Egypt’s Baby Boom Needs a Pumped-Up Economy, El-Sisi Says

Egypt’s economy needs to grow by at least 7.5 percent a year to lift living standards for a surging population, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said Wednesday.

Identifying population growth as one the biggest challenges, El-Sisi acknowledged the state had failed to persuade people to rein in birth rates. Egypt has 96 million people living in the country and at least four million abroad, with 2.5 million citizens added each year.

Egyptians won’t be able to feel the benefits of economic growth if the “rate isn’t appropriate,” he said at a youth conference. “This is something you know well.”

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The comments come as the government is attempting to implement a broad International Monetary Fund-backed program to cut costs and boost investments while not overburdening a nation where around half live on or near the poverty line. Scattered protests erupted last week after Cairo metro-ticket prices were hiked — some fares more than tripled — with local media reporting dozens of arrests.

The reforms, which include a 2016 decision to scrap currency controls and cut fuel subsidies, have helped bring in foreign funds and raise economic growth that’s targeted to reach 5.8 percent in the financial year starting July 1. Additional subsidy reductions are expected soon.

Compounding the economic pain is what activists and critics contend is the erosion of political freedoms under El-Sisi, with the detention of activists and dissenters. The president announced on Wednesday that he had approved the pardoning of more than 300 youths currently detained, a move that appeared aimed at mitigating mounting criticism.