Decent Life initiative: A project for the 21st century

Ahmed Morsy , Friday 30 Jul 2021

Egypt’s Decent Life initiative aims at providing a better life for more than half the country’s population

Decent Life provides infrastructure development alongside economic and social empowerment
Decent Life provides infrastructure development alongside economic and social empowerment

“The Decent Life initiative for rural development will be an unprecedented achievement” for Egypt, said President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi when launching the first phase of the countryside-focused Decent Life initiative national project at the Cairo Stadium on 15 July.

He had earlier said in January that “the Egyptian countryside will be transformed in three years’ time.”

The initiative aims at improving standards of living, infrastructure, and services and targets 58 per cent of Egypt’s 102-million population who live in 4,658 villages across the country.

During the Cairo Stadium launch in July, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said the initiative was Egypt’s biggest mega-project in its modern history.

“The Suez Canal was Egypt’s mega-project in the 19th century, the construction of the Aswan High Dam was Egypt’s mega-project in the 20th century, and the Decent Life initiative is Egypt’s mega-project in the 21st century,” Madbouli said, describing the 100-per cent Egyptian project as the “biggest in the world” and the only one that met all the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) for the 21st century.

“The UN considers this initiative to be one of the best in applying programmes for sustainable development worldwide, based on international standards for fighting poverty and gender equality,” Mahmoud Mohieldin, World Bank Group senior vice president for the 2030 Development Agenda, said in a video aired at the event.

There are already more than 20 presidential initiatives that target health and education as well as other issues under the umbrella of the Decent Life initiative, Madbouli said in his speech.

The Decent Life initiative dates back to 2019 when the Ministry of Social Solidarity was put in charge of developing Egypt’s poorest 1,000 villages where 70 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line. Out of the initial 1,000 villages, 143 in 11 governorates became part of the project’s pilot phase that is now 96 per cent complete.

Work on the 143-village pilot phase, covering an estimated 4.5 million citizens, was executed by three ministries in collaboration with NGOs and cost LE4 billion, said Khaled Abdel-Fattah, official spokesperson and director of the Decent Life initiative at the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

In December 2020, Al-Sisi decided to expand the initiative to include all the country’s 4,658 villages.

The budget of the Decent Life initiative is estimated at LE700 billion, and the stakeholders include state agencies and ministries, NGOs, and the private sector.

It is now more diversified than in its pilot phase, having expanded to encompass infrastructure development alongside economic and social empowerment, Abdel-Fattah Al-Gebali, an economic expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Ahram Weekly.


Instead of the three ministries, 15 are now involved, he said. “With 15 ministries working in tandem, the results will be much more impressive in the light of an unprecedented budget.”

Due to the enormous volume of work required, the 4,658 villages have been divided into three phases of nearly 1,500 villages each, with the first phase, whose budget is estimated at LE250 billion, due to be completed by the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

“The importance of the initiative stems from the fact that it deals with the countryside, which for a long time has been suffering from neglect, leading it to be the poorest part of Egypt,” Al-Gebali wrote in the daily Al-Ahram.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 29.7 per cent of the population, or 30 million citizens, were living below the poverty line in 2019-20. Egypt’s unemployment rate was 7.2 per cent during the fourth quarter of 2020, CAPMAS said.

Poverty is a condition that tends to renew itself, as poor children often remain poor when they grow up, and therefore it is transmitted through generations through malnutrition, the spread of disease, and the lack of educational as well as work opportunities, Al-Gebali said.

Poverty, he added, must become a relic of the past, especially as it is one of the main obstacles to the development process and the advancement of the country. It is a threat to the country’s social and political peace, and it can lead to crime, violence, and extremism.

“This requires interventions to change conditions and alleviate poverty, not only by providing a mechanism to help the poor to overcome certain limits on income or consumption, but also to include an integrated system of policies that include improving infrastructure and developing the fields of education, health, sanitation, and reconstruction,” he said.

“This will lead to poorer people’s participation in the production process, raising the productivity of society on an ongoing basis,” Al-Gebali said.

The Decent Life initiative will establish infrastructure, including clean water, sewage, electricity, gas, and communications, said Aya Omar, a spokesperson for the initiative and chair of the Decent Life Foundation’s board of trustees.

In terms of education, 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, Omar told the Weekly.

She said the initiative also included awareness programmes for people in rural areas, training programmes, and village-based jobs that empower inhabitants, including female-headed households, and funding for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Around LE1.4 billion will be allocated to SMEs as part of the initiative, Madbouli indicated.

Al-Sisi has directed that priority should be given to industry and locally-produced raw materials when it comes to implementing the initiative’s projects in order to revive local economies and benefit workers in local companies and factories.

Al-Sisi also linked the launch of the initiative to “the launch of the new republic” in his speech.

This “is firmly based on the concept of the modern civilian state that possesses comprehensive capabilities, militarily, economically, politically, and socially.”

He said the new republic also “boosts citizenship, democracy, and stability, seeks to achieve peace, stability, and development, and aspires to political development based on the concepts of social justice, dignity, and humanity.”

In June, the president called on civil society organisations to take part in the countryside-focused initiative. This is in line with a fundraising event under the auspices of Madbouli that will be launched on 25 September to collect donations from Egyptian expatriates in the US and Canada to support the Decent Life initiative.

Omar said during her speech this month that the initiative had thus far received LE5.5 billion in donations from the private sector.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 29 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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