Momentous change swept through Egypt in 2011 following the popular uprising that prompted the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. With the new administration mired in political discord and financial crisis, the promise of a better, fairer society has failed to materialize in many crucial respects, however. The structural changes needed to eradicate entrenched patterns of poverty, inequality and exclusion have been pushed to one side, with socio-economic reform instead bowing to market pressures to reduce the budget deficit at all cost.
With the transition process continuing, civil society organizations are working hard to make sure the new government prioritizes the wellbeing of ordinary people by complying with its human rights obligations. In November 2013, Egypt will be required to answer for its performance in this regard, when it appears before the 51st session of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In this context, CESR is working closely with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, and other Egyptian civil society organizations, to make sure the Committee gets a full and accurate picture of what is happening in the country.
As outlined in a joint submission to the Committee, Egypt’s latest appearance before a United Nations treaty monitoring body comes in the wake of an historic uprising in which the people of the country demanded their rights to both political freedoms and a decent standard of living. Anger over a lack of economic prospects, undignified living conditions, endemic poverty, stark inequalities and government corruption fuelled the popular outrage just as much as frustration over restrictive emergency laws, state brutality and the absence of democratic freedoms. It is no exaggeration to say that the success and sustainability of Egypt's democratic transition hinges on addressing these fundamental inequities.
The 2011 uprising was fuelled by the long-term failure of the country’s national economic development model; a model that deepened poverty, unemployment, inequality and social injustice, as documented by CESR’s previous work in Egypt. Pronounced gender disparities in both health and education outcomes were highlighted in a 2009 CESR factsheet produced in light of Egypt’s review by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at its 45th session in January 2010. On that occasion, the Committee's Concluding Observations highlighted issues raised by CESR's factsheet, such as disparities in access to education, discrimination in employment, maternal mortality, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the disadvantages experienced by rural women.
If the seeds of change that were planted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and countless other streets and plazas around the country, are ever to bear fruit, it is essential that Egypt comply with obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, not only in regards to civil liberties, but also economic and social rights. For this reason, CESR will continue to support the efforts of NGOs in both Egypt and the larger Arab region that are working to ensure human rights are given top priority throughout the transition processes.
by Victoria Wisniewski, Ignacio Saiz and Kevin Donegan
February 4th, 2011