In a ceremony held to inaugurate a medical complex in Ismailia governorate on 16 February, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi underlined the importance of combating Egypt’s runaway population growth.
“Overpopulation represents a threat to Egypt’s stability, security, and development programmes,” said Al-Sisi, before revealing that a new strategy seeks to cut annual population growth from 2.4 million to 400,000.
Minister of Planning and Economic Development Hala Al-Said told the media this week that the government will this year begin implementing a three-year birth control programme. “The beginning will be in Upper Egyptian governorates where fertility rates are high. We will aim to help women aged between 18 and 45 enter employment and secure an income.”
Al-Sisi warned that if population growth rates continue, Egypt’s population will increase from 101.5 million citizens in 2020 to 150 million by 2030 and to around 193-194 million by 2050. “We need LE16 trillion per year to spend on an Egypt with 100 million citizens and would need to double this figure to spend on an Egypt with 195 million,” he said.
The new population strategy, added the president, will raise the slogan “Two Children Are Enough”.
“It is important that families can feed, take care of, and follow up on their children. If they have three, four, or more children, this becomes a big burden not only for the families but also for the state.”
Many of the current chronic problems from which Egypt suffers, from the proliferation of slums and haphazard communities and building on agricultural land, are the direct result of overpopulation, said Al-Sisi.
He said an effective population control strategy requires coordinated efforts from all sectors of society, civil society organisations, intellectuals, the media and religious clerics “all of whom should work to raise awareness about the importance of birth control programmes and the negative impact of overpopulation.”
According to Al-Said, “Egypt witnessed a rapid increase in population growth in 2020, recording 194,000 births per month, 6,480 births per day, or one birth every 13 seconds.”
The 2017 census revealed that children under nine years made up 25 per cent of the total population, said Al-Said. This group is expected to reach marriageable age between 2030 and 2042 and without effective birth control programmes a huge population boom is inevitable.
Al-Said explained that the new three-year family planning and birth control programme will adopt four measures. The first aims to help women between 18 and 45 raise income from productive small-scale projects. The second involves offering free family planning and birth control services in rural areas across Egypt, with civil society organisations playing the biggest role. Some 336 doctors and the same number of nursing staff have received intensive training in the area of family planning and birth control programmes and are now ready to implement them.
The third measure aims to raise awareness about the effects of overpopulation. Volunteers will make 12 million visits to families across Egypt and organise 10,000 seminars and 500 events targeting women in at least 20 governorates.
The fourth measure, said the minister, will involve legislation that toughens penalties for early marriage and child labour.
Egypt’s 2030 vision targets a drop in fertility rates from 3.5 children per woman in 2017 to 2.4 in 2032, and 1.9 children in 2052.
Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics’ figures show that Egypt’s population today is more than five times that of 1947.
Tarek Tawfik, deputy health minister for population matters, told the media last week that there are three scenarios for population growth in Egypt between 2010 and 2050. “The first is that the current fertility rate of 3.5 children per woman holds steady, which means Egypt’s population will reach 183 million by 2050. The second scenario is that the fertility rate drops to 3.07 children which means Egypt’s population will reach 160 million in 2050. Under the third scenario, the fertility rate will fall to 2.4 children meaning Egypt’s population will increase to 152 million.”
Parliament’s Social Solidarity Committee says it will hold hearing sessions on population growth in the next few. The committee’s deputy chairman Radwa Gaafar said the hearing sessions will be organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Solidarity which is playing a key role in birth control programmes, and stressed that “committee members agree that it would be unconstitutional to punish families with three children or to legally compel families to abide by birth control measures.”
MP Rania Al-Gazayerli, however, has announced that she intends to submit a draft law that will strip families with three children or more from accessing 50 per cent of subsidized services and products. “This law, which I hope will come into effect in 2024, represents a tough but necessary step to stem overpopulation,” said Al-Gazayerli.
On 17 February, the day after President Al-Sisi’s remarks on Egypt’s population crisis, Dar Al-Ifta (the House of Religious Edicts) launched a hashtag which translates as “birth control is halal [not forbidden by Islam]”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly