Momentous change swept through Egypt in 2011 following the popular uprising that prompted the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. In the years since, the country has been mired in political instability and an acute financial crisis. The promise of a better, fairer society has failed to materialize in many crucial respects.
The sustainability of Egypt’s democratic transition depends on addressing the socio-economic grievances which fuelled the revolution, yet the policies of successive governments, pushed by donors and international institutions, have hindered the meaningful structural changes needed to eradicate entrenched patterns of poverty, inequality and exclusion. To date, socio-economic reforms in Egypt have focused on budget cuts, privatization and other austerity measures that risk undermining economic and social rights and further exacerbating inequalities. This reflects a common trend of either ignoring or trading off demands for social justice and economic and social rights in the agenda of post-conflict or democratic transitions.
With the transition process ongoing, CESR is supporting Egyptian civil society organizations, who are working hard to make sure the government prioritizes the wellbeing of ordinary people by complying with its human rights obligations.
In November 2014, Egypt appeared before the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). CESR supported the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights to coordinate a joint submission endorsed by 51 non-governmental organizations and 79 labor unions examining the continuing failure of successive governments to address continuing human rights deprivations in Egypt. CESR and its partners also produced a series of 11 short briefing papers that summarized key concerns and suggested questions and recommendations on the state of economic, social and cultural rights in the country.
The UPR session came one year after the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviewed Egypt’s periodic state report in November 2013. CESR worked closely with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and other Egyptian civil society organizations to make sure the Committee got a full and accurate picture of what was happening in the country. A joint parallel report to the Committee documented the long-term failure of the country’s national economic development model—a model that deepened poverty, unemployment, inequality and social injustice, and in turn fuelled the Revolution. It also outlined how little had been done since the uprising to remedy soaring unemployment, escalating food prices, inadequate social security, and failing public services such as water and sanitation, affordable housing, healthcare and education. An accompanying Visualizing Rights Factsheet provided a concise statistical snapshot of these worrying trends. The Committee concluded that Egypt was not adequately investing in economic, social and cultural rights and expressed its concern about wide disparities in the provision of essential services. It noted that persistently low budgetary allocations “resulted in retrogression in the effective enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Covenant, disproportionately impacting disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups”.
Our work on Egypt’s transition builds on earlier work in the country, including our Visualizing Rights 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, which highlighted pronounced gender disparities in both health and education outcomes.