Infotmation and stories on Egypt

HIV/AIDS in Egypt
Egypt is a country located in the northernmost corner of Africa. A rather religious country, people often push issues surrounding HIV/AIDS under the rug and view the disease as a non-issue. The reasons for this are not hard to understand considering that the estimated population of people suffering from HIV/AIDS in Egypt in 2018 was a relatively small 22,000 people out of its 97.5 million inhabitants. Egypt has long been a low HIV-prevalent country with only specific groups of people being susceptible to the disease. These groups include prisoners, migrants and street children. Although there have been no studies conducted to prove this, professionals have hypothesized these are the most susceptible groups.

An Increase in HIV/AIDS

Despite the low prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Egypt, the country has seen an increase in the disease in the past years. In fact, Egypt has the fastest-growing rate of HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa. There was a 76 percent increase in the number of cases between 2010 and 2016 alone. There has also been an increase in the number of confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS in Egypt. In fact, the numbers have increased by up to 30 percent every year. While the number of people with HIV/AIDS was 11,000 in 2016, the number doubled in only two years.

The issue must be addressed soon, not only because of the observed increase but also because of several factors within Egyptian society that leaves the country at risk for developing more cases of HIV/AIDS and the threat of an epidemic. Besides the previously mentioned groups, others susceptible to the disease include sex workers, homosexual males and drug users. Because of their hidden nature in a culturally conservative country and the stigma surrounding them, they perform unsafe behaviors and are unwilling to talk about their issues.

Talking About and Treating HIV/AIDS

Despite the cultural stigma, people are coming out with their stories and advocating in and out of the country. Magid is one example. After finding out that he had been living with HIV/AIDS through military testing, he decided to become a voice for other people in the country facing the same problem but too ashamed to speak out in fear of societal repercussions. Magid joined the organization Friends for Life which aims to help people with HIV/AIDS in Egypt. Magid also addressed a session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and became the first Arabic person to speak publicly about their life with HIV/AIDS.

Along with locals making an effort, UNICEF is working toward recognizing and stopping any further growth of HIV/AIDS in Egypt. One outcome resulting from the work of UNICEF and its partner organizations is in its support of the procurement and supply management of anti-retroviral treatments. Through its efforts, 4,000 people living with HIV/AIDS are able to receive high-quality medicines and treatment on a monthly basis. These people include pregnant women, infants and adolescents. It also treats people of refugee status in addition to those of Egyptian nationality.

While Egypt might be a low HIV/AIDS-prevalent country now, there have been recent trends showing that there needs to be some change. Organizations and people are coming out and working toward recognizing the issue of the growing number of people with HIV/AIDS in Egypt. Through this, there is already an increasing amount of attention and funding going toward the issue.

– Samira Darwich
Photo: Pixabay

Water Crisis in the Middle East
Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan are among the bottom 10 countries when talking about access to clean water. Water is a primary necessity for human life. Without food the body can survive for up to three weeks, however, without clean water, the body will perish within three to four days, but not before going into shock and fading in and out of delirium. The water crisis in the Middle East is a serious problem now that ongoing conflicts in the region have only worsened.

Afghanistan

Of the three countries listed above, the water crisis in the Middle East affects Afghanistan the least. Despite that, Afghanistan is in the middle of the worst drought it has seen in the past 10 years. In addition, it cannot effectively distribute resources since 40 years of armed conflict following Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has ruined the country’s infrastructure. As a result, about 260,000 Afghani civilians living in extremely dry areas have had to leave their homes, making them refugees.

The drought has drained natural water sources such as the Kabul River Basin, the primary source of water for the nation’s capital. The established system for distributing water is no longer applicable, so civilians must draw water from unofficial wells. In Afghanistan, a country with over 35 million people, 87 percent of accessible water is polluted. Fortunately, India is providing assistance with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam on the Hari River. With further plans to build another dam on the Kabul River, Afghanistan will have water for irrigation and will not have to live with the threat of flash floods.

Syria

In 2006, a massive drought began that would displace tens of thousands of Syrian farmers. By 2011, there were over a million angry, unemployed former farmers in the country ready to fight in a violent civil war that would go on for years. If one said that the water crisis in the Middle East was the proverbial lit match in the powder keg, it would be inaccurate. One cannot, however, deny that it did fan the flames.

Now that tensions are dying down, Syrian civilians have little infrastructure to help provide them with water. Militant groups that occupy water plants and reservoirs hold monopolies on the water for entire regions. Oftentimes, these groups distribute water selectively to blackmail their enemies. Prior to the civil war that started in 2011, water allocation was already inequitable. President Bashar al-Assad allocated more water to fellow members of his particular sect of Islam. Now that Syria is rebuilding its infrastructure, there exists an opportunity to distribute water equally across the country in order to help prevent humanitarian disasters like this in the future.

Egypt

Even in the time of the pharaohs, Egypt has owed its life to the Nile. The Nile is the primary source of water for a country with rice as its number one agricultural export. Rice requires a great deal of water for cultivation and harvest. One kilo of rice needs about 3,000 liters of water. The water in the Nile now contains dead fish due to heavy metals from industrial pollution. Using heavily polluted water diminishes crop yields leading to a further strain on resources.

Egypt faces more than just a drop in the quality of water. As a result of the Blue Nile dam that Ethiopia built, Egypt is also concerned about the quantity of water. By building a hydroelectric dam on the Nile upstream from Egypt, Ethiopia is developing a power grid to reach 86 million Ethiopians living without electricity. Consequently, this will divert about a quarter of the Nile’s water away from Egypt. The Nile supplies 85 percent of Egypt’s fresh water. Egypt has the most to lose in the event of armed conflict breaking out because of its water scarcity, so it is now pushing for diplomatic and scientific solutions to the problem. Negotiating with Ethiopia to share in the dam’s benefits and investments in desalination technology is helping to alleviate the water crisis.

The water crisis in the Middle East is serious and requires much work to alleviate the problem. Through the building of better infrastructure, however, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan should be able to improve.

– Nicholas Smith
Photo: Flickr

charitable soccer player
People know soccer players for their athletic ability and worldwide fame, but more often than not many soccer players use their platforms as an opportunity to help those in need. Three charitable soccer players that worked toward improving the quality of life in developing countries include Mohammed (Mo) Salah, Sadio Mane and Marta Viera da Silva (Marta).

Mohammed Salah’s Work in Egypt

A Nagrig, Egypt native, Mohammed Salah currently plays for Liverpool in England’s Premier Football League. In 2018, the Premier League awarded him the Golden Boot. He was also the top scorer for Egypt in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Mo Salah serves as an inspiration to young soccer players all over the world as a charitable soccer player, but the impact he had on his home country is resounding. An article in The Conversation addressed Salah’s reciprocal relationship with the youth of Egypt. Mo Salah inspires the youth despite political tension and a growing trend of Egyptian youth feeling disenfranchised.

In Egypt, 7.3 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. The inability to access clean water can lead to dehydration, causing illnesses such as diarrhea. In Egypt, almost 4,000 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhea every year. In 2018, alongside his father, Mo Salah launched a project near his hometown of Nagrig to develop a sewage system. This system will provide clean water to people living in this village. Mo Salah provided nearly half a million dollars for this project, and this is not the only time he gave back to his country. In the past, Mo Salah donated to the Long Live Egypt Fund, in order to fund the construction of a school, hospital and ambulance in Nagrig.

Sadio Mane’s Work in Senegal

Another charitable soccer player and teammate of Mohammed Salah on the Liverpool team is Sadio Mané. Born and raised in Senegal, Mané grew to become an incredibly successful soccer player. In 2019, The Premier League awarded Mané the Golden Boot. The Confederation of African Football also awarded the Senegalese National team, which Mané captains, the team of the year in 2016, 2017 and 2019. Mané’s relationship with Senegal goes far beyond soccer, and throughout his career, he continuously gave back to his home country through various kinds of donations.

