Egypt: new report brings economic and social rights deficits to attention of UN

PRESS RELEASE

Almost three years have passed since the people of Egypt rose up against the autocratic regime of President Hosni Mubarak, demanding a more just society. In the face of ongoing political instability, the promise of a fairer Egypt has failed to materialize, however, and the country now faces a severe economic crisis. Worryingly, the structural reforms needed to address severe poverty and inequalities in the country have been pushed to one side by successive post-revolution administrations. Instead, unpopular and potentially retrogressive austerity measures have been proposed in an effort to satisfy the demands of international markets.

Against this backdrop, the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has joined forces with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) and a broad coalition of 55 Egyptian civil society organizations to take the government to task at the United Nations. A joint parallel report delivered to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights details the continuing failure of successive administrations to heed the calls of the Egyptian people for dignity, justice and social inclusion. The report, which comes ahead of Egypt’s appearance before the 51st session of the Committee next month, details the pervasive economic and social injustices that fuelled the revolution. It also demonstrates that little has been done since the revolution to remedy soaring unemployment, escalating food prices, inadequate social security, and failing public services such as water and sanitation, affordable housing, healthcare and education.

The report addresses the growing inequality in the country, manifested in rising corruption, failing public services, and severely restricted options for participation and representation in policymaking. The severe economic crisis gripping the country hits an already vulnerable population. A quarter of the population lives in poverty, according to the latest official statistics, while a third of young people are unemployed. The resulting harm to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights among Egypt’s poor is obvious. The cost of food commodities, healthcare, and housing has soared, and almost 90 percent of vulnerable households now report that their income does not cover their monthly food expenditures.

Worryingly, rather than tackling these growing economic and social deprivations, successive transitional administrations have continued to ignore the demands of the people. Instead, ‘quick-fix’ measures to finance the growing budget deficit and stabilize the Egyptian Pound through international assistance, including through the IMF, have been prioritized. The organizations participating in this joint report are concerned that, in order to attract such assistance, successive administrations have attempted to cut spending by reducing food and fuel subsidies and to raise revenue by increasing regressive taxes (largely on goods and services). In line with this, the state continues to allocate few funds to public spending, especially to key sectors in need of financing, such as health, education and housing.

The report builds on the efforts of Egyptian NGOs to document economic and social rights violations since the revolution and represents the first major attempt to hold the Egyptian government accountable through the UN human rights system. It provides a much-needed independent account of Egypt’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1982. A delegation of civil society organizations will be attending the Committee session in November in Geneva and will brief its members in person. The set of recommendations the Committee issues shortly afterwards will serve as an important advocacy tool for human rights and social justice advocates looking ahead.

Being mindful of the transitional context in which Egypt currently finds itself,  the undersigned organizations hope that this timely intervention will help convince the Egyptian Government to pursue holistic, long-term economic reform that promotes equitable and sustainable growth and that, ultimately, achieves social stability and leads to the progressive fulfillment of economic, social and cultural rights for all.  

Signatories:

  • Center for Economic and Social Rights
  • The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  • Housing and Land Rights Network-Habitat International Coalition
  • Arab NGO Network for Development
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Land Center for Human Rights
  • Association of Health and Environmental Development
  • Arab House Foundation for Human Rights
  • Nazra for Feminist Studies
  • New Woman Foundation
  • Al Shehab Foundation for Comprehensive Development