Infotmation and stories on Egypt

Disability and Poverty in Egypt
When people think of Egypt, they may conjure up images of the grand ancient sphinxes guarding towering pyramids or pharaohs dripping with golden threads. While this is certainly a part of the Egyptian story, it does not paint a comprehensive picture. Unfortunately, there are also strikingly high rates of disability and poverty in Egypt. While the 2006 Egyptian census determined that around 1.4 million Egyptians have disabilities, the U.N. estimates that approximately 12 million people— or almost 15% of the population– are disabled.

Statistics on Disability and Poverty in Egypt

Here are some statistics regarding disability and poverty in Egypt:

  • Of the poorest 20% of Egyptians, around 18% have disabilities, compared to only 14.8% to 15.7% of people within the other quintiles.
  • About 22.9% of disabled Egyptians considered themselves food insecure, versus 13.8% of non-disabled Egyptians.
  • As of 2018, the employment rate for all disabled Egyptians was only 44%. Not only is this quite low, but it is also a drop from an employment rate of 47% in 2012.
  • For Egyptian women, who are less likely to join the workforce in general, the disabled employment rate is a staggering 17%.
  • Illiteracy rates for children with disabilities are quite high — 61% of disabled boys and 70% of disabled girls in Egypt do not know how to read.

The Vicious Cycle of Disability and Poverty

As with many developing countries, disability and poverty in Egypt create a vicious cycle. Consequences of poverty, such as unsanitary living conditions, poor access to clean water, malnutrition and diseases regularly precipitate disabilities, especially for children. These disabilities include but are not limited to blindness, developmental and cognitive disabilities, stunting and physical deformities. Additionally, early pregnancies and high fertility rates (which correlate with high poverty rates) often result in disability. This is true for the mothers who become weak and illness-prone from so many pregnancies, and for the children born to exceptionally young and old mothers.

To make matters worse, stigma and prejudice around disabilities tend to perpetuate poverty among the disabled population, because they make it harder to find good work, if at all. Specifically, 82% of women and about 35% of men with “narrow disabilities” are not in the workforce. Many of the women who are in the workforce work in the informal sector, meaning they may do their work from home and are not on official payrolls. This puts them at a further disadvantage because they do not receive health insurance and rarely have legal labor contracts. Even employers who hire people with disabilities to official roles tend to disincentivize them from coming to work or pay unfair wages.

Policy Not-in-Action

Technically, the Egyptian government has taken steps to ensure the rights of disabled citizens. For example, article 81 of the constitution states that disabled persons must have the same rights and opportunities as all other citizens. It also promises that the State will work to provide jobs and accessibility to accommodate special needs. Egypt also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the U.N. 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. Both agreements require countries to regularly report what their government has done to help those with disabilities.

Despite this, Egypt has scarcely done anything to implement laws or policy, nor has it reported to the U.N. committees. Prejudices, such as the belief that disabilities are punishments from God or malevolent spirits called jinn, have meant officials rarely follow through with the policies’ promises.

Help is on the Way

Lack of governmental action does not mean that there is no hope for disabled Egyptians. Many organizations are giving individuals with disabilities the tools to succeed in the workplace and minimizing the stigma around disability in general. For example, the Egyptian nonprofit Helm has equipped more than 1,500 disabled people with the skills they need for a variety of jobs. They also train employers to create accessible and equitable workplaces and have already trained more than 5,000 corporate employees. The nonprofit has also won multiple awards and gained support from American institutions, such as MIT and Harvard for the work they have done. From curb ramps to corporate guidance, NGOs like Helm are creating inclusive work environments so that people with disabilities can avoid or transcend poverty.

Corporations are also joining in the fight to empower disabled workers and erase the stigma around disability. One such corporation, the mobile phone company Orange, is partnering with the Smile Foundation, a nonprofit that has already provided skills training to hundreds of neurodivergent Egyptians. The Smile Foundation also recognizes the connection between socio-economic status and disability, so it focuses its efforts on people coming from poverty. These efforts mean many disabled Egyptians can become equal members of the workforce and work their way out of poverty. Additionally, the Smile Foundation has organized multiple campaigns that convince the public that people with disabilities are capable employees and hard workers who deserve respect and equal rights.

The Positive Perfect-Storm

Disability and poverty create a negative feedback loop that can seem inescapable. However, a nonprofit advocacy and government policy can also work together to create a positive self-reinforcing cycle. First, many groups are already working to minimize the stigma around disability in Egypt. Less stigma will make authorities more likely to intervene when there are breaches of disabled people’s rights. Moreover this, in turn, will give current government policies more power to improve the lives of people with disabilities. These improvements — specifically equal treatment in the workforce and quality education — provide clear paths away from the spiral of disability and poverty in Egypt. As a result, while the present may seem bleak, change is emerging right over the horizon.

– Elyssa Nielsen
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Egypt
Currently governed under Islamic Law as Egypt’s amended Constitution states, religion plays a major role within legislative policies. It has been a debate for several years as to whether the decline in women’s protection in Egypt is due to religious laws or the current socioeconomic environment. In order to approach the complexities of modern-day Egyptian society and women’s rights in Egypt, one must first understand the history of Islamic Law. Known for existing as more of an all-encompassing religion, Islam not only provides theological practices but also a way of living.

 Islamic Law

 Article 40 and 46 of Egypt’s present constitution explicitly states, “All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.” The second article of this same constitution declares “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic Sharia is the principal source of legislation.”

 Many women in Egypt (and other predominantly Islamic regions) are facing a dilemma concerning their religious and basic freedoms. Because Egypt incorporates Islam even within legal policies, it somewhat discourages other religions. This is why the second-largest religious community is Christianity, comprising approximately only 5% of the Egyptian population.

Women’s religious and basic human rights greatly differ from men’s rights and social roles. An example of this may include the regulations in regards to a woman’s attire. The hijab as well as other head and body coverings was initially symbolic of modesty within the Islamic religion. Moreover, although the Qur’an very clearly addresses men alongside women when proclaiming rules of “guarding their modesty,” men do not have to participate in the wearing of head/face coverings.

As of recently, though, the practice of adopting body and face veils into a woman’s everyday appearance has evolved into more of a preliminary societal standard. Because scripture claims that women exposing themselves to any man unrelated to them (besides children) is a sinful act, women experience pressure to adorn these religious coverings in public just to prevent shame, which only further enforces this oppression.

Socioeconomic Factors

This brings up the debate attempting to answer whether the lack of basic human rights for women is due to the Islamic nature of Egyptian society, or society itself? Women are hesitant to go into public without these coverings because of societal and religious pressures, but the act of preserving their modesty exists now as somewhat of a precautionary measure, as well.

In several impoverished countries or regions of extreme poverty, the economy is the primary factor in societal normalities. Women’s rights in Egypt undergo frequent testing, especially in areas of extreme poverty within the country. Because of scarce job opportunities and the dilapidated financial state of certain areas, women frequently endure mistreatment. They often cannot challenge their social or religious roles or financially provide for themselves. Their husbands, neighbors and, in some cases, their relatives, use this to their advantage which results in the very common sexual harassment of women.

Because of the different roles of Egyptian men and women, the deterioration of women’s rights in Egypt and sexual harassment of women has been a prominent issue since at least the ‘80s (this was the beginning of the selective documentation of sexual harassment cases in Egypt). Although the Qur’an prophesizes the equality of men and women under God, others in Egypt sometimes see women as lesser than. In this case, the argument that socioeconomic factors are separate from religious practices and laws is valid.

 Moreover, the United Nations conducted a census in 2013 revealing that an estimated 99.3% of women could encounter sexual harassment in Egypt. Meanwhile, another study concluded that about 86% of women reported that bystanders frequently ignore the aggression.

This demonstrates the frequency in which these dangerous acts happen in public. It is seemingly a social norm for women to not only have to uphold traditional religious roles but also to face arbitrary sexual aggression in public.

Solutions

As of 2014, however, Egypt is now addressing this violent aggression towards women. For the first time in Egyptian history, sexual harassers are undergoing prosecution and courts are holding them accountable. Egypt still requires more improvement, but more and more women are beginning to make others aware of this issue, even globally. The current economic state of Egypt is also developing. With an extreme poverty rate of 32% in 2018 and one of approximately 29% in 2020, Egypt is continuing to see a decline in extreme poverty.

 The societal and religious pressures persist, but Egypt is generating more discourse to help bring more attention to the issue of women’s rights in Egypt. Moreover, the debate over religion is increasing along with the dismantling of unjust socioeconomic systems.

– Caroline Kratz
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking In Egypt 
Child labor, sexual abuse of minors, the selling of human organs as well as different forms of prostitution are part of human trafficking in Egypt. For social scientists, police, law enforcement agencies and recovery facilities, human trafficking in Egypt is a major concern.

Targets

Human trafficking in Egypt has involved traffickers targeting domestic and international victims in recent years. About 32.5% of people in Egypt are living below the poverty line due to limited education and economic opportunity. This, in turn, is leading parents to sell their children, particularly girls. Child sex tourism is mainly taking place in Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor. People from the Arabian Gulf like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia purchase Egyptian women to use them as sex slaves.

In prostitution and forced begging, approximately 200,000 to 1 million street children in Egypt, both boys and girls, experience abuse and local gangs sometimes exploit these children. Egyptian children frequently end up working in intensive agricultural work, experiencing circumstances that suggest forced servitude, such as mobility limits, non-payment and sexual and physical abuse.

International Victims In Egypt

Human Trafficking in Egypt is also targeting men and women from Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. Ethiopians, Sudanese, Indonesians and Filipino women voluntarily relocate to Egypt and experience domestic forced labor. Several of the conditions they encounter include no holidays off, emotional harassment and income preservation.

Government Control

Egypt has regulations in place to prevent trafficking that prohibit foreigners from marrying an Egyptian woman if there is a gap in age of more than 10 years. However, marriage dealers have managed to find a way around this by altering birth certificates to ensure the girls look older and the men younger.

In 2010, the Egyptian government established a law to criminalize sex and labor traffickers and instituted punishments ranging from three to 15 years imprisonment and fines that were reasonably severe and justifiable. The punishment was for serious offenses such as rape with regard to sex trafficking.

In February 2020, 154 investigations into labor trafficking and alleged sex crimes occurred along with 22 sex trafficking cases. Among those 154 investigations that the media reported, the authorities arrested and detained four members of the crime organization that illegally sold Egyptian girls into marriages with wealthy Arab men. In the investigation of three other suspected cases of trafficking, the government also demanded judicial assistance from foreign countries, but it did not report any further information.

Child Labor in Egypt

Agricultural cooperatives in Egypt employ over 1 million children between the ages of 7 and 12 to manage cotton pests. Working for the Agriculture Ministry in Egypt, most are far below the minimum age of 12-years-old for agricultural work. They serve 11 hours a day with only a one to two-hour rest. About 1.15 million children work in rural areas, mainly in farming. However, they also work in local jobs or at industrial factories and frequently under hazardous conditions.

Children have also worked in the lighting industry and aluminum factories, as well as in building sites and for car repair service providers. The number of street children in Cairo has continued to increase in the presence of declining economic conditions according to government and media reports.

The Association of Egyptian Female Lawyers in Egypt

With a 130,864 EUR budget, The Association of Egyptian Female lawyers in Egypt has been trying to decrease the trafficking of women and children. It also focuses on providing women and children with support along with an escape to current and future victims in affected districts. It has built a network of trained attorneys, social workers and counselors to partner with NGOs and provide victims with recovery assistance and protection. The organization holds seminars to educate the public about the danger of human trafficking and how traffickers frequently target victims. It aims to provide abused women with legal support, grant them political and legal rights and combat all unjust laws and laws against women. The project receives funding from the Development Fund for African Women.

The Association of Egyptian Female lawyers in Egypt also significantly supports and empowers Egyptian women to participate in everyday civil life. In carrying out this project, the Association aims to carry out activities calling for fair gender opportunities. It also intends to eliminate the barriers that women face in achieving their social, political and economic rights.

Overall, human trafficking in Egypt requires attention in order to reduce it. If more organizations like The Association of Egyptian Female Lawyers in Egypt provide aid, they could save many lives and raise awareness.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Energy in EgyptThe poverty rate in Egypt rose to 32.5%, or 32 million people, in 2018. Energy use is rising in Egypt by 6.5% per year, but a disproportionate reliance on finite gas and other conventional energy resources has placed the future of Egyptian energy sustainability and environmental goals at risk. Under the Egypt Vision 2030 initiative, the country has recognized an important need to reduce carbon emissions. This, along with the country’s abundance of sunlight and wind, means that Egypt could very well move toward dependence on renewable energies. This is increasingly important as the growing demand for electricity has exposed the lack of access in Egypt, especially in rural areas. Lack of access to electricity is an issue that the world’s poor face and renewable energy in Egypt could be key to alleviating poverty in the country.

Shifting to Renewable Energy

The Egyptian Government began its shift toward energy security through increased renewable energy in 2014, when it partnered with the World Bank to institute energy sector reforms and attract $2 billion worth of investment for renewable energy sources. Before that, the government had large, inefficient fuel subsidies that outweighed expenditures on social protection, health and education and did not even target the Egyptian poor. This time period also saw frequent power shortages, which contributed to overall social unrest.

By committing to generating 20% of electricity through renewable energy sources by 2022, the Egyptian government showed a comprehensive commitment to energy sector reform. This has helped to create a welcoming political and economic environment for private sector investment, strengthening the shift toward renewable energy in Egypt, which creates the spillover effect of helping the country’s poor, whom energy shortages are likely to more severely affect.

The Benban Solar Park

The result has been several large deals with international banks to finance projects like the Benban Solar Park, which will be the largest solar project in the world once completed. The government received over $650 million in funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, to construct the 13 solar power plants that are part of the project. This new initiative will provide power to more than 350,000 Egyptians and generate more than 6,000 for building greater renewable energy in Egypt.

Other Benefits of Energy Reform

The partnerships with the World Bank and the IFC have other benefits, like freeing government spending to go toward social initiatives. By instituting energy reforms, the Egyptian Government was able to double spending on social protection for the poorest 20% of the population. So, while projects like the Benban Solar Park will themselves contribute to a cleaner, more efficient energy security that will benefit those living in poverty, the means by which these projects are funded also enable the government to focus more of its spending on alleviating poverty.

Energy Reform and Poverty in Egypt

The Egyptian Government has partnered with international institutions like the World Bank to reform its energy sector. Past overdependence on gas and oil along with inefficient fuel subsidies placed Egypt’s future energy security at risk while exacerbating problems the nation’s poor faced daily. The country has shown a commitment to clean energy initiatives, which benefit Egyptians living in poverty in two main ways. First, they increase access to power and electricity. Many of those living in rural communities do not have consistent access to electricity, so this reform directly benefits them. Additionally, it benefits the impoverished indirectly by freeing up government spending for increased expenditure on social protection programs. Thus, the future of renewable energy in Egypt is bright and it has the potential to alleviate the struggles of millions of Egyptians.

– Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt
In 2016, lawmakers in Egypt federally criminalized female genital mutilation. Yet, the practice still persists.

Data from the Egypt Health Issues Survey (EHIS) from 2015 shows that the prevalence of FGM among Egyptian girls and women aged 15-49 is 87.2%. As one of the most populous countries in the Middle East and Africa, Egypt likely has the greatest number of circumcised women and girls in the world. To combat the high incidence of female genital mutilation in Egypt, anti-FGM campaigns have gained traction in the past several years.

About Female Genital Mutilation

According to WHO, FGM “involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” There are four types of female genital mutilation, and they range from pricking or piercing the genitals to removing the clitoral glans, clitoral hood, labia minora and labia majora.

There are no health benefits to female genital mutilation. In fact, FGM can cause health issues such as hemorrhaging, urinary problems, vaginal issues, menstruation difficulties, an increased risk of newborn deaths, psychological problems and death. Just in 2020, a 14-year-old Egyptian girl died while undergoing the procedure.

Reasons People Practice FGM in Egypt

The practice of FGM mostly persists due to tradition. Female genital mutilation in Egypt has existed for thousands of years. Evidence of FGM practices has even dated back to the second century BCE, and experts believe that FGM comes from a desire to guarantee the virginity of enslaved women. Today, people tend to practice FGM in order to keep women pure. Those who agree with the practice believe that removing the clitoris is essential to preventing women from becoming sexually aroused and having sex before marriage. They believe FGM benefits the girl or woman by saving them from impurity or uncleanliness.

While female genital mutilation occurs all over Egypt, girls with lower economic status tend to be more at risk. According to the EHIS data from 2015, 69.8% of women and girls age 15-49 in the highest wealth quintile in Egypt have experienced FGM in comparison to 94.4% of women and girls in the same age range in the lowest quintile. Furthermore, girls in the highest wealth quintile are only 5.4% likely to undergo FGM, whereas girls in the lowest quintile are 22.8% likely to undergo FGM.

Egypt’s Efforts

Egyptian leaders continue to take steps to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt. Along with other world leaders, Egypt vowed to end FGM by 2030. In 2016, Egypt launched the National Committee for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation. The group, with support from UNICEF and under the guidance of the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, seeks to end female genital mutilation in Egypt. Since 2016, the group has created campaigns that raise awareness of the dangers of FGM. One such project was the “Budour Month” radio campaign in June 2019.

In December 2020, the committee met with representatives from various medical councils and organizations to create a plan to fight against the medicalization of FGM. The medicalization of FGM is the belief that female circumcision that a doctor performs is safe or medically necessary. Groups like the National Committee are not alone in fighting this falsehood. In 2020, Randa Fakhr El Deen, the head of the NGOs’ Union Against Harmful Practices on Women and Children, led a group of doctors to campaign against the practice. During this campaign, known as “White Shirts,” the doctors hung up signs that read “No to FGM” and “FGM is a crime” in a Cairo metro station. They also handed out pamphlets that explained the risks of FGM.

Hekayat Nehad

This group of doctors is just one of many citizen groups speaking out against female genital mutilation in Egypt. Artists and advocates have created plays and shows about the dangers of FGM. One popular show called “Hekayat Nehad” (Nehad’s stories) that the UNFPA backed and Dr. Nehad Aboul Komsan, the Chair of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, created, discusses violence against women, including FGM. In just one month, the show’s Facebook page received 7 million views.

Although people still practice female genital mutilation in Egypt, more and more people oppose it. Advocates believe it will take a while to end a practice that is this entrenched in Egypt’s society. However, government-supported education, task forces and harsher legislation are paving the way for a future without female genital mutilation.

– Sophie Shippe
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Elderly Poverty in Egypt
Egypt’s poverty levels and its elderly population are increasing. UNFPA reported that 20.2% of the Egyptian population will be aged 60 and over in 2050. Meanwhile, the World Bank Group reported a poverty rate of 32.5% at the national poverty line in 2017. According to this, the amount of old persons in poverty is growing. To better understand what this means, it is necessary to know about some key aspects regarding elderly poverty in Egypt. These include what tools Egypt is fighting elderly poverty with, what the reality is for elderly Egyptians in poverty and what the future outlook for elderly poverty in Egypt is.

Egypt’s Tools Against Elderly Poverty

Due to the steady increase in elderly poverty over recent decades, Egypt implemented multiple initiatives to combat it. Some include a national policy on aging, national committees on aging in public and private sectors, health insurance to the poorest elderly, cultural and entertainment services and directives on public accessibility and mobility.

Cash transfer systems, like the Social Aid and Assistance program (SAA) and the more prominent safety net program Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity), also aid elderly poverty in Egypt. Takaful and Karama, which the Egyptian government and the World Bank Group established in 2015, aims to improve access to health and education for poor and vulnerable populations. The implementation of the World Bank’s project involved an initial $400 million in funding to positively influence 1.5 million persons with disabilities, families with young children and the elderly. Karama directly protects and promotes poor elderly persons’ wellbeing through unconditional monthly pensions.

Multiple elderly Egyptians earn an income through Egypt’s allowances for the standard retirement age. Although the global typical retirement age is 60, Egyptian judges, researchers and academics can work until 70. This ensures steady financials for many, keeping elderly poverty levels at bay.

The Reality of Elderly Poverty in Egypt

Though Egypt’s efforts to tamper elderly poverty are extensive, they do not tell the full story for the country’s poor elderly individuals. For example, cash transfer programs are often inaccessible or experience poor implementation. Applications for SAA are strictly in person, making it harder for old persons to physically access, apply for and benefit from the program. Under Takaful and Karama in 2018, a small number of impoverished elderly persons actually received pensions — only 3.5% according to an article that the UN published.

In previous years, many impoverished elderly individuals disclosed dissatisfaction with their knowledge of and access to services. Sarah Sabry, a member of the Arab Learning Initiative, conducted interviews with people in poor and vulnerable positions in El-Ezba and El-Zelzal in Cairo to reveal their living conditions. Among the interviewees were elderly persons living alone and an elderly widow living with her daughters and grandchildren. They communicated issues like little to no access to free health services, insufficient infrastructure, distance to the nearest health facility and lack of preventative health care.

People also conveyed a lack of knowledge regarding services available to them — a woman who applied for SAA recounted receiving a rejection without explanation. Overall, many indicated uncertainty regarding what documents they required to apply for aid.

In response to these circumstances among others, additional efforts emerged. The monthly beneficiary pension through Karama extended 100 Egyptian pounds (EGPs) to 450 EGPs to assist with price increases, and many recent beneficiaries are elderly — about 18% out of some 2.5 million. As of 2020, at least 2.5 million families actively benefit from the World Bank’s and Egyptian Government’s Takaful and Karama safety net program. Although there are undoubtedly gaps in the scope and accessibility of these programs, it is hard to ignore the reality of elderly lives reached and improved.

Looking into the Future

Twelve percent of Egypt’s elderly persons experienced impoverishment in 2017. With the projected growth in the elderly population, elderly poverty in Egypt will surely grow. There are clearly effective mechanisms in place to address elderly poverty, but just as clearly, those mechanisms do not have perfect reach given this expected growth. The World Bank asserts that amplifying projects like Takaful and Karama and food subsidy allowances can combat the rise in poverty. As a result, the expansion of services today will likely improve tomorrow for Egypt’s elderly individuals.

– Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

7 Education Reforms Happening in EgyptEgypt has the largest school system in the Middle East with more than 18 million students. Additionally, the school system’s gender attendance rate is nearly equal due to Egypt’s open access to primary schools. However, as Egypt’s population rapidly grows, the quality of its education system decreases. The World Bank created the term “Learning Poverty” to describe children who lack basic reading comprehension skills by the age of 10. Egypt has had a significant problem with learning poverty. As a result, the Egyptian government has created the “Education 2.0” system to tackle this issue.

The Egyptian Ministry of Education has worked closely with the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) to create seven education reforms in Egypt. This is a $500 million reform investment and its reforms stretch from kindergarten to secondary school.

7 Education Reforms in Egypt

  1. Expanding Access to Early Childhood Learning: The Education 2.0 program works to build schools that include an early education program in students’ villages. The aim is for students to have an adequate grasp on the essential skills of reading, comprehension, writing, math and English by the third grade. These skills are especially critical for children to learn in their early childhood.
  2. Remedial Reading Programs: Egypt’s education reform stretches beyond incoming students by seeking out students in grades 4-9 who have fallen behind on the essential skills mentioned above. These programs intend to bring these students up to the same educational standard as the rest of their grade level.
  3. Implementing Learning Villages: Egypt has adopted the innovative approach of intergenerational education reform in vulnerable rural areas by teaching primary-aged children how to read as well as their mothers. This allows children to be able to be engaged in literacy work at school and at home.
  4. Improving General Assessment Skills: Previously, students were asked to directly memorize exam answers and the exams were often leaked beforehand. This severely limited long-term comprehension. The reformed education program endeavors to test students on understanding as opposed to memorization capacity.
  5. Revamping Teacher Training Programs: Teachers will be re-trained and re-licensed because it is crucial that their methodology changes to match education reform programming. Teachers must help convince students and parents that it is imperative for the education system to have a goal beyond passing exams. They also need adequate resources to focus their attention on students who are falling behind.
  6. Linking Education and Technology: While the Education 2.0 program was initially stagnant, the COVID-19 crisis has actually accelerated technological advances due to social distancing guidelines. Two companies, Promethean and the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, have also aided in digitizing education resources by respectively creating free online spaces to get educational content and providing educational technology to 26,000 classrooms.
  7. Educating Refugees: Of the 200,000 refugees who have sought asylum in Egypt, 40% of them are children who become reliant on the Egyptian education system. The Egyptian government is using the model created by the U.N.’s Refugee Resilience Response Plan to help these vulnerable children. The government plans to give refugees a combined formal and informal, community-based education system that can bring stability to their lives.

Education 2.0 focuses on bringing children out of learning poverty by focusing on vulnerable communities, re-training teachers and giving students greater access to education through technology. Education reform is essential to the long-term growth and success of a country, so programs like Egypt’s Education 2.0 is incredibly important.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

The Arab Spring
On February 11, 2011, the chant of the people echoed throughout Tahrir Square. The screams of “Ash-shaʻb yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām,” translated as “the people will topple the regime,” had inundated the despot. But the regime has proven more difficult to expunge. Today, the Arab Spring in Egypt has failed. Since the 2011 protests, the poverty rate in Egypt has risen from 25% to 33%. The state has fomented religious persecution in the name of antiterrorism and is discouraging private media.

The Arab Spring

In 2011, a series of uprisings known as the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East. In Tunisia, when authorities confiscated the cart of a street vendor named Mohammad Bouazizi, a video circulated of Bouazizi self-immolating in protest. According to authorities, Bouazizi lacked the proper paperwork. A female officer allegedly slapped him. Bouazizi’s plight was emblematic of a youth problem across the Arab world.

In Tunisia, the poverty rate was 14.7% and most of that number consisted of youths, many of whom had an education. After a visit from Ben Ali, the president of Tunisia, in which Ali feigned concern for Bouazizi’s grievances, the street vendor died. The death of Mohammad Bouazizi sparked a revolution across the Arab World. In Egypt, the situation was worse. Approximately 20% of Egyptians lived below the poverty line and another 20% lived near the poverty line.

In 2010, an Egyptian man named Khaled Said videotaped two policemen allegedly consuming the spoils of a drug bust. The policemen later found and mutilated him. His death sparked even more indignation toward repression in Egypt. He became a symbol of brutal government repression under Hosni Mubarak.

Hosni Mubarak

In his youth, Mubarak rose up the ranks of the military until he eventually became commander of the Egyptian Air Force in 1972. Subsequently, he became vice president of Egypt. During this time, President Anwar Sadat suffered murder and Mubarak witnessed his assassination. Sadat’s death made an indelible impression on Mubarak. It made him desire the preservation of power at all costs. He became president in 1981 and immediately issued an emergency law.

Mubarak would give the Egyptian police and the military sweeping powers to crack down on any perceived threats, including opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak’s economic policies also encouraged major disparities between the rich and the poor in Egypt. Because of the government’s reliance on foreign aid, the IMF and the World Bank urged the Mubarak regime to adopt neoliberal principles based on privatization, subsidy cuts and deregulation. These policies encouraged severe inequality, which ignited massive protests consisting of hundreds of thousands.

On February 11, 2011, the recently appointed vice president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mubarak would willfully resign from his position as president. Many thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square. Today, however, a military strong man has once again wrested power from the people.

From Morsi to Sisi

By 2013, most people had become vehemently opposed to Mubarak’s replacement, Mohammad Morsi, for his 2012 constitutional declaration, which placed him and his edicts above judicial review. Thus, the military led a popularly supported coup against the first democratically elected Egyptian president; the man who would replace him was named Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi.

