This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Can Egypt Survive Its Demographic Storm?

It has been over a year since I last blogged about Egypt, and the concern then was that rapid population growth was threatening to undermine the country's fragile stability. A major issue then was that, as I pointed out three years ago, the birth rate in Egypt has been rising, not falling. Fast forward to an article that came out today* from the Brookings Institution written by two economists at the World Bank:
Egypt’s worrying population boom fails to generate the same headline attention as terrorist attacks, the impact of economic reforms on the poor, the country’s hyper-constrained politics, or accusations of human rights violations. Yet, the very real dangers it poses were highlighted when the head of the country’s statistical agency, Abu Bakr el-Gendy, called this seemingly irrepressible tide a “catastrophe.” To Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it is a “challenge as critical as terrorism.”
This growth has grave implications. The number of primary school students grew by 40 percent from 2011 to 2016. One can imagine the impact on a system where 35 percent of students entering middle school cannot read or write. Employment is another challenge, with 700,000 new entrants annually into a labor force where over 25 percent of those 18-29 years old—one-third of whom have university degrees—are unemployed. The International Monetary Fund projects a labor force of 80 million by 2028. Reminiscent of the 2011 revolution, in which youth played a major role, 61 percent of the current population is under 30 years old and 34.2 percent is under 15 years old.
Back in 2015 I noted that "[i]t will be very important for the current or future governments to reinvigorate family planning programs so that married women have greater access to birth control (historically these programs have been much more available to married than to single women), and to invest again in education for women and create employment opportunities for young women, so that they will be encouraged to delay marriage and thus lower their lifetime number of births."

It seems as though the government is finally getting serious about this.
The government has launched a family planning campaign with the slogan “two are enough.” The Ministry of Health’s Operation Lifeline aims to reduce the birth rate to 2.4, targeting rural areas where many view large families as a source of economic strength and resist birth control believing that it is un-Islamic. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s foremost sources of Islamic learning, supports the ministry.
We know that concerted efforts to make family planning available to women work--look at Iran, as I discussed last month.  The world needs to step up to help Egypt succeed in this, because demographic chaos in Egypt will not stay in Egypt.

*And, yes, thanks to Todd Gardner yet again for the link!

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