As a developing nation, Senegal struggles to offer advanced health care and schooling to all of its citizens. Currently, 39 percent of Senegal’s population lives in poverty. Furthermore, preventable diseases like malaria are the prominent causes of death, and one in five children are underweight. Conditions remain poor when looking at education as well. Forty percent of Senegalese children work to help their families instead of going to school, and the literacy rate for Senegal is at 49.7 percent. These statistics are even more severe for those living in rural areas.

Charitable soccer players like Mané play their part it giving back and improving living conditions in their country. In 2018, Mané donated money to fund the building of a hospital in Banbali, Senegal, one of the many rural villages in the country. He also recently visited Banbali to view the completion of the construction of the school he donated 200,000 euros. In an official presentation of the school, Mané’s uncle, Sana Toure, read a speech on Mané’s behalf, stating, “Education is very important. This is what will enable you to have a good career.” Other charitable works on behalf of Mané include donating one hundred soccer jerseys to orphans in Malawi, providing 50,000 Francs a month to families in Banbali and funding the building of a Mosque and soccer stadium in Banbali as well. Mané also recently cleaned the bathroom of a mosque he regularly attends in Liverpool, England.

Marta Vieira da Silva’s Partnership with the UN

Another charitable soccer player, Marta Vieira da Silva, is possibly one of the best female soccer players of all time. At the age of only 15 years old, she represented Brazil in the Women’s World Cup. She was in every single Women’s World Cup since. Throughout her career, FIFA awarded her player of the year five times, and she received the Golden Boot and Golden Ball for her 2007 performance in the Women’s World Cup. Marta’s outstanding skills are the reason she is not only one of the best female soccer players, but also one of the best soccer players of all time. In 2018, Marta became the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sport. Upon being appointed, Marta said “I know, from my life experience, that sport is a fantastic tool for empowerment…Through sport, women and girls can challenge socio-cultural norms and gender stereotypes and increase their self-esteem, develop life skills and leadership.” Marta worked with the U.N. since 2010 as part of the U.N. Development Programme, encouraging sports in schools.

At the end of her last game in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Marta gave a speech encouraging women to take leadership roles in sports. In the post-game interview, Marta said, “Women’s football depends on you to survive. So think about that. Value it more. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.” This message aims to inspire young women to stay involved in sports. In the sports world, women often receive less pay than men, and women and girls in developing nations often do not receive the same opportunities as those in developed nations. Women and girls in developing nations may face discrimination and ridicule because of social norms and religious beliefs. In Turkey, for example, women’s soccer leagues face a lack of funding and participation as well as harassment during games.

In the developing world, sports are often one of the key ways that communities stay together. According to South Africa UNICEF, schools reported an 80 percent decline in violence in schools participating in a sport for development program. Marta is a charitable soccer player, who as a U.N. ambassador aims to open doors for women and girls in sports, which will not only benefit them but their community and country as well.

Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

Waste Management in CairoCairo, a city of roughly 20 million people, produces more than 15,000 tons of solid waste every day. Even though the government funds some formal sector waste management, much of the time it relies heavily on the local poor. Since it is these neighborhoods that are often deemed “too expensive” for waste collection, the local individuals are burdened with the task of handling the solid waste.

Effective Methods

Zabbaleen, or Garbage People, spend their days sifting, sorting and transporting waste. Despite this arduous and tedious work, the locals have found methods of waste management in Cairo that arguably surpasses formal sector methods. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Association of Pollution, they recycle about 85 percent of the city’s waste—more than is even seen in North American and European cities.

The economic returns from informal waste management in Cairo are high, and thus it is a sector that requires proper facilitation in order to protect its workers.

Positive Impacts

Many firms purchase recycled materials at a lower rate than virgin resources which gives them a competitive edge. Zabbaleen are self-employed meaning they are lowering the overall unemployment rate in Cairo. In fact, globally, more than 15 million people rely on waste collection for employment. Organic waste diverted from dumpsites helps to feed local animals.

Negative Impacts

Children are kept home from school help with sorting thus they miss out on educational opportunities in exchange for immediate income. In Egypt, the net number of children enrolled in primary school is increasing, but Zabbaleen are among those least likely to attend. Exposure to toxins make Zabbaleen highly susceptible to diseases such as the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) which can be contracted from improperly disposed medical waste. Zabbaleen do not receive job benefits or protection despite being service providers to the city. The Association for the Protection of the Environment notes that although these workers help sort through 40 percent of the city’s waste, it is at no cost to the city.

Zabbaleen are integral to waste management in Cairo. In regions where formal infrastructure is not effective, these individuals are essential in reducing rates of pollution, providing jobs, and selling goods back to the market at a discounted price. Since Cairo does not directly fund these individuals, they rely on the help of outside organizations and firms to support them.

The World Bank funded a project in 2014 called the Cairo Municipal Solid Waste Management Project to help the country achieve environmental and development goals while recovering from residual economic hardship from the shocks in 2011. Since the population grew at such a rapid pace, the initiative strived to restore macroeconomic stability in order to help reduce extreme rates of poverty in the Delta and Upper-Egypt regions.

Organization to Empower

The Zabbaleen themselves run an organization that supports garbage collectors. The Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), established in 1984, assists marginalized groups in their journey to reducing waste and raising the living standards of their community. One of their vital projects helps to treat individuals exposed to the Hepatitis C Virus from improperly disposed of medical waste. Egypt experiences some of the highest levels of HCV in the world with approximately 150,000 people infected each year according to the World Bank. About three tonnes of medical waste is generated daily, and much of it is simply disposed with municipal waste—putting Zabbaleen at risk.

Garbage collection in any large metropolitan area is critical to the survival and economic advancement of that city. As a result, it is crucial to include and recognize informal sector participation when creating policies and allocating funding. Locals are the most knowledgeable about their cities, thus governments will benefit from recognizing and heralding this expertise in order to support effective waste management in Cairo. The economic returns of garbage collection are high, so funding and supporting the workers will subsequently help reduce poverty in the region.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Wikimedia

Women War and Peace
When resolving conflict in the face of war, women are noticeably absent. Throughout history, however, women have occupied important roles during wartime, including as soldiers, politicians, factory workers and even baseball players. People often exclude women and under-represent them among the governmental and conflict-resolution side of the war. Between 1990 and 2017, 92 percent of all peace negotiators were male. Accordingly, the perspectives and interests of women are disproportionately missing, even when war affects women just as much, if not more than men.

Evidence suggests that including women in peace negotiations significantly reduces the presence of violence and aids in bringing peace. Some evidence goes so far as to say that when others include women in negotiation, there is a 70 percent chance that peace will stay for 20 years, compared to a 25 percent chance if only men participate in the conversation.

The “Women, War and Peace” Docuseries

“Women, War and Peace” is a docuseries that began with the idea that when women are part of peace processes, the outcome is often more peaceful for a longer period of time.

Produced by Abigail Disney and a team of all-female executives, the first season of “Women, War and Peace,” which first premiered in 2011, follows female peace negotiators in Afghanistan, Liberia and Northern Ireland. With tactics ranging from sit-ins, mass rallies and negotiating around a table, despite challenges and doubts of their legitimacy, the women attempted to convince leaders of their worth and usefulness in wartime proceedings.

Season two, which premiered in 2019, follows the stories of women in Gaza, Haiti and Egypt. In one episode, directors Geeta Ganbhir and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy told the story of one of the only all-female peacekeeping units in the world. One hundred and sixty Bangladeshi women traveled to Haiti following the 2011 earthquake where they encountered devastating poverty and ravaged health care systems and attempted to stabilize peace in the country. Another episode followed three Egyptian women in the height of the Arab Spring, struggling to restore peace in the crosshairs of the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

What Disney Hopes the Docuseries Achieves

In addition to the general public, people use the series for educational purposes, teaching women and all individuals about political advocacy, female empowerment and gender equality. Most of all, the docuseries is a look into the realities of war.

In an interview for Women and Hollywood, the interviewer asked Abigail Disney what she would like viewers to take away from “Women, War and Peace.” She responded, “I would love people to take a moment and ask themselves what they understand about war. What do they believe happens in war, and what is war about to them?” “Women, War and Peace” is a look at war through the perspectives people usually ignore. Disney and the production team of the docuseries aim to dispel the heroism and nobility that many perceive in war through movies, stories and myths. Rather, through the eyes of women working towards peace, viewers of the docuseries see what victims of wartime see. In Disney’s words, the “high-minded view of war” is impossible “through a woman’s eyes.”

– Orly Golub
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Crisis in GazaIn early July 2019, presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren told a group of activists that “she would push to end the Israeli government’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza,” according to Mike Brest of the Washington Examiner. Senator Warren’s comments stray from her record as a vocal Israeli and AIPAC supporter, but her comments are important to the 2020 democratic presidential campaign as she is one of the, if not the first, democratic candidates to mention and wish to assist the Gaza Strip. As the 2020 presidential campaign moves forward, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deserves more attention.

The Gaza Strip Blockade

Since 2007, Israel and its chief Arab ally, Egypt, have enforced a complete air, land and water blockade of the Gaza Strip in response to the Strip’s controversial election results. In Gaza’s first major elections, Hamas, a U.S. State Department recognized terrorist organization since 1997, won control of the Strip causing Israel to immediately impose sanctions. After Hamas forced its political rivals out, Fatah, Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade of Gaza to prevent further hostile actions from the Gazan government. In the 12 years since its implementation, “more than 1,000 Palestinians have died as a result of the ongoing blockade,” according to Al Jazeera in early 2018.

According to Al Jazeera, “Gazans continue to face a desperate situation because of the blockade with water and electricity shortages as well as a lack of medicines and doctors.” The heinous conditions in Gaza have resulted in the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an accredited independent organization, to declare the Strip “the world’s largest open-air prison” in mid-2018. The NRC also reported that “a 2012 U.N. report predicted [the Gaza Strip] would be unlivable by 2020” for the predicted population of 2.1 million Palestinian. Despite the U.N. report, the conditions have not improved in Gaza as “1.9 million people are confined [by the blockade], 84 percent require humanitarian aid, [and] 41 percent have too little food,” according to the NRC.

The United States and the Gaza Strip

Although the controversial blockade has continued for over a decade, U.S. politicians have rarely discussed the horrific conditions in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. has largely ignored the situation in Gaza, which has allowed it to perpetuate and worsen, but Senator Warren’s recent comments could point towards a possible advancement. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza deserves more attention, and some U.S. politicians could be bringing more light to the crisis.

The 2012 U.N. report on the Gaza Strip made its results very clear by stating that the Strip would be “unlivable by 2020 if nothing was done to ease the blockade.” For the situation in Gaza to improve, Israel and Egypt must end the blockade, or at the very least loosen it. The United States is one of the only nations that holds the power to bring improvement to the region due to its special relationship with Israel and Egypt.

According to USAID, the United States gives almost $370 million in aid to Egypt and nearly $3.2 billion in aid to Israel annually. America’s close and special relationship with both countries give the situation in Gaza hope. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza deserves more attention, and if more U.S. politicians speak against the horrible environment in the Gaza Strip, the additional pressure could potentially ease the blockade and improve the region. The devil is in the details when discussing the Palestinian-Isreali conflict, but improvement is possible if the humanitarian crisis in Gaza receives the attention it deserves.

– Zachery Abunemeh
Photo: Flickr

HarassMapSexual harassment in the form of street harassment (catcalling, wolf-whistling, etc) is something that most women around the world have experienced. In fact, globally, at least 75 percent of women 18 years and older have experienced some form of sexual harassment; that’s at least 2 billion women of the 2.7 billion women who inhabit the earth. While some have used the #MeToo movement as a way to bring light to this issue, others have used technological advancements to combat this reality that most women face. This was the case for HarassMap, created to combat sexual harassment.

The Story of HarassMap

HarassMap was created by a group of four women in Cairo, Egypt; that were fed up with the amount of sexual harassment they were not only experiencing, but also hearing about or witnessing first-hand. These women were fighting sexual harassment in their own ways; one of them was working at a women’s rights organization where she started an anti-harassment program in 2005. She noticed the amount of harassment she and her coworkers experienced while commuting to and from their place of work. In fact, Egypt has one of the highest reported rates of sexual harassment for women wherein 90-99 percent of women 18 and older experienced some sort of harassment. Street harassment was something women in Egypt were used to and tolerated. No one ever did anything to stop it and women did not stand up for themselves nor did they report their experiences.

