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Human Rights in Egypt: Pragmatic Translation of Political Will

The Egyptian state adopted many of the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council and has made great progress on several issues, most notably boosting women’s rights and empowering women in all aspects. The state implemented recommendations on violence against women by issuing legislation, new laws and embedding the principle of equality. It was also exemplary in strengthening the rights of youth, children and disabled.

The state’s efforts focused on three main aspects: Social security program; presidential initiatives; laws and legislation.

First: Social Security

This is a comprehensive set of measures and programs adopted by the state to protect families against economic, social and environmental threats, especially the weaker echelons, including:

1- Cash Support Program

– The Solidarity and Dignity Program aims to protect the poor by giving them regular cash support. The program registered 1.5 million poor families through the World Bank’s Energy Sector Development Project. Some 88 per cent of cash support cardholders are women.

– Launching a new comprehensive health insurance system in Port Said and Luxor by providing the best and most sophisticated hospitals and clinics to achieve comprehensive healthcare for all Egyptians.

2- Dignified Housing Program

This program aims to improve living and housing conditions for poor families by providing the basic requirements of dignity, humanity, and allowing the poorest and most needy families to live in good environmental and hygienic conditions. The program carries out needed interventions in terms of roof repairs, sewage systems and potable water.

3- Program for Protecting Women and Children

– The “Two is Enough” program provides women with a variety of options regarding reproductive health.

– The “It’s Covered” program has a budget of LE250 million and is a revolving loan for women to start up micro projects.

– The “Childhood Early Development” program evaluates nurseries across the country, and so far 200 preschools are being overhauled through grants worth LE40 million.

Second: Presidential Initiatives

Presidential initiatives are the pragmatic implementation of social justice, most notably:

 “100 Million Health” (October 2018): The campaign aimed to eradicate Virus C and non-communicable diseases. All 27 governorates were divided into three phases beginning in October 2018 and ending in April 2019, and established permanent medical units in all governorates.

The Initiative to Detect Three Diseases in Schoolchildren (December 2018): This initiative aimed to detect anemia, stunting and obesity in 12.5 million elementary schoolchildren to measure the diet and health of schoolchildren, and place interventions to improve the health of students.

The “Dignified Life” Initiative (June 2019): The initiative aims to provide a dignified life to the more needy classes in 2019, including healthcare, medical services, surgeries, prosthetic limbs, and developing the neediest villages according to the poverty map.

 “Egyptian Women are Egypt’s Well-Being” (June 2019): The goal of the initiative is to detect breast cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, measuring BMI and focus on the reproductive health of women.

Special Needs: The state declared 2018 as the “Year of Special Needs” and issued several decisions for the disabled including facilitating qualification for disability pensions, refurbishing railway stations for handicap access, receiving 50 per cent discount on public transportation, and EGP 500 million from the Long Live Egypt Fund to support the disabled.

Third: Laws and legislation

The Egyptian state focused on enhancing the dynamism of social security programs to guarantee they reach target beneficiaries under a legislative umbrella ratified by the Egyptian parliament, most notably:

1- Amending Law 58 of 1937 for harsher penalty for Female Genital Mutilation, by writing a clear definition of FGM based on the World Heath Organisation definition, and dispensing harsher punishment for anyone who “circumcises a female up to seven years [in prison]” and the penalty for anyone who solicits FGM is up to three years in jail.

2- Amending Law 58 of 1937 known as the “alimony and allowance” law to track those who are evading the payment of alimony, which is a serious problem for divorced women. The amendment increased the penalty from EGP 500 to EGP 5,000 for anyone who evades paying alimony and suspends some government services for anyone who is found guilty.

3- Amending Law 77 of 1943 on inheritance, penalizing anyone who intentionally withholds the rightful inheritance of someone else, with at least six months in jail and up to EGP 100,000 in fines. This is a commonly usurped right of women, especially in rural areas and Upper Egypt due to customs of not giving women their inheritance.

4- Law 10 of 2018 on the rights of the disabled which provides mechanism to strengthen the capacity of people with special needs, and their political empowerment through appropriate representation in parliament according to the law and constitution. The law highlights many gains of people with special needs by penning the first ever comprehensive definition of people with disabilities to ensure that all forms of disability are recognized, and guarantees access to all services without exclusion. Also, their right to assume leadership roles in the state.

A law criminalizing early marriages for girls

The National Council for Women submitted a draft law criminalizing the marriage of underage girls and it was referred to parliament under the name “Banning Child Marriages”. It stipulates the addition of a clause to the Law on Childhood criminalizing child marriages, and imposing one-year jail time for anyone who marries, participates or writes a marriage contract for anyone less than 18 years old. The cleric who performs such a marriage will be jailed for one year and removed from his job.

Draft Law for Alternative Penalty for Debtors

As part of President Abdel-Fatah Al-Sisi’s initiative “Prisons Without Debtors” a draft law was submitted for alternative punishment for debtors to replace short-term prison time with other options according to the judge’s or court’s discretion. The draft suggests creating small or medium size projects that employ those who are convicted in loan cases to increase production; one third of the profit would go to the state to expand such projects of, the second third would go towards settling the debt, and the final third would go to the convict.

Empowering Egyptian Women

The Egyptian state achieved remarkable progress in empowering women and continues its efforts to secure women’s rights and bolster their role, which contributes to the progress and prosperity of the state’s development process.

Political Empowerment

Egyptian women are a key component in government ministries and parliament. The number of women in leadership roles in government has increased to eight female ministers in 2019, which is 25 per cent of cabinet members. Women have been also appointed as governors and five young women were appointed as deputy governors.

In the past, it was difficult for a woman to become a judge, today, there are 66 female judges since 2018. Six women were also appointed as deputies to chairman of the State Lawsuits Authority for the first time.

Women in parliament

The constitutional amendments of 2019 included Article 102 which increased female representation in parliament to 25 per cent of seats, which improved Egypt’s standing in global reports on closing the gender gap.

Political empowerment of women

The Egyptian state exerted a lot of effort in small and medium size projects involving women who support their families. According to a report by the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA) published on 21 August 2019, the number of SMEDA loans to women in the past four years increased to 118,806 projects in 2018 at a cost of nearly LE1.9 billion.

The state also implemented several projects and programs to empower women, including:

– Savings and loans and the “One product, one village” project.

– The Women’s Financial Inclusion Program, raising awareness about the financial inclusion of women and banking services in all governorates.

Despite the quick pace of progress and overlap of issues in this day and age, human rights remain at the forefront of the Egyptian state’s priorities through a bundle of decrees and laws supporting economic, social and political aspects. Continuing these efforts requires the participation of NGOs and media, as well as support from global organizations through:

1- Effective measures to ensure the media respects and promotes respect of women, to reshape the image of women and ingrain values and principles in families and society.

2- Expansion in establishing centers for psychological and social support to provide services to victims of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault, including shelter, rehabilitation, counseling, training and employment.

3- Passing laws that ban honor killings.

4- Revising the age of juvenile criminals or making exceptions for the crimes of murder and rape in international agreements and covenants, while amending child laws to make them more contemporary to the age.

5- Global organizations adopting and supporting social initiatives to guarantee continued social protection and expanding the base of beneficiaries.

This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Human Rights: The Trajectory to Combat Terrorism, Special edition, Cairo, November 2019.  

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