The Decent Life initiative is the largest development project in Egypt’s modern history, says Aya Omar, official spokesperson of the initiative and chair of the Decent Life Foundation’s board of trustees.
“Stakeholders include state institutions, civil society organisations, development partners locally and abroad, businessmen, and the private sector. This never happened in the past, when development efforts were separate and not unified,” Omar told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The initiative aims at improving standards of living, infrastructure, and basic services, and targets 58 percent of Egypt’s 102-million population.
The Decent Life initiative dates back to 2019 when the president charged the Ministry of Social Solidarity with developing Egypt’s poorest 1,000 villages. Then Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali said the project would “target the most underprivileged sectors and individuals in the most impoverished and remote areas”. Of the 1,000 villages, 143 across 11 governorates were chosen for the trial phase.
The villages included an estimated 4.5 million citizens and the development costs were estimated at LE4 billion. The phase is now 96 per cent complete.
In December 2020, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi decided to expand the initiative to include 4,500 villages within the framework of the Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030. “The Egyptian countryside will be transformed in three years’ time,” Al-Sisi said in January when launching the expanded initiative.
Khaled Abdel-Fattah, official spokesperson and director of the Decent Life initiative at the Ministry of Social Solidarity, told the Weekly that “the initiative is now more diversified, having expanded to encompass infrastructural development alongside economic and social empowerment, with 15 ministries working in tandem.”
The project, says Omar, has been increased to LE700 billion, adding that the eye-watering sum could yet be increased “given that the project touches all aspects of life for 58 per cent of the population”.
On Sunday, the Minister of State for Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates’ Affairs Nabila Makram said a fundraising event, under the auspices of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, would be launched on 25 September to collect donations from Egyptian expats in the US and Canada for the Decent Life initiative. Makram underlined the importance of encouraging Egyptian expats to invest in their homeland.
Makram’s remarks came during a meeting with Laila Pence, one of the US’ top wealth advisors. Pence, who was born in Egypt, said Egyptians in the US will spare no effort in supporting their homeland, including supporting the neediest in Egypt.
According to Omar, the initiative will establish infrastructure, including networks for clean water, sewage, electricity, gas, and communications. It also includes awareness programmes for citizens in rural areas, training programmes, and will provide village-based jobs that empower inhabitants, including female-headed households, and funding for micro and medium-sized projects.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 29.7 per cent of the population — 30 million citizens — were below the poverty line in FY 2019-20.
Egypt’s unemployment rate was 7.2 per cent during the fourth quarter of 2020.
The initiative also addresses women through family guidance and counselling offices and reproductive health clinics. It will provide decent housing in new complexes and, wherever possible, develop existing housing.
In terms of education services, the initiative is building 13,000 classrooms, while health services will be enhanced by developing health units, constructing new hospitals, and activating the new Universal Health Insurance System.
The enormous volume of work required to develop the 4,500 villages means they have been divided into three groups of 1,500 villages each.
“The work of developing the first group started in January 2021 with a budget of LE250 billion and is due to be completed by the end of FY 2021-22,” said Omar.
In May, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development signed a cooperation protocol with the Decent Life Foundation integrating efforts over the presidential initiative.
Planning Minister Hala Al-Said said the protocol comes within the framework of joint efforts to contribute to achieving the goals of the initiative, including enhancing social protection and ensuring the equitable distribution of development funds.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly