Egypt delivers a drive to contain population boom, but are there any takers?

A doctor displays contraceptives at a family planning clinic in Cairo. (Reuters)
Updated 07 September 2017

Egypt delivers a drive to contain population boom, but are there any takers?

CAIRO: Questions are being asked about the effectiveness of government initiatives to control Egypt’s population boom.
Since the 1980s, Egypt has struggled to control rapid population growth, with consecutive governments complaining about the resulting economic burden.
In 2016 alone, Egypt saw the birth of 2.6 million babies, the country’s statistics agency CAPMAS said.
The Health Ministry launched Operation Lifeline last month, to educate people in rural areas about birth control and family planning.
Egypt is the most populous Arab country, with 93 million citizens. That figure is set to grow to 128 million by 2030 if the fertility rate of four births per 1,000 women continues, according to government figures.
“Previous government efforts didn’t fail to curb population growth, otherwise we could’ve surpassed the current figures,” Ayman Zohry, a population and migration expert, told Arab News.
The population grew drastically in the wake of the 2011 uprising and subsequent years of social unrest, he said.
“Every birth averted will be very important to Egypt,” Zohry added, citing the serious implications of overpopulation on national development and security.
The Health Ministry aims to reduce the birth rate to 2.4 and save the government up to 200 billion Egyptian pounds ($11.3 billion) by 2030, Reuters reported.
The ministry will deploy 12,000 family-planning advocates to 18 rural provinces, but gave no details about how it will attract more women to the program.
Said Sadek, a professor of political sociology in Cairo, said to attract people in rural areas to family-planning programs, the government has to understand their perception of wanting to have more children, and how they view large families as a sign of economic strength.
“We’ve seen the upper and middle classes of Egyptian society respond to family planning, but we fail to see the effectiveness of government programs in rural areas, where a family could have six children born to uneducated parents,” he told Arab News.
“To address an issue this big, the government needs to reach opinion leaders in those areas who have the power to convince people of the importance of birth control.”
In previous attempts, Sadek said the government sent representatives who were strangers to rural communities to tell them not to have a lot of children.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi last month said the current population growth rate poses a threat to national development.
“The two biggest dangers that Egypt faces throughout its history are terrorism and population growth, and this challenge decreases Egypt’s chances of moving forward,” he said.
Several MPs have recently called for programs to limit the number of children per family. Some say families with more than three children should be deprived of government support for education and subsidized goods and public services.
“People should understand that rapid population growth has serious implications on the country’s economy, and thus will affect the current and coming generations,” Sadek said.
“Only a strong government can apply strict regulations on families that have more children by cutting subsidies.”
But Zohry said the government should not blame parents for having children, and cutting state support for non-abiding families punishes the newborn, not the parents. Such “negative incentives” will not succeed, he added.
Instead, the government should educate people, especially women, and improve reproductive health care, he said.
The Health Ministry runs nearly 6,000 family-planning clinics, where women receive free check-ups and can buy heavily subsidized contraceptives ranging from condoms at 0.10 Egyptian pounds to copper intrauterine devices at 2 Egyptian pounds.
Besides people in rural areas viewing large families as a source of economic strength, there is also resistance to birth control due to a belief that it is unlawful in Islam to aim to conceive a specific number of children.
But Egypt’s Al-Azhar, a 1,000-year-old seat of Islamic learning, said family planning is not forbidden.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.