Infotmation and stories on Egypt

Decent LifeEgypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi kicked off the first stage of Egypt’s groundbreaking anti-poverty project, the “Decent Life” (Haya Karima) Initiative, at the first conference on July 15, 2021. Al-Sisi declared that this initiative would kickstart “Egypt’s New Republic” especially in the Egyptian countryside. The massive development and resource injection into education and health infrastructure, primarily in rural areas, appears as if it will significantly improve the Egyptian landscape for the future. This initiative comes at a crucial turning point in a country that has struggled significantly with poverty over the past years. Statistics such as how 32.5% of Egyptians reported being below the poverty line in 2019 or how the pandemic has increased the official unemployment rate to 9.6% as of November 2020 highlight Egypt’s difficult poverty battle. However, with the ‘Decent Life’ Initiative in action with its numerous quality components, Egypt’s economy looks to be turning a corner.

Four Pillars

Within the framework of the UN Egypt Vision 2030 Strategy, the initiative consists of four main pillars:
1. To ameliorate living standards and invest in human capital,
2. To grow infrastructure services,
3. To improve human development services,
4. To spur economic development especially by contributing to the poorest villages with increased access to basic services such as sanitation and education infrastructure.

These pillars provide the foundation for how Egypt is tackling poverty in a more assertive manner.

First Phases

Prior to President Al-Sisi establishing the initiative, he launched an unofficial phase of the project in 2019. This came in the form of him pressuring the Minister of Social Solidarity to develop Egypt’s 1,000 poorest villages. After the success of this stage of the process, the official first phase started in January 2021. This first phase expands the number of targeted villages to 4,500, covering 58% of the country’s population.

Since January 2021, the initiative has taken crucial steps in developing Suhag water and sanitation services in 33 villages, renovating transportation stations at a cost of EGP 183 million (almost $12 million), and creating new transportation stations at a cost of EGP 219 million (almost $14 million). This process forms as the initial stages of the 2021-22 plan of the initiative, which carries with it a budget of EGP 200 billion (almost $13 billion).

The 2021-22 plan for the initiative has specific and bold aims that ensure Egypt is tackling poverty in a decisive and thorough manner. Details of the 2021-22 plan include:

  • To set up 10,828 classrooms,
  • To improve 782 youth centers,
  • To renovate 317 public service buildings,
  • To develop 1,250 health care units, establish 389 ambulances and 510 mobile clinics, and 112 veterinary units,
  • To create 191 agricultural service centers.

Final Targets

The “Decent Life” Initiative has several end goals it aims to achieve which President El-Sisi set out. One of the main goals is that the Egyptian government plans to utilize overall investments amounting to EGP 700 billion (almost $45 billion) by the end of the project, demonstrating that Egypt is tackling poverty in an aggressive manner. President El-Sisi has also made the promise that “the Egyptian countryside will be transformed in three years’ time,” signifying an attempt to minimize the rural-urban inequality.

Regarding education and health services, the initiative is aiming to build 13,000 classrooms and activating the new Universal Health Insurance System by the project’s conclusion. The Universal Health Insurance System will consist of mandatory coverage to all citizens by unifying with the private healthcare sector and minimizing existing health insurance disparities.

UN Response

The UN has responded extremely positively to the official launch of the initiative, with the Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, stating that the UN considers the “Decent Life” project at top spot for the best application for sustainable development goals around the world and has full confidence that it will provide essential job opportunities for Egyptians in impoverished areas. Furthermore, the UN has praised the initiative as it also confirms the country’s willingness to “implement the participatory planning approach through integrating citizens in the need’s identification stage.”

–  Gabriel Sylvan

Photo: Flickr

Marital Rape in EgyptSo far, no legal action has occurred to criminalize marital rape in Egypt. As an Islamic country, Sharia law manages issues involving marriage, inheritance, divorce and child custody.

A Voice on Instagram

Egyptian fashion designer Nada Adel was married to Tameem Youness, a musician. Now divorced, Adel said in an Instagram video that people should not ignore rape just because two people are married. She claims her husband raped her while they were married for a year. This sparked debate over social media and many women called for legal action.

Adel’s ex-husband denied her claims, and those in favor of Sharia law claimed that marital rape in Egypt was nonexistent. In fact, social media user Amr Sabry argued that unless a woman is too sick or too tired, rape cannot exist within the marriage.

Who is Joining the Cause?

Actresses like Mona Zaki have spread awareness in the past by playing wives in scenes where the husband tries to force intercourse. More celebrities are taking action by prompting legislation to criminalize marital rape in support of Adel. Journalist Amr Adeeb and actress Somaya El Khashab are just two examples of renowned individuals fighting for a change in legislation.

In June 2021, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a statement about the violence women experience in Egypt. Bachelet stated that violence percentages have risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With many staying home and quarantining, women have suffered at the hands of their husbands. She claimed that many women do not report the men out of fear of their community shaming them, family members initiating verbal or physical attacks on them and authorities not believing them.

Further, many women cannot report marital rape in Egypt because many do not see marital rape as an issue. Bachelet has urged for change in legislation for a better future for women in Egypt.

Religious Boundaries

Currently, a woman who reports marital rape may only succeed in their husband receiving a charge for hitting them, resulting in a misdemeanor for the husband. Ahmed El-Sabag, a scholar with Al-Azhar, claims that a husband forcing a wife into intercourse is unlawful under Sharia law.

Quoting two verses from the Quran, El-Sabag says that a husband must not have sex with his wife while she is menstruating, as to remain pure. Purity is something the relationship should have before intercourse. Therefore, violent husbands are in violation of Islamic Sharia.

The second verse explains that since wives carry children, they have a task of honor and should receive honorable treatment. A husband should show righteousness when approaching his wife and keep in mind that he respects Allah when doing so.

How Less Sexual Violence Leads to Less Poverty

Women who depend on someone else to provide food, water, shelter, clothing and more often feel they do not have a right to revoke consent, especially if they have children. However, victims of sexual violence are often the ones living in poverty. As those at greater risk, women become marginalized, leading to more stigma that results in wage gaps, violence and dependency. This leads to more families and women in poverty.

A Movement of Hope

Islamic Sharia law prohibits marital rape. It is the stigma surrounding gender that causes people to take the Quran out of context. Therefore, criminalizing marital rape for Egyptians would not violate religious expectations. As many women and men fight for these human rights, hope is an enduring light.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Unsplash

Waste Management in EgyptIn 2018, according to a report by MAGNiTT, an online community for startups and investors in the MENA region, Egypt had “the fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa.” Both public and private initiatives have provided funding and expertise to contribute to this growth. Many of these startups tackle problems with far-reaching social and developmental consequences. Several startups are transforming waste management in Egypt by creating innovative solutions for sustainable waste management.

Baramoda

Baramoda is an agri-tech startup with the goal of “building a sustainable future for food security systems by 2050 in Africa.” Its main four concerns are the risk of water shortages, high agricultural waste, harmful chemical fertilizers and the loss of soil productivity. Roughly 80% of Egypt’s water resources are used in agriculture. With climate change pushing temperatures higher, these challenges, if left unaddressed, could trigger destabilizing water politics in the region. This would prevent millions of people from getting the water necessary to fulfill their basic needs.

Baramoda’s main product for alleviating these problems is bio-organic compost made of agricultural waste. This compost reduces irrigation demands by 30%. It also reduces the use of chemical fertilizers by 50% and increases land productivity by 20%. As of 2020, the company recycles more than 15,000 tons of waste a month which produces more than 80,000 tons of bio-organic compost. In addition to this product, Baramoda is developing an online platform for waste management in Egypt. This software will allow farmers and agricultural businesses to share information and coordinate waste collection and recycling efforts.

Bekia

Bekia is a Cairo-based startup that has set up a bartering-style system for people to exchange recyclable waste for basic goods. The company picks up customers’ recyclable waste free of charge. It in turn gives them points based on the type and amount of waste given. Customers can redeem these points on Bekia’s website for groceries, metro tickets, medicine and a variety of other household items. To finish the cycle, the company then brings the waste to recycling centers. It also fixes and resells discarded electronics if still reusable.

By December 2019, three years after Alaa Afifi Kamal founded it, Bekia had received more than 10,000 orders and collected more than 20,000 tons of waste. Since 44.8% of households in Egypt dispose of waste by dumping it on the street, bolstering waste management in Egypt through urban recycling programs fulfills an unmet social and environmental need while also being able to realize high commercial value. During the next few years, Bekia hopes to expand beyond the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Giza.