As these women worked with different NGOs to raise awareness about sexual harassment and focus on forcing people to confront it and discuss it, some of the NGOs lost interest and started supporting legislation that would deal with the legal side of stopping harassment. This didn’t stop the people at HarassMap though. They continued to fight harassment using social standards and eventually got their app developed within a year. Their goal was to shift the blame from the victims to the harassers, encourage intervention from bystanders, give women a safe place to report their harassment or assault without fear of judgment and start a conversation about confronting this epidemic. They launched the app in December 2010, and it has been active ever since.

What is Harassmap?

HarassMap is specifically for women in Egypt. It allows them to anonymously report harassment to the police or let other women know about areas where harassment is high. To report harassment or intervention, all one needs to do is log on to the app or site, input where the harassment or intervention took place, write out the report and submit it. The app then anonymously adds the report to a map as a ping where people can read what took place.

The app focuses on deterrence of harassment by allowing men and women to tell their stories while also praising those who interfere and help when someone is being harassed. The website contains helpful information for visitors, ranging from a how-to guide on interfering and definitions, all the way to legal and psychological advice for those who have been harassed or assaulted. The app itself serves not only as a safe environment where women can report their harassments but also a place to learn about sexual harassment and how to deal with it.

Since the Launch

The app is still active, and its creators have gained worldwide accreditation and won several awards for their tireless efforts to combat sexual harassment and change the conversation surrounding it. Some of these awards stem from Cairo University, World Summit Youth and My Community Our Earth Partnership. The app has also been partnered with Cairo University and other corporations to increase the prevalence of the app and its message. Its developers have also offered classes to combat sexual harassment for businesses and universities to provide a safer environment for women in Egypt. They have also done work outside of Egypt as well, by working with NGOs and setting up similar technology across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Since the debut of the app, different sexual harassment and sexual assault laws have been passed as well. One of the laws, passed in June 2014, makes sexual harassment illegal in Egypt for the first time. Those who are caught harassing can face as few as six months or as many as five years in prison and pay as much as LE 50,000 ($3,000) in fines.

Even though HarassMap is growing and reaching other countries, it is still only available to Egyptians who have access to a smartphone or computer; however, it is encouraging an important conversation. One can hope that women will feel safer on the streets of Egypt and all Egyptians will be able to discuss sexual harassment and assault in a productive and boundary-breaking way.

– Sydney Toy
Photo: Flickr

Centers of Excellence
Egypt and the United States have recently become dependent on each other in order to assist in each other’s growth, developments and establishments, showing a strong partnership between the two countries. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has collaborated with Egypt to create three academic Centers of Excellence that will focus on research about agriculture, energy and water. In order to begin the process of these academic Centers of Excellence, universities in the United States and Egypt had to form partnerships to focus on each focal point.

Academic Center of Excellence in Agriculture

The United States’ Cornell University and Egypt’s Cairo University are partners for the Academic Center of Excellence in Agriculture (COEA). This is a $30 million dollar, five-year collaborative project that will enhance curricula and research in order to train and equip Egyptian students with the right tools to improve agricultural production in Egypt’s future.

There are three main components of this specific center. The first is the instructional innovation and curriculum development of the academic center. The partnership will establish a new interdisciplinary Master of Science program that will be work-force oriented. This center will also grant opportunities to youth, women and disadvantaged students. The second component is to engage in high quality applied research. The last component includes exchanges, training and scholarship programs.

Academic Center of Excellence in Energy

The next $30 million dollar, five-year collaborative partnership is between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ain Shams University. This will be the Academic Center of Excellence in Energy (COEE). MIT and Ain Shams University will work to build research, education and entrepreneurial capacity to address Egypt’s most pressing energy-related issues.

This academic Center of Excellence has four major components to it. The first is the teaming up of Egyptian faculty and students with interdisciplinary researchers across MIT to develop renewable energy solutions. The next component is to advance and scale up sustainable projects. These universities will also use their partnership to facilitate connections between university researchers and key industrial players in the region to expand Egypt’s solar and wind usage, in addition to other forms of clean energy. Lastly, there will be an emphasis on involving Egyptian women and people with disabilities in the university and providing programs and education for them.

The Center of Excellence in Water

The Center of Excellence in Water (COEW) is a partnership between the American University in Cairo and Alexandria University. The COEW is also a $30 million dollar, five-year collaborative project. These universities are still developing their partnership.

The Centers of Excellence was designed by the USAID and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific research with the goal of driving public and private sector innovation, modernization and competitiveness. This $90 million dollar investment will create partnerships between Egyptian public universities and U.S. universities, update university curricula and teaching methods, establish undergraduate and graduate level scholarships and implement exchange programs to foster cross-border learning. This is a breakthrough in education and the professional industry which will work to enhance Egypt as a whole.

– Lari’onna Green
Photo: Flickr

Female genital mutilation in EgyptFemale genital mutilation has impacted at least 200 million women and girls worldwide, though the exact number is unknown. The practice is most common in western, central and northern Africa, though it also occurs in a few countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world, with 87 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 having undergone the procedure as of 2016. Some progress has been made over the past few decades, thanks to efforts by the Egyptian government and international organizations, but the cultural preference for female genital mutilation in Egypt prevails, and there is much work that needs to be done.

Egypt has the fourth highest rate of female genital mutilation, tied with Sudan. Only Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti are higher, all with at least 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 having undergone female genital mutilation. In Somalia, the procedure is nearly universal, at 98 percent.

According to the World Health Organization, there are four main types of female genital mutilation, otherwise known as FGM. These types vary based on what parts of the female genitalia are removed or altered. In Egypt, the most common procedure is Type 1, which includes the partial or full removal of the clitoris.

FGM is condemned internationally for a number of reasons. It has no health benefits, can lead to infections, severe bleeding, infertility and other serious medical problems, is a violation of the rights of women and can result in psychological trauma.

Prevailing Cultural Beliefs

Female genital mutilation in Egypt was banned in 2008 and criminalized in 2016; however, these laws have had little impact on the prevalence of the practice. FGM is seen as an important rite of passage within many communities. It’s viewed as a way to promote female chastity and purity, and many view it as essential for a young woman to get married. According to some Egyptian villagers, husbands will require their brides to undergo the procedure before the wedding ceremony.

It is not only men, however, who support the procedure. While opinions about FGM vary among women, many women do adhere to this cultural tradition and support it being done to their children and grandchildren. According to UNICEF data, only 38 percent of Egyptian women who know about FGM think the practice should end. Egyptian woman Mona Mohamed remembers being tied down to get the procedure when she was ten, her mother and grandmother each holding one of her arms.

Slow Progress

In 2000, for married women, the rate of female genital mutilation in Egypt was 97 percent. Between then and 2014, there was little progress, as the 2014 health survey found that 92 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had gone through FGM. There has been more significant progress between 2014 and 2018, however, as the rate has been reduced to 87 percent.

While this represents a higher rate of reduction, if progress continues at this rate, it will take more than 34 years to end the practice entirely. Success in ending FGM relies on working at a community level to change cultural perceptions.

Efforts by International Organizations

In 2008, UNICEF and UNFPA created a joint program targeting FGM in the countries where it is the most prevalent. Their program focuses on law reform, research, training medical personnel and fieldworkers, and engaging directly with religious leaders and local communities.

Both Muslim and Christian communities are known to support female genital mutilation in Egypt, so the program works with leaders from both religions to educate them on the realities of FGM. If religious leaders come to agree with international views on FGM, the program then provides resources to help them spread this knowledge in their communities through sermons and family counseling.

To better reach girls and women, the program also launched a national television campaign. By far their most innovative solution for community outreach, however, is an interactive street theatre show on female genital mutilation. The play provides a depiction of FGM and its impact on girls, and afterward, the audience is encouraged to be involved in an open community discussion.

Despite being a culturally-driven practice, FGM is often performed by licensed doctors. The 2014 health survey found that 72 percent of FGM procedures in Egypt was done by a doctor. As a result, it is important to also focus efforts on medical professionals. Beginning in 2013, UNFPA held workshops for the medical staff at hospitals to disseminate accurate knowledge about FGM and provide doctors and nurses with the resources they need to counsel their patients and argue against FGM.

Additionally, UNFPA is working on a legal front to address the lack of legal repercussions for those who perform FGM, in spite of it being criminalized. This involves working with law enforcement personnel and prosecutors to ensure that individuals aren’t able to exploit legal loopholes to avoid conviction.

Hopefully, the efforts of UNFPA, UNICEF and other international and regional partners will continue to have an impact on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Egypt, protecting the human rights of thousands of women and girls.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Pixabay

Urban and Rural Poverty in EgyptWhile the North African nation of Egypt has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, it still grapples with the issue of poverty. With an overall poverty rate of approximately 28 percent, Egypt still struggles with more than a quarter of its population living in poverty. However, like many other developing countries, there is a poverty divide in Egypt between rural and urban people that is highly problematic for the nation. Specifically, reports completed by the World Bank indicate that the highest share of the nation’s poor population lives in upper rural Egypt. The inequality and poverty divide in Egypt between wealthier urban families and poorer rural families are issues that the North African nation must look to correct if its goal is a more stable and evenly-distributed domestic economy.

Urban vs. Rural Poverty in Egypt

There are some explanations for the poverty divide in Egypt. Like many other countries, those living in rural communities tend to rely more heavily on industries such as agriculture and livestock as a means for sustenance. Agriculture accounts for approximately 27 percent of the total Egyptian workforce and 55 percent of employment opportunities in rural upper Egypt are related to agriculture. This means that as Egypt continues to modernize its economy in its urban centers, those in more rural, agriculturally-focused regions such as upper Egypt and the Nile River valley will inherently be forced to find more reliable and modern sources of employment in urban centers. Agriculture constitutes too small a percentage of Egypt’s economy (11.7 percent of the total GDP as of 2017) for the government to significantly invest in such an industry and, as a continuously urbanizing nation, it seems as though this trend will continue. There are simply more opportunities for employment and financial prosperity in bustling urban centers like Cairo than in secluded rural villages throughout poorer regions.

However, several factors may be quietly contributing to the poverty divide in Egypt, one of which involves the illiteracy rate. As of 2017, of Egyptians aged 15 years and older, about 28 percent of that population is still illiterate. Many of these illiterate people live in rural areas where education is much less accessible. In fact, a 2017 report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) found that the rural illiteracy rate in Egypt stands at about 32 percent, while the urban illiteracy rate is approximately 17.7 percent.

Hannah Adkins, a university student who visits family in Egypt, commented on the issue of illiteracy in Egypt. “Illiteracy is definitely higher in rural areas because they simply have more limited access to schools and teachers,” Adkins told The Borgen Project. “Urban areas have a large concentration of wealth so that people with more privilege can afford to send their kids to private or international schools.”

According to statistics reported by the Education Policy and Data Center, 25.5 percent of rural Egyptian children do not receive secondary education, compared to 14.5 percent of Egyptian children in urban areas. The lack of wealth distribution between rural and urban areas has led to a steep poverty divide in Egypt. As a result, many Egyptians find themselves stuck in a cyclical process of poverty and illiteracy with little opportunity to emerge.

Though the poverty divide in Egypt has been accentuated by many factors like illiteracy, there are still groups and organizations focused on resolving such issues. In fact, Egyptian agencies like CAPMAS have set goals to eradicate the poverty rate by half by 2020 and fully by 2030. CAPMAS plans to do so by implementing different programs aimed at benefiting poorer families, especially in rural areas and villages throughout Egypt. In fact, a 2015 program called Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity in English) in an effort to provide poor families and elderly Egyptians with income support, education and healthcare assistance. This program was launched with the support of a $400 million World Bank program. Egypt’s government has made it clear that eradicating its crippling poverty divide is a top priority, and as long as the nation can keep up with its plans in the coming years, impoverished Egyptians will hopefully be able to dig themselves out of their desperate situations.

– Ethan Marcetti
Photo: Flickr