jeopardized.” 
The outset of the Gulf crisis in August 1990 saw a dramatic exodus of more than a million Asian and Arab workers as well as some 460,000 Kuwaitis from Iraq and Kuwait. Perhaps a million Yemenis felt compelled to leave Saudi Arabia. During the civil war in Iraq that followed the ground war, a million and a half Iraqi Kurds and tens of thousands of Iraqi Arabs in the southern part of the country fled to Turkey or Iran, or were displaced within Iraq’s own borders.