Up-fuse

Up-fuse is a Cairo-based sustainable fashion brand engaged in the upcycling of plastic bags. Upcycling is the act of reusing discarded materials in a way that produces something of greater value than the original. Up-fuse uses plastic bags to create backpacks, handbags, wallets and more. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, it also produces face masks. Moreover, its production process is highly integrated into the local community.

The company collects vast amounts of plastic in collaboration with Manshiyat Nasser Landfill, home to more than 60,000 entrepreneurial garbage workers, also known as Zabbaleen. Up-fuse relies on artisanal workers from three Egyptian NGOs to assist with the design and processing of its recycled fabrics. These NGOs support refugees and women with disabilities. The brand began in 2013 when founders Rania Rafie and Yara Yassin noticed how, contrary to Egypt, supermarkets in Berlin charged for plastic bags. From this inspiration, Up-fuse has upcycled more than 250,000 plastic bags.

Looking Forward

Every year, Egypt generates approximately 30 million tons of agricultural waste and six million tons of industrial waste. Baramoda, Bekia and Up-fuse have each developed unique and ingenious ways of turning this environmental challenge into a social and commercial opportunity. As these startups show, a wave of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit can meet challenges, finding solutions even where the situation seems dire.

– Alexander Vanezis
Photo:Flickr

Ahmed Helmy regional ambassador UNICEFAhmed Helmy is an Egyptian actor, comedian and TV personality. Best known for his work in films such as “Molasses,” “Zaki Chan” and “Scarecrow,” Helmy is famous throughout Egypt and the Middle East, with more than 15 million followers on Instagram. Furthermore, he has served as a popular judge on Arabs Got Talent and a Samsung ambassador. While he is beloved for his acting skills and charisma, Helmy’s work with UNICEF has also received positive attention from fans. In 2017, the actor was named an ambassador for the Egypt branch of the charity. In June 2021, Ahmed Helmy became the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.

Social Media Campaigns on Childhood Development Issues

As UNICEF’s Egypt ambassador, Helmy participated in a number of social media projects, such as the #FightUnfair campaign. #FightUnfair sought to draw attention to issues impacting Egyptian youth, such as poverty and child labor. Another campaign that Helmy participated in was the #EarlyMomentsMatter movement, which highlighted the importance of early childhood development and establishing healthy parenting habits early in a child’s life. The campaign was widely successful and featured other famous UNICEF ambassadors, such as David Beckham.

Helmy’s work with UNICEF has often involved his own family, as his wife, actress Mona Zaki, is a UNICEF Egypt ambassador herself. Together, the couple made videos discouraging violent forms of disciplinary action toward children. A collaboration between UNICEF, The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and the European Union allowed the campaign to reach more than 80 million people.

Visiting Refugee Children

In addition to social media campaigns, Helmy’s humanitarian work included visits to communities served by UNICEF. For example, in November of 2018, the actor visited Syrian refugee children at Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. At the camp, UNICEF supports the quality education of more than 19,000 children. Following the visit, Helmy reflected on the experience, saying, “By ensuring every child can receive an education, healthcare, clean water and access to spaces where they feel protected and nurtured, UNICEF is giving vulnerable children hope for a better future, one where they can truly fulfill their potential.”

Helmy’s New Role as Regional Ambassador

In his new role as the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa, Ahmed Helmy hopes to continue to help children reach their potential. Specifically, he plans to focus on standing up for children’s rights and promoting awareness of early childhood development issues. Helmy’s work with UNICEF is an example of a celebrity harnessing their social influence for good. In his new role, Helmy has the potential to promote even more positive social change for the many children impacted by UNICEF’s work.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Child Poverty in Egypt
Egypt attracts visitors from all around the world to observe marvelous monuments such as the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. However, behind the magnificence of its tourist attractions lies a country in distress. It has a rank of 13th in terms of global population, with births occurring every 15 seconds. The growing population is causing a scarcity of resources, leaving nearly 27.8% of Egyptians to live in extreme poverty. Poverty especially poses a threat to the quality of life for Egyptian children by denying them opportunities to be successful. Here are some of the factors contributing to child poverty in Egypt.

Lack of Education

Egypt’s Ministry of Education reported that thousands of children dropped out of school in 2016 and 2017 due to the inability to pay fees for food, transportation and clothing. Roughly 600,000 of the children who dropped out of school in 2017 were girls. In previous decades, Egyptians highly undervalued education for girls due to ideas of traditional gender roles. However, a study in Egypt found that girls usually begin taking on household duties around the age of 10, allowing them more opportunities to attend primary school. The need for children to help bring in extra income causes many poor families to turn to child labor. This makes school attendance even less a priority.

Child Labor

Agriculture makes up nearly 55% of Upper Egypt’s labor force. Additionally, almost 80% of the population in Upper Egypt lives below the poverty line. The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) reported that 53.2% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in Egypt’s agricultural sector. Children provide a cheaper source of labor to help manage family-owned farms. Cairo Hospital’s Dr. Ahmed Fathy explained, “For poorer families, it’s not about whether a child is a gift from God, but rather [that] extra children are a method of income.”

Malnutrition

Malnutrition plays a prominent role in child poverty in Egypt. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) defines malnutrition as a lack of access to a healthy diet in poverty-stricken communities and a lack of nutritional knowledge that promotes healthy dietary habits and lifestyles. Children under the age of 5 suffer most from undernourishment at 35%. Foods high in sugar account for nearly one-third of an Egyptian infant’s diet. Meanwhile, roughly 50% of children under the age of 2 are not receiving vital nutrients such as iron through their diet.

Social Programs and Government Policies on Child Poverty

From 2014-2018, the European Union (E.U.) invested $65 million to launch the Enhancing Access of Children to Education and Fighting Child Labor social program. The program improved food security for approximately 100,000 Egyptian children. It also provided financial aid to almost 400,000 low-income families, reducing the need for child labor and encouraging school attendance.

The Egyptian government is hopeful that it will eliminate hazardous forms of child labor by 2025. Government officials enacted the National Plan of Action Against the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Supporting Families policy in 2017 to boost child labor laws and develop the educational system. The policy also delegates specific government agencies to enforce existing child labor laws.

Looking Towards the Future

Egyptian children living in poverty endure numerous hardships that affect their quality of life, such as lack of education, child labor and malnutrition. These barriers leave them unprepared to successfully transition to adulthood. The Egyptian government is taking steps to eliminate child poverty by passing laws and implementing programs that prioritize children’s issues. Hopefully, one day, child poverty in Egypt will no longer exist.

Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

Child mortality in EgyptIn 2020, the rate of child mortality in Egypt was about five times lower than the rate in 1990, a crucial improvement that displays the effectiveness of programs addressing the issue. Since 1994, the government and partnering NGOs have made significant efforts to reduce child mortality in Egypt. As a result, the country has surpassed its objectives for Millenium Development Goal 4. There are several reasons for Egypt’s considerable success in improving children’s health.

5 Reasons for Decreased Child Mortality in Egypt

  1. Public health programs. Arguably one of the most significant projects in the fight against child mortality in Egypt is the government’s immunization campaign. With the introduction of the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI), infants received greater protection against diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and tetanus. More than 90% of children aged 18-29 months were fully immunized in 2014. Additionally, the government established initiatives centering on mothers’ health. The Healthy Mother/Healthy Child Programme from 1993 to 2009 was significant in reducing socioeconomic and regional disparities in child and maternal health facilities and services. The program played a part in the increase of medically assisted deliveries from 38% in 1988 to 80% in 2008.
  2. Government partnerships with NGOs. The resources and support provided by NGOs boosted the success of government programs. The Ministry of Health and Population worked closely with UNICEF as part of the Young Child Survival and Development program to launch initiatives to improve maternal and child mortality by ensuring services in disadvantaged areas to promote health, nutrition and hygiene awareness. The World Bank also financed the Health Quality Improvement Programme, which focused on improving the quality of care in Egypt’s medical facilities located in the most impoverished areas.
  3. Improvements in health sector infrastructure and access. As of 2014, there were 5,000 public primary care facilities and 1,100 public hospitals across Egypt. This, in addition to well-developed roads, means most rural and urban citizens reside within five kilometers of a healthcare center. All these factors mean healthcare is widely accessible. Furthermore, the number of trained medical professionals has increased. Between 1990 and 2012 the number of doctors per 1,000 individuals increased by a factor of 8, according to the World Health Organization. Although regional discrepancies still exist, the Egyptian government continues to establish legislation and programs to improve health.
  4. Health information monitoring and sharing. The collection of data on child mortality rates and general health has allowed the government to monitor progress and implement more informed healthcare strategies. Data has informed previous child and maternal health programs and has contributed greatly to the successes of initiatives. The government has prioritized broadcasting messages through the media to educate people on steps to take to improve maternal and child health.
  5. Government actions and priorities. The government’s commitment to women’s and children’s health has contributed to the decrease in child mortality in Egypt. During the years 1989-1999 and 2000-2010, the health of mothers and children became a principal concern for the Egyptian government. Furthermore, the 1988 creation of the parastatal National Council for Children and Mothers prioritizes the needs of mothers and children and ensures that legislation prioritizes children and women too.

A Better Future

Though socioeconomic inequalities remain, Egypt has made many improvements in children’s health. Through cooperation with NGOs, government health programs and a revitalization of the health sector, child mortality in Egypt has decreased exponentially. With continued efforts to promote maternal and child health, Egypt has laid a strong foundation for continued success.

Sarah Stolar
Photo: Flickr

CARE’s Aid to EgyptDespite the richness of Egypt’s history, the country faces several issues that affect the nation’s people. Among them are education, women’s rights, agricultural development and governance. However, the organization called CARE is working extensively to help resolve these pressing issues in Egypt. CARE’s aid to Egypt provides the necessary support to a struggling population.

Current Issues in Egypt

Egypt’s education system has made a number of improvements. As of 2017, the literacy rate in Egypt among youths was at 94%. Furthermore, the amount of elementary-aged children in Egypt not attending school has decreased to 50%. One particular concern regarding the Egyptian education system, however, is the increasing population in Egypt. The population increase puts strain on the educational system because it leads to overcrowded classrooms, capacity shortages and a greater need for educational funding to support this.

Women’s rights in Egypt is another issue of concern for the country. In 2015, the Global Gender Index gave Egypt a rank of 136 out of 145 countries regarding inequities between men and women of Egypt. This low ranking is evidenced by the fact that women’s participation in the labor force is only 26% in comparison to 79% for men. Furthermore, women’s literacy stands at 65% in comparison to 82% for men.

Agriculture is vitally important to the Egyptian economy. About 11.3% of Egypt’s GDP comes from this sector. Of the entire Egyptian workforce, around 28% of it is employed in the agricultural sector. Upper Egypt relies heavily on agriculture with 55% of the population employed in the sector. The Egyptian agricultural sector struggles due to the use of traditional farming methods that hinder productivity and do not align with international standards.

CARE Addresses Egyptian Education

One of CARE’s focuses regarding Egyptian education is children who live in poverty. CARE works to ensure that children still have access to education despite the economic situation they find themselves in. CARE works to improve education in Egypt by assisting the Egyptian Ministry of Education (MOE). The MOE has what is called Readability Units to help improve literacy among students. CARE works directly with these Readability Units to better improve teaching methods and monitor the progress of both students and teachers.

CARE Supports Women’s Rights

CARE helps to support women’s rights by fighting gender-based violence (GBV) in Egypt. CARE’s women’s rights program helps support efforts to raise awareness about GBV and provide assistance to survivors.

The Safe Cities Free of Violence project has been protecting Egyptian women and girls since 2012 by ensuring GBV-free, safe neighborhoods in specific areas. Through field activities, people are educated on gender-based violence matters. Furthermore, survivors are provided help through four pillars: health access and medical care, safety, legal and psychosocial. During the 2016-2017 period, the GBV program directly benefited more than 16,000 women and girls.

CARE’s aid to Egypt also helps women economically by using the village savings and loan associations (VSLA) strategy. The purpose of the VSLA is to give lower-income people the opportunity to save money and access loans to improve economic stability. This also contributes to ensuring financial inclusion for impoverished people. Since 2009, the VSLA has helped more than 54,000 people, 95% of whom were women.

CARE Helps Agriculture and Governance

CARE recognizes that the traditional agricultural practices in Egypt are not the most beneficial or productive. CARE reaches out to small-scale farmers to teach them more efficient farming techniques to better improve their productivity. Our Children’s Wheat program has provided agricultural training to 172 farmers growing maize. An additional 2039 farmers were trained on growing wheat crops productively.

Furthermore, CARE has long been working toward improving governance in Egypt. Focusing on regional level governance, CARE wants to better improve the way regional governments provide for citizens. CARE also wants these regional governments to be more accountable when it comes to addressing the needs of citizens. It has established governance and social accountability initiatives and practices to ensure improvement in this area.

The Road Ahead

Despite the hardships Egypt faces, the country is receiving significant support from CARE. This support is especially significant in areas where the government lacks the resources to fulfill the needs of its citizens. CARE’s aid in Egypt provides hope to a struggling population for a future that goes beyond simply surviving to fully thriving.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Economic Growth in 2020
“Everyone is growing.” At the end of 2019, this was the World Bank’s outlook of the economic trajectory for the year 2020. The global economy was steadily growing and strengthening, and only a select few countries were facing GDP and economic contractions. Here is a look at the countries that experienced economic growth in 2020.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Economy

At the end of 2020, the World Bank sang a much different tune than what it did at the end of 2019. After the onset of a global pandemic, the majority of the world’s economies have taken a turn for the worst, the year turning out to be one of the worst in terms of economic growth and development. A far cry from the projected global GDP growth of 2.5%, as in June 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that the world would close out the year with a GDP growth rate of -4.9%.

For some countries such as Spain, the U.K. and Tunisia, economic growth in 2020 had already fallen by around 20% by the year’s second quarter compared to the same period of 2019, a record quarterly fall for many countries. In other countries such as Taiwan, Finland, Lithuania and South Korea, the economic impact was much less than 5% contractions in GDP.

However, while the problem of economic recession was common for most nations, there were a select few that were not only able to ward off a negative growth pattern but steadily grew in the face of a global crisis. According to reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in October 2020, only 16 countries would sustain economic growth in 2020 of more than 1%, and 11 would grow at a rate between zero and 1%. That leaves a whopping 167 nations facing economic contraction.

5 Countries that Experienced the Highest Economic Growth in 2020

  1. Guyana: Guyana currently has the fastest growing economy globally, with an economic growth rate of approximately 26.21% in 2020. The mainland country serves as home to one of the most promising newly discovered oil basins globally and a vast supply of other natural resources. The recent oil discoveries and new production began in late 2019. Guyana’s economy is expanding fast and expects the GDP to more than double by 2025. Therefore, while it is likely that the Guyanese economy did face setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the explosion of its oil industry has been able to keep the country’s economy heading in the right direction.
    2. South Sudan: After facing stunted economic growth in the 2010s due to civil unrest, the relatively newly independent South Sudan faced harsh humanitarian and food insecurity crises. However, in 2018, the country signed a new peace agreement, followed by the reopening of many of its oil wells, boosting its main revenue source. Between 2018 and 2019, the country gradually maneuvered itself back into a steady growth pattern that maintained a 4.11% growth in GDP in 2020.
    3. Bangladesh: Over the years 2016 to 2020, the Bangladesh economy has recorded a 7.6% growth in GDP. Such rapid expansion has allowed the country to graduate from the U.N.’s list of Least Developed Countries (LDC). Because of its now stable macroeconomic environment, buoyant domestic demand and export-oriented industry-led growth, Bangladesh has been able to maintain an approximate 5.2% growth rate during 2020, with predictions that it will see an increasing growth rate of 6.8% in 2021 and the coming years.
    4. Egypt: Similar to Guyana, the Egyptian economy has recently benefitted greatly from lucrative natural gas discoveries. Though the pandemic and global economic crisis hit the country’s economic growth in 2020 due to a sudden fall in tourism, remittances and exports, its previous main sources of income, the revenue from its oil discoveries, was enough to stabilize growth in the economy. Already, the Egyptian economy is on the path to recovery with a projected 2.76% growth in 2021, before returning to its previous growth levels averaging at 5.28% in the coming years.
    5. Benin: Due to intentional and effective key economic and structural reforms in recent years, Benin reached a growth rate of 6.41% between the years 2017 and 2019. Therefore, while economic activity did slow for the country heavily dependent on re-export and transit trade, it was able to sustain economic growth in 2020 at a rate of approximately 2%. As the world adapts to and moves towards the end of the pandemic and global economic crisis, expectations have determined that Benin’s economy will return to faster growth rates of around 5% to 7% in the upcoming years.

Looking Forward

It was low- and middle-income emerging economies that were better able to sustain a growth trajectory throughout the 2020 global economic crisis. In fact, China, which the COVID-19 pandemic hit first, has been the only trillion-dollar economy that sustained positive economic growth in 2020. Economic growth is crucial for reducing and eradicating poverty and can lead to social improvements in affected countries. Therefore, the hope is that the countries that are not on the above list will return to pre-pandemic growth rates, and the five fastest-growing nations of 2020 keep developing at this level.

– Rebecca Harris
Photo: Flickr

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