Egypt's President Urges Family Planning

Campaign Launched Amid Economic Difficulties, Unrest Over Food Prices

Nagib Mohammed Ahmed, left, said he has five children.
Nagib Mohammed Ahmed, left, said he has five children. "It's not our fault for having the kids," Ahmed said. "It's the government's fault for not providing." (By Ellen Knickmeyer -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; Page A10

CAIRO, June 10 -- Egypt's big problem? Too many Egyptians, President Hosni Mubarak said this week, launching a new family planning campaign as his government grapples with long bread lines and riots over flour rations.

Mubarak has urged Egyptians to have smaller families since coming to power in 1981, when the country's population was slightly more than 40 million, about half of its estimated population of 81 million today. Many Egyptians see large families as a source of financial security.

Mubarak has renewed such efforts at times of economic difficulty, such as the current one, when rising food prices, stagnant wages and an inefficient and corrupt distribution system have led to hours-long lines for subsidized bread. On Saturday, thousands in the Mediterranean town of Burullus burned tires and battled police to show their anger over a government plan to distribute flour rations to bakeries rather than the public.

At least 10 Egyptians have died in incidents at bread lines this year.

"Egyptians built history and culture and the Pyramids when they were no more than 2 million," Mubarak said Monday at a national conference on family planning, according to the Cairo daily al-Masri al-Yom. At current growth rates, the country's population will double by 2050, he said.

Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali announced an $80 million family-planning campaign Tuesday, with the slogan "Two children per family -- a chance for a better life."

Egypt is the 16th most populous country in the world, and the most populous Arab nation. Its fertility rate, 2.7 children born per woman, places it 88th among nations, according to 2008 estimates in the CIA World Factbook. The United States ranks 126th with 2.1 children per woman.

In a store selling baby products in Cairo's crowded working-class neighborhood of Boulaq on Tuesday, 71-year-old Abu Mahmoud read the Koran at the counter under a rack of pink baby T-shirts printed with the English words "Beautiful life of niceties."

Abu Mahmoud, who wouldn't give his full name for fear of trouble from the government, said he had five children and wished for 12.

"Every time the president speaks to the people, it's like he's looking at us and saying, 'Where am I going to get the food to feed you all?' " he said.

"God is feeding us," he added.

"If the government took the money it spent on birth-control campaigns and used it to buy us food, it would be much better," said Abu Mahmoud, who has seen four of his children find jobs as accountants, with the fifth still in school.

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