Sisi would brutally crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal activists, accusing them of terrorism and libel. These actions have led to increasing numbers of political prisoners. In 2019, Egyptian businessmen Muhammad Ali accused the government of siphoning its resources for vanity projects and luxury lifestyles, including building palaces on state funds. Regardless of the validity of these accusations, government resources are not reaching the poorest in society, with a poverty rate of 33%.

Social Media

Although uprisings have been prevalent long before the advent of social media, social media is undoubtedly a potent weapon to expedite revolution. For men like Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali, the unfettered voice of social media was insurmountable. Now, in the case of President Sisi, it is only a matter of time before the opposition becomes insurmountable. Whether this is reason to believe the regime will fall with him is another question. For now, various NGOs such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) are exposing the repression of civil society in Egypt. Such work could have immeasurable effects.

– Blake Dysinger
Photo: Flickr

addressing gender inequality in EgyptEgypt recently launched the “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator” to reinforce its stance on female economic gender discrimination. This initiative is a partnership between the World Economic Forum (WEF), National Council of Women, the Egyptian Government and the private business sector. The financial and human capital investment in this undertaking shows that the country is committed to addressing gender inequality in Egypt.

Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator

In 2019, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism, International Cooperation and Investment, Dr. Rania Al-Mashat, signed a letter of intent along with the WEF and the National Council of Women to empower women. More than 48 million women represent this emerging countries’ population and the good news is that their involvement will expedite the growth of the economy and gather momentum in eliminating poverty.

Each party has a specific role in the program’s success. Businesses will be tasked with the presence of additional women in the workforce, equal pay and professional development. Other benefits included are extended maternity leave for either parent and subsidized childcare to offset barriers that will cause women to fall behind, lose their position or not enter the labor force.

Egypt’s government, which has invested more than $3 billion in this project, will incentivize strategies and track the program’s evolution. In addition, the legislature has the commitment of more than 90 businesses.

Objectives of the Accelerator

Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator’s mission has four objectives: eliminate the gender pay gap, ensure more women are promoted into business management roles, expand their growth in the workforce and make sure that women are poised to work in a society that is will be powered by the likes of digital technology and artificial intelligence along with robotics.

One of the co-chairs of the private sector for the Accelerator, the Commercial International Bank known as Qalaa Holdings, firmly believes in empowering women in the workplace and it has demonstrated that by having 25% of the company’s executive board and leadership positions filled by women.

While the Accelerator is focused on women’s success in the economy, it also takes into account how women are viewed in the male-dominated workforce. Creating a safe climate in companies is just as important so the unfair barometers that women are measured by have to be eliminated as well as dismantling the discriminatory behavior toward them.

Global Gender Equality

Egypt is one out of nine countries, and the first country in Africa to set in motion a project of this magnitude created by the WEF.  After more than 10 years of researching global gender inequality issues, WEF realized that it would take nearly 100 years for political gender parity to be achieved. Women comprise 50% of the global population in most countries and to purposely exclude them from the equation would seriously compromise a society’s overall economic and societal impact worldwide.

WEF’s Accelerators to Close the Gender Gap

To combat this shortcoming, WEF created accelerators and issued a challenge to nations that want to close the economic gender gap. Public and private entities form accelerators to be inclusive of women in business, from job recruitment to job promotions and work on eliminating prejudice against them. Each country is on a three-year timetable (countries start date varies) and the WEF preserves the global structure of the project while the countries operate independently in the communities.  So far, Iceland has seen the most success out of the nine participating countries, by consistently closing the gender parity gap for 11 consecutive years.

A Bright Future for Egyptian Women

The Accelerator is an important tool for addressing gender inequality in Egypt. This initiative is good news for the women of Egypt as it shows the country’s continuous commitment to removing societal hurdles that have unjustly smothered women’s attempts at succeeding in the economy and stifled their much-needed contribution to society.

-Kim L. Patterson
Photo: Flickr