Overpopulation Egypt's biggest obstacle for economic prosperity, says El Sisi

President said high birth rates are the main reasons behind the country's struggling education and health sectors

FILE PHOTO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023.  Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court / Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY / File Photo
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Egypt’s high birth rate and its population, the largest in the Arab world, was described as the biggest obstacle to the country’s economic prosperity by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

Mr El Sisi, who spoke on Tuesday during the launch of the 1st Global Congress on Population, Health and Development (PHDC’23) at Egypt’s New Administrative Capital, warned that Egypt’s resources are not enough to handle a population of 105 million in addition to a “guest” population of 9 million.

This is not the first time the president has cited the country’s population growth as one of the most challenging obstacles facing Egypt. It's an issue that has been repeatedly blamed for the country's economic woes, going back as far as the rule of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

During the address, Mr El Sisi, who is largely expected to seek a third term in office during the upcoming presidential elections, focused on the education and healthcare sectors, blaming their bad state on the lack of resources to develop them - due to the nation's large population growth rate.

Mr El Sisi and his Cabinet have been repeatedly criticised for spending more on large construction projects and not enough on the education and healthcare sector.

Egyptian Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar mirrored the views of president El Sisi when he spoke in Tuesday's conference.

“It is the biggest obstacle to economic growth as it devours all the outcomes of the country’s development efforts which in turn affects the quality of services provided to the populace and therefore their quality of life,” Mr Abdel Ghaffar continued, “The main result of a large population is the absence of a balance between population growth and economic growth.”

A high population growth rate makes controlling poverty, fighting hunger and malnutrition, and providing adequate education and healthcare very difficult for the state, Mr Abdel Ghaffar added.

Earlier this year, Housing Minister Asem El Gazzar said Egypt needs to build 600,000 homes every year to keep up with the population growth. The government has spent around 1.1 trillion Egyptian pounds (about $56 billion) on housing projects over the past 10 years.

In Tuesday's comments, Mr El Sisi tried to deflect some of the blame pointed towards his government and defended its decision to build the New Administrative Capital, the desert east of Cairo.

He described the project, which is still under construction, in addition to the 24 other megacities built during his two terms in office as part of a larger plan to absorb the growing population and exit the Nile Delta region where most of the country’s population currently lives.

The New Administrative Capital has been a largely controversial project since it was announced back in 2015. While Mr El Sisi and his government have repeatedly said it was an essential project that would drum up revenues for the state, his critics have called it unnecessary and a waste of essential state funds that could be spent on more pressing matters.

“Some might say that the challenge facing Egypt when it comes to population growth is impossible to overcome, but I think that while it might be difficult, it’s possible to confront,” the president said.

“Every sector in the country, whether it is education, health, agriculture, water resources, electricity has seen efforts on the government’s part that far exceed our means,” Mr El Sisi added.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 4:21 PM