The Senate’s decision came at the end of a two-week discussion of a study prepared by Senator Soheir Abdel-Salam on the problem of overpopulation in Egypt and what measures are necessary to contain it.
The report, prepared by the Senate’s committees on health, population, human rights and social solidarity, recommends that an independent entity, the National Authority for Population and Family Development, be established to replace the existing National Population Council which was created in 1985, said Senate Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek, adding that the new independent authority shall be granted adequate powers in order to take serious and collective action in tackling overpopulation. “Overpopulation has become like a very dangerous disease blocking the state’s efforts in achieving comprehensive development, and we hope that the new authority will be the medicine to relieve the country of this disease,” Abdel-Razek said.
The report indicated that the authority will be composed of a council of trustees, a board of directors and a secretariat-general. The authority will be affiliated with the presidency rather than with the Ministry of Health and Population. The president of the republic will be named chairman of the council of trustees, the prime minister as deputy chairman and all concerned cabinet ministers and public figures with expertise in population policies as members, the report said.
Abdel-Razek said a new strategy for population growth in Egypt has been a priority since 2015. During this period, the National Project for Developing the Egyptian Family was launched in a bid to stem the tide of population growth, Abdel-Razek said, adding that additional measures are still necessary to tackle the problem.
Abdel-Razek also indicated that measures on tackling population growth are in line with Article 41 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution which states that “the state shall implement a population programme aimed at striking a balance between population growth and available resources, and shall maximise investments in human resources and improve their characteristics in the framework of achieving sustainable development.”
Mohamed Gazzar, chairman of the Senate’s Health Committee, said the proposal to establish a National Authority for Population and Family Development came upon the recommendation of many experts who agreed the authority should be independent of financial and administrative affairs, and having adequate powers to implement a new strategy for containing overpopulation.
Abdel-Salam’s study, which the Senate began discussing on 28 March, warns that Egypt’s population will reach 128 million by the year 2030 and 183 million by 2050.
“This runaway growth of population poses a serious threat to the country’s future, economic development, and national security,” said the study, asking that the role of the National Population Council be restructured and replaced by an independent and more powerful entity by the name of the National Authority for Population and Family Development, in addition to the fact that new and urgent measures that can reduce population growth to just 110 million by 2030 should be adopted. “But it seems that it will be difficult to achieve this target as babies born during the boom years between 2010 and 2015 will reach the age of marriage in 2030-2040, consequently resulting in Egypt becoming 183 million in 2025,” said the study, adding that this number will exert heavy pressure on the country’s economy and natural resources. It suggested that all that can be done now is to follow a new strategy based on strict birth control and marriage measures. This, it said, was important to achieve Egypt’s 2030 vision on sustainable development which seeks to control the population in Egypt soon.
Egypt’s population currently stands at 102 million people. According to the study, the population is currently growing at a rate of 1.94 per cent, a rate that adds about two million people to the population every year. Egypt has a relatively young population; 60 per cent are under 30. This rapidly increasing population poses a threat to the Egyptian economy in which one-third live below the poverty line and the unemployment rate is around 10 per cent, the study said.
The study pointed out that population growth in Egypt significantly slowed down in the 1990s when the National Population Council was affiliated with the presidency, but began to increase rapidly after the year 2000 when the council was put under the purview of the Ministry of Health. “We recommend that the new National Council for Population and Family Development be affiliated with the presidency to be able to achieve the serious objective of controlling population growth in Egypt,” said the study.
The study said all workers currently affiliated with the National Population Council and other concerned ministries which cover population issues shall join the new authority under one umbrella to maximise the benefit from their performance and experience.
Senator Maya Morsi, head of the National Council for Women, said early marriage is one of the main reasons causing population growth, particularly in Upper Egypt. “We hope that the proposed authority in collaboration with the national project for family development will be able to fight the negative phenomenon of early marriage,” said Morsi, adding that other tough measures are expected in controlling population growth.
President Al-Sisi said last year that the new measures on tackling population growth do not aim to prevent childbearing but seek to control birth rates.
Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, minister of higher education and the minister in charge of health affairs, said that more than 5,000 medical units across Egypt will start offering services on family health and birth control.
Minister of Waqf (religious endowments) Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said there was a pressing need for more serious action on checking population growth in Egypt. “In this respect let me indicate that mosques affiliated with the Ministry of Waqf will use doctors to raise awareness of the issue of overpopulation, birth control and family planning,” said Gomaa, adding that “Egypt is increasing by two million or two and half million every year and this is too much, let alone a big burden for a country struggling to offer high-quality services to its citizens.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.