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.

US declares Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land 'consistent' with international law

Updated 26 min 50 sec ago

US declares Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land 'consistent' with international law

  • The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians
  • The move is the latest by the Trump administration seen as favoring the Israeli position over the Palestinians

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade position that they were “inconsistent with international law.”

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians who say the settlements are the main barrier to their future state.

The shift in US policy follows the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem last year, a move seen as undermining Palestinian claims to the eastern half of the city as a future capital.

Pompeo said US statements about the settlements on the West Bank - which Israel captured during a 1967 war - had been inconsistent, saying Democrat President Jimmy Carter in 1978 found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981 said he did not view them as inherently illegal.

“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, drawing criticism from a senior Palestinian figure even before his announcement.

“Another blow to international law, justice & peace,” Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said on Twitter ahead of Pompeo’s statement.

The announcement marked the third major instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against stances taken by the Palestinians and Arab states even before unveiling its long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

In 2017 Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before opening the embassy in the city. US policy had previously been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.

In March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land.

Trump's move might have been designed to help Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power. Israeli politics is deadlocked after two inconclusive elections this year. Former military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party emerged neck and neck with Netanyahu following a September vote, and both leaders have struggled to put together a ruling coalition.

*With Reuters