In conjunction with the spread of COVID-19 in Egypt, the government has taken many procedures aimed at fighting the virus and mitigating its effects, especially the economic effects. Although those procedures are laudable, a close look reveals that the government has given priority to supporting companies and factories to preserve the continuity of the production operation at the expense of ordinary citizens whose lives are at risk. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an organisation that works on promoting and protecting basic rights and liberties in Egypt, has released a report shedding light on the government’s failure to protect citizens’ health, lives and incomes.

The government favours the rich
Last week, the government approved a financial concession package including a flood of tax, customs’ exemptions for stock exchange operators and decreases in energy prices for companies, factories and support importers. The Central Bank also provided monetary concessions that the owners of major projects and people on high incomes could benefit from with tiny segments from middle-income. However, the government didn’t allocate a financial concession for vulnerable individuals and risked the health of the largest section of citizens through keeping non-critical operations in the private sector working with full capacity. The government failed to force the private sector to apply the PM’s decision regarding the reduction of crowding in work firms and taking paid leave. The government couldn’t make an agreement with representatives of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Industry, Commerce and Tourism to reduce the numbers of workers in the private section. The slow reach of an agreement meant that the majority of workers in the private sector, who constitute about 80 per cent of the total workforce in Egypt, continued to work and use transport. If it had been guaranteed that the wages of these workers wouldn’t be stopped, they wouldn’t have gone out to work, and it would have prevented the spread of the virus. The government was sufficient with decisions made by the Central Bank to support the individuals, but it ignored the fact of the percentage of individuals who have bank accounts and who are dealing with the banking sector don’t exceed 16 per cent of total population or 32.8 per cent of Egyptian citizens over 15. This means that all the decisions related to preventing wages from eroding under the pressure of this crisis relate to people with high income, who have savings, and a small amount of people on a middle income.

Support the poor
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has proposed many solutions to the government to support low-income workers urgently, as has been applied in several countries, as follows:

  • The Ministry of Manpower should take action for irregular employment, starting with exceptional procedures that enable people with irregular employment get an Aman document. An Aman document provides insurance protection for irregular employment, allows the worker to benefit from the exceptional grant that the Ministry recently announced, and eases having to register in post offices.
  • Also, unemployment compensation should be provided for those who lost their jobs because of the precautionary procedures.
  • Stop collecting insurance, taxes, electricity bills, water and gas from low and middle-income earners.
  • Exceptional allowance of monetary support through social insurance pensions and takafol pension. The Ministry of Social Solidarity hasn’t taken any decision concerning the exceptional allowance of either the takafol pension allocation to support the poor or for the social insurance pension to confront the crisis that pressures the poorest segments.
  • Exceptional allowance for the allocations of in-kind support on ‎ration cards, as the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trading hasn’t issued any decision concerning exceptional allowance for support allocations. It should be mentioned that the number of ‎ration cards is 22 million, and 71 million citizens benefit from it. The important thing about this step is that it’s an easy way to reach the neediest sections of society by providing exceptional support during this period, as people could have access to such allocations with smart cards and pay in consumer cooperatives and the outlets with contracts with the government.
  • Support rents and social housing by providing back-up to vulnerable people.