Why does Egypt’s military want to reduce the population?

“What is the population of Egypt that the junta wants in Egypt to achieve development?” This was the question of many on social media after Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s statements, in which he warned about population growth, describing it as a significant problem that the people and the government must resolve.

Al-Sisi does not leave an opportunity to present the country’s problems unless he uses it to warn of overpopulation, which he considers one of the most severe obstacles to development, and even puts it at the same level as the danger of terrorism. Despite the presidential warning, al-Sisi ruled out the state’s resort to violent legal measures to solve this problem. He continued: “The influence of the revolution and anger is still present within the people until now and it has not ended yet… But people must help us, by understanding the causes of what we are in, and why we have reached this point?”

The Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics announced, on the first day of this year, that the population of Egypt had reached about 101.38 million people, with an increase of 1.38 million people within ten months. About 20 million people are concentrated in the governorates of Cairo and Giza. The presidential and government concern with the issue of overpopulation and the causes and consequences it encompasses pushes us to move away from the circle of the crisis if it is considered a real problem. So, according to the presidential perspective, Egypt is overwhelmed with projects that try to cope with the vast population increase, which deprives its citizens of the luxury that would be there if births declined, which means that the country awaits the prosperity of living with birth control.

The way in which al-Sisi deals with the population issue can be understood through his statement, which placed the increase in the number of citizens alongside terrorism as a challenge to the country, “the two biggest dangers facing Egypt are terrorism and overpopulation.” He continued, “We have put the people who are killing us with the increase in population as a challenge since the rise in population reduces Egypt’s chances of advancing.”

This presidential vision supports the possibilities revealed by the Egyptian Deputy Minister of Health for Population Affairs Tarek Tawfiq, based on the results of the study of population predictions for Egypt, 2020-2050. Through an official statement, he said that the first possibility is not controlling the population increase and reaching a total fertility rate of 3.5 children per woman. Accordingly, Egypt’s population will be about 183 million in 2050, the percentage of the population in the workforce is about 60 per cent, and the total dependency ratio is about 0.68 per cent. Tawfiq added that the second possibility expects the total fertility rate to remain stable at the current situation (3.07 children per woman), and then the population of Egypt will be about 160 million in 2050, and the percentage of the population in the workforce is about 64 per cent and the total dependency ratio is about 0.56 per cent. While the third possibility is expected to reach the total fertility rate of 2.4 children per woman, thus the population of Egypt will be about 152 million people in 2050, and the percentage of the population in the workforce is about 64 per cent, and the total dependency ratio is about 0.55 per cent.

The Deputy Minister of Health pointed out that the expected increase in poverty rates in the case of uncontrolled population growth means that more than 44 million people would be poor, compared to 33 million in the case of applying the National Population Strategy and reaching a total birth rate of 2.4 children per woman.

The tendency is to question the state of the country, if the population drops, and whether it will truly emerge from its crises or enter another cycle of problems?

First scenario

There are scenarios for Egypt, which has a low or moderate population density, some of which are lofty, fighting the sky of well-being, and others which are plowing the land of lamentations for the country with any human population. The first scenario was presented by al-Sisi himself last September when he included his country in comparison with Germany, which has remained for the past 25 years without a population increase.

Al-Sisi said that Berlin did not need water treatment, a power station, or new infrastructure for the benefit of the population, and therefore the German government tended to spend on the welfare of its citizens, as it did not allocate investments from the budget to cover population growth. Then he entered present-day Egypt into a comparison with itself 200 years ago, saying: “Every Egyptian used to have an acre on which to live or work … and now there are 100 million in the same area.” He continued: “The one acre, after what was owned by one person, became for 10 individuals… and therefore it was natural that life was cheap in the past … and naturally, the value of the pound was high.”

The second scenario

As for the second scenario, it is unlikely that citizens’ standard of living will increase in the event of a decrease in the population, even if it reaches half the current figure, meaning that the Egyptians number no more than 50 million. Excluding the luxury of living due to the demographic decline, there is also an assumption that the workforce will decline in many sectors due to population poverty. At the forefront of these sectors will be agriculture, a primary pillar of the Egyptian economy that is already suffering from a significant workforce shortage.

Observers also expect that the Egyptian demand for goods and services will decrease, which will reduce the incentive for many producers’ mass production, which will slow the rotation of the wheel of the economy. Egypt’s problem is not overpopulation, but rather the density of the population per square kilometre and the lack of planning that has created crowding and slums. In general, talking about the population decline in Egypt is a fantasy.

Third scenario

As for the third scenario, if Egypt’s population is fixed at 100 million, the living conditions will remain as they are without increasing or decreasing in the coming years. What will happen when the population stabilises is the manifestation of the state’s administrative failure by the current system, which raises the question: “When will the government come with new resources that improve the living conditions of the 100 million people in light of an economic system based on borrowing and suffering from a severe shortage of income from several sectors such as tourism?”

Experts confirmed that the continued repression and suppression of freedoms would not allow any improvement in living conditions, even if the population decreases to whatever percentage the government seeks as the “population density is a peg on which the system attaches its administrative failure, which will cause more failure.” According to observers, the problem is not in the increase in population but in the theft of the people’s capabilities, citing countries that have made progress despite their human density, such as China and India, which have made humans the centre of development.