Cairo: The Egyptian government has abandoned a proposal to cut the workweek for state employees for fears of a spike in population as the Arab world’s most populous country struggles to curb high birth rates, an official has said.

“Experts have said increases in holidays and spare time for the [state] employee can have an effect on the population rise and cause family problems,” said Saleh Al Shaikh, who heads the state administrative agency.

Egypt has a population of 104 million, including over 9 million living outside the country, according to an official census released last year.

There are nearly 7 million state employees in Egypt. In recent months, the government has floated a suggestion to extend its employees’ weekend beyond the current two days with the aim of easing the traffic as well as reducing use of electricity at workplaces.

Al Shaikh told a press conference in Cairo on Saturday that an ad-hoc committee concluded the proposal is impractical for legal and administrative reasons, too.

“The Civil Service Law states that the civil servant’s weekly working hours range from 35 to 40 hours. Changing this system requires amendment to the law,” said Al Shaikh, the chairman of the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration.

“Some administrative departments, which adopt the shift system, have found it is hard to implement the proposed cut in the workweek,” he added.

Al Shaikh cited an official survey that found out 86 per cent of Egypt’s ministries, 88 per cent of the country’s 27 provinces, 67.4 per cent of the state employees had opposed the proposal.

Egypt’s population increases by about 2.5 million every year, a rate that experts warn is imperilling development plans in the country, which is grappling with economic woes.

President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has repeatedly spoken on the topic in the past five years.

“The population increase is one of the biggest challenges facing Egypt,” he said in televised remarks last week. “Without facing this problem, there will be no hope in improving realities.”

In recent months, the government has launched a campaign aimed at encouraging families to have two children at most instead of the average four.

The campaign, backed by a TV awareness campaign, targets Egypt’s poorest areas where having too many children is traditionally seen as a way of supporting the family by getting them to work at an early age.

Some members of parliament have suggested limiting state subsidies on food and healthcare services to families who have two children only.

Opponents have dismissed the proposal as unconstitutional. “The call by some deputies for depriving the third or fourth child from some privileges is unconstitutional,” MP Mohammad Abu Hamed said.

“The ideal solution to the population problem lies in offering family planning-linked incentives to small-sized families such as giving their children access to top state schools and getting free sports and cultural services,” he added.

The overpopulation problem features high on the agenda of the Egyptian parliament that returned from a summer recess earlier this month, according to insiders.