Not long ago, the headline of an article in The Independent, a British newspaper, read “Poverty in Egypt: How the Turbulence of the Arab Spring Revolution has led the Country to Economic Ruin,” with the article going on to say that “the policies of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi have done little to improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians.
” It went on from there to add that some Egyptians were unable to put food on the table as they were on the brink of poverty and were having to tighten their belts further. It also spoke about tumbledown dwellings in the Doweqa district, saying that residents had nowhere to sleep when their homes collapsed. It focused on what it said were neglected rural areas with no opportunities for growth.
Though the article mentioned the social-support system available to the poor through programmes such as Takaful and Karama and the state rehousing scheme, as a whole it produced a kind of doomsday image of contemporary Egypt.
Reading the article, I wondered if the author realised how narrow his vision was.
Undoubtedly, more needs to be done for Egypt’s poor, but to intentionally overlook the efforts that are being made is appalling.
However, The Independent, like many other Western media outlets, has often misinformed its readers by focusing on the negatives and neglecting to mention the positive things that are happening in Egypt.
Are the poor really being overlooked in the current race-against-time to improve the status of all Egyptians? Are they getting their fair share of support? Do the government’s current mega-projects really cater for the wealthy alone?
Consider the broad improvements that are affecting everyone, wealthy and non-wealthy alike. When Egypt builds a new road network, now totalling some 7,000 km, this serves the mega-projects and other businesses.
Commodities arrive faster and businesses perform more efficiently, both of which are vital for the development process.
However, that new road network also serves bus and vehicle passengers, motorists and truck drivers, and regular commuters. Safe, dependable roads save all travellers’ time and reduce the number of road accidents.
According to the article, by building “dubious mega-projects” the country is being subjected to “years of austerity.” Let’s look at one such mega-project.
The Benban Solar Park, the biggest solar installation in the world, will have an enormous impact on Upper Egypt, the poorest region in the country. It will employ 4,000 workers, provide clean energy, jump-start growth and curb carbon emissions.
Mohamed Emara, an engineer working on the Solar Park, says the project has improved the lives of the local community in the Aswan governorate and that it is currently employing thousands of workers.
“Many of the people working on this site have never had steady employment before. They were mostly day labourers. But now they are being trained and [receiving] skills that will help them find work on other projects,” he said.
The same thing goes for other mega-projects. Development projects such as the country’s new cities or the Suez Canal Corridor, lead to economic growth, and this positively affects local people as much as the economy in general.
Now let’s focus on how those in need are being directly helped by Egypt’s social-support system. In order to rid the country of its worst informal housing areas, some of which are deemed unsafe, the government has embarked on dozens of housing projects that have relocated thousands of residents to high-rise apartment buildings such as those in Hayy Al-Esmarat.
There they enjoy clean running water, electricity, a safe environment, and dignity and respect. People who previously lived in Doweqa, Establ Antar, Ezbet Khairallah and other areas of Cairo and other cities in Egypt are now being moved to cleaner, better dwellings.
The achievements of this programme are there for all to see, and they have been pointed to in a recent World Bank Bulletin.
“The Egypt Inclusive Housing Finance Programme will reach 3.6 million people, including an estimated 1.6 million beneficiaries living below the poverty line. It will also contribute to generating an estimated 1.5 million construction jobs over a five-year period, the life of the programme,” the Bulletin has noted.
The Takaful and Karama programmes that make up part of the country’s social security system have already reached close to two million families from the country’s poorest and most marginalised populations.
Through the income support that these programmes provide, those in need, often the elderly and disabled, are helped to live decent lives. While that assistance may in some cases unfortunately still not be enough, the fact that it is there is undeniable, and it is making an enormous difference.
Egypt’s current economic reform programme includes provisions to ensure that those in need continue to be protected. Electricity is thus still subsidised by the state for certain bands of consumers, bread subsidies remain untouched, and dozens of foodstuffs, including sugar, rice, tea and cooking oil also remain subsidised. Egypt set aside LE330 billion ($18 billion) in the 2017-2018 budget for such subsidies.
The Aman insurance programme is another state-led programme providing support for those who need it.
This is a life-insurance programme serving workers in the informal sector, including casual, seasonal, daily-hire and temporary workers, who are estimated to number around 15 million.
The Aman programme provides insurance coverage in cases of natural or accidental death, paying beneficiaries lump sums of between LE10,000 and LE250,000, or monthly pensions of LE200 to LE1,000 over five years or LE120 to LE600 over 10 years depending on the coverage.
It is undeniable that the Hepatitis C virus has affected many of the country’s poorer people.
However, through a state-financed campaign that has been little short of a miracle almost two million people have been cured of this disease at little or no expense to them personally.
Economic growth alone is not worth much if it does not translate into better livelihoods for all members of society, especially for those in need.
The poor are definitely not left to fend for themselves in Egypt.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly