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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 fairer and more just society has failed to materialize in many crucial respects.

The sustainability of Egypt’s democratic transition depends on addressing the socioeconomic deprivations that were among the root causes of the revolution, yet economic policies, pushed by international financial institutions, have hindered the meaningful structural changes needed to eradicate entrenched patterns of poverty, economic inequality and social exclusion. To date, socioeconomic 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 global 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.

CESR is supporting Egyptian civil society groups, who are working to ensure the government’s economic policies prioritize the wellbeing of ordinary people.

A major milestone in this work is Egypt’s Social Progress Indicators (ESPI), which will be rolled out in late April 2018. The 82 indicators that make up ESPI measure six topics: health; education; urbanization; food, water, and agricultural land; and economic policy; a cross-cutting gender analysis is incorporated throughout.  Each indicator is assigned a color score representing the degree of progress that has been achieved.  By benchmarking progress in this way, ESPI helps pinpoint and build momentum on those areas where improvement is most needed.  

The contribution that CESR made to the design and conceptualization of ESPI speaks to the uniqueness of our collaboration model.  One of the most distinctive aspects of ESPI is its methodology, which was designed collectively over three years, through a series of workshops that facilitated skill-sharing, resource development, and prototyping. ESPI includes a mix of fact-based and analytical indicators, measured using quantitative and qualitative data, in order to give a holistic picture of social progress. It analyzes progress through the four dimensions of OPERA—Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources and Assessment—to illustrate the effects that laws, policies, and budgetary decisions have on people’s everyday lives. 

ESPI builds on and enriches national sustainable development targets, offering a concrete vision for a rights-based approach to development. This makes it an innovative example of how civil society groups can transform broad recommendations from international human rights mechanisms into clear, measurable, and actionable indicators. In this regard, it builds on earlier collaborative work with Egyptian civil society groups.

In November 2014, Egypt appeared before the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). CESR supported the coordination of a joint submission endorsed by 51 civil society groups and 79 labor unions examining continuing deprivations of economic and social rights in Egypt. CESR and its partners also produced a series of 11 short briefing papers that summarized key concerns and suggested recommendations. A number of Council members made recommendations related to these concerns, which Egypt committed to acting on.

The UPR session came one year after the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviewed Egypt’s periodic report in November 2013. CESR worked closely with Egyptian civil society groups on a joint parallel report to the Committee, which documented soaring unemployment, escalating food prices, inadequate social security, and failing public services; an accompanying Visualizing Rights Factsheet provided a statistical snapshot of these trends.  The Committee concluded there had been “retrogression in the effective enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Covenant, disproportionately impacting disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups.”