On New Year’s Eve, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi launched the Decent Life Initiative on his official social media accounts, whereby under his auspices ministries, community associations and non-governmental organisations alike are to focus on providing a decent life for the underprivileged groups in society.
Here is his tweet in its entirety. “As I looked at last year in search of the real hero of our nation, I found that the Egyptian citizen deserves the title.
Egyptians bravely confronted the battle of survival and construction, in addition to bearing the cost of economic reforms so as to achieve a better future for the coming generations.
And so I invite state institutions and civil society to come together to galvanise the efforts of the nation to provide a decent life for needy communities in 2019.”
I must hail this Initiative as a much-needed and urgent enterprise, for according to the UN children’s fund UNICEF poverty in Egypt stood at 28.7 per cent in 2015 and increased to over 30 per cent in 2016 and has fluctuated around that figure since.
Egypt’s constitution also calls for “raising standards of living, eliminating poverty and unemployment, [and] increasing opportunities” for all.
According to the United Nations, the notion of a “decent life” means eradicating extreme poverty and providing sustainable development, but what exactly does this mean and how can it be applied?
The basis for a decent life is shelter and sustenance, and since the initiative is aimed at the most underprivileged, it is an appropriate starting point.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs affirms that only after an individual fulfills his or her needs for the basics such as food and shelter can he or she attend to growth needs such as self-esteem and self-actualisation and hence productivity.
A decent life entails more than shelter and sustenance, and it is an umbrella of sorts. It translates into the ability to first find and then work at a steady, rewarding job in order to provide sustenance and shelter for one’s family.
It comprises living a healthy, productive life in a safe environment with a developed infrastructure such as access to clean running water, electricity, a proper sewage system and a sturdy roof over one’s head.
It means that one’s children should receive a proper education and suitable medical treatment.
Just as important, it should generate an awareness of how to improve one’s life culturally and socially, to take better care of one’s children, to realise not only one’s rights, but also one’s responsibilities, and to be better off with only two children. A decent life clearly encompasses much.
It will take time to pan out the methods of implementation for such an immense project.
However, many Egyptian officials, especially Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, immediately reacted to the president’s call and conducted a flurry of interviews on several media outlets to explain the initiative’s methods of implementation and the role of the various players.
Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli then directed the government to take the necessary steps to implement the initiative and improve services to those in need in Egypt’s villages.
The same thing went for civil-society organisations and NGOs, which showed their swift reaction by expressing their support for the initiative, “especially with regard to multi-dimensional poverty and the various interventions that lead to improving people’s lives,” Wali told a press conference at the cabinet headquarters in Cairo.
She confirmed the availability of a database of the most impoverished villages in Egypt, saying that the focus of the initiative would be on 100 villages in 12 governorates where those in need form up to 70 per cent of the population.
These villages are concentrated in Giza, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, Al-Wadi Al-Gadid, Qalyubia, Beheira, Marsa Matrouh and North Sinai, all of them having a poverty rate of 70 per cent or more.
The data is based on studies conducted on 32 million low-income citizens in various regions around Egypt and covers financial, health, education, income and employment aspects to produce multi-dimensional poverty maps providing detailed pictures of the conditions of the poorest villages.
This information will allow those involved in the initiative to hit the ground running.
Meetings have already been held between stakeholders including municipalities and non-governmental organisations to pool suggestions, discuss intervention strategies and begin the ground work.
“Our plan is for the initiative to act as an umbrella for a number of already existing civil-society initiatives on employment, healthcare, services and infrastructure,” Wali said.
The initiative will also focus on cultural conditions as well as supporting marginalised groups such as orphans and the physically challenged, she said.
According to the Arabic daily Al-Ahram, the cost of the initiative, estimated at LE2 billion, will be partially funded by the Ministry of Finance and the rest will come through NGOs that take part in it.
The Ministry of Religious Endowments plans on supporting the initiative with LE100 million, and other institutions, organisations and the general public will surely add to it as time goes by.
The Decent Living Initiative will spearhead society towards the achievement of Egypt’s ambitious Vision 2030, which aspires to improve the quality of life for all Egyptians by investing in them so as to achieve sustainable development.
If performed with the anticipated energy and resilience, the initiative will be a very worthwhile enterprise, and as has been seen before with similar presidential initiatives, such as the Tahya Masr Fund and the 100 Million Healthy Lives, it should also ignite the enthusiasm of all Egyptians and galvanise all agencies and institutions, the media, academia and parliament included, to collaborate in its implementation.
*The writer is a political analyst.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The Decent Life Initiative