Dr. Ashraf Marie has advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWD) in Egypt and the Arab region since 1989. In 1998 he, in cooperation with other Arab leaders in the...
Persons with Disabilities in Egypt: Egypt is considered to possess the best statistics on persons with disabilities in the Arab World. Despite this, most independent observers agree that the Government of Egypt grossly underestimates the numbers of its disabled population. In 1999, the Egyptian Ministry of Planning reported that there were approximately 1.1 million PWDs in Egypt, representing 1.7% of Egypt’s population of 63 million at that time. In 2005, the World Bank conducted an extensive household survey in Egypt and found that PWDs numbered between 2.7 million (low estimate) to perhaps a high of 7 million. With a current population of 80 million, PWDs likely constitute between 5 and 9 percent of the population, an enormous figure. There are hundreds of local organizations which specialize in providing services to Egyptian PWDs, only a few specialize in promoting PWDs rights as their primary mission. Instead, the majority of these organizations provide medical, educational or other types of specialized services to the disabled. Individual PWDs, however, have been very active in protesting to raise awareness on the rights which they have been denied by the Government of Egypt. In March and early April 2010, hundreds of PWDs organized demonstrations in front of Egypt’s parliament in protest of the government’s lack of enforcement of the law stating that 5% of workers in companies and factories must come from the ranks of the disabled.
Women’s Rights in Egypt: Despite a large and active rights movement dating back to the 1919 Egyptian uprising, Egyptian women continue to face institutionalized discrimination and widespread harassment. The Daily Beast reported that a survey released in 2008 by the Egypt Center for Women's Rights (ECWR) found that 83 percent of Egyptian women had experienced harassment. A further 90-97%had been affected by female genital mutilation. However, there have been some signs of progress; The 2005 Arab Human Development Reportnotes that Egypt has been among the first countries in the region in awarding certain rights to women, including the right to travel without their husband’s permission, permission to obtain Egyptian nationality. In addition, the women’s rights movement in Egypt has benefitted from Egypt’s position as one of the most connected countries in the region. It has the highest level of female internet use and the greatest percentage of female bloggers, leading the way in using social media to advance calls for equality. Examples include the website “We Are All Layla,” a blog devoted to speaking about the problems facing oppressed women in the Arab region which regularly uses Twitter to send links to material dealing with women’s issues across the region. Or the prominent doctor and social activist Nawal al-Sa`dawi who has long campaigned against female circumcision and now employs the Internet to spread her message, as do other activists on this issue.
Youth Participation in Egypt: Prior to the events that unfolded in Tahrir Square in January 2011, Egyptian youth had already begun to utilize social media to organize and launch new protest movements, fuelled by high unemployment rates, limitations on free speech, and ethnic and class discrimination. One young Egyptian computerengineer, Ahmad Maher, started a protest movement on Facebook to garner support for a workers’ strike at an industrial site outside of Cairo. His movement soon grew to over 70,000 activists who use Facebook, Twitter, as well as Egyptian made sites such as “Manal and Alaa’s Bit Bucket.” With the upcoming Egyptian presidential elections, all the main opposition groups have been using social media tools to organize protests. Muhammed El Baradei, one of the main progressive opposition candidates, has a network of 15,000 volunteers who use Facebook and Twitter to organize political rallies and protests. Doing so, however, is not without risk. The Egyptian Ministry of Interior’s State Security Investigations Department has cracked down hard on any movements using the internet to mobilize opposition to the political status quo in Egypt and bloggers such as Maher have faced torture and arrest for publicizing their views online.
Ethnic Tension in Egypt: For decades, religious minorities in Egypt have had an uneasy co-existence with the country’s large Muslim majority. Coptic Christians, estimated at 10 percent of the population, have long been targets of religious intolerance, and have faced government policies that have placed restrictions on church building. Other religious minorities such as Bahai, and Muslim sects such as the Sufis, have also faced discrimination. Many view these tensions as only getting worse. In the early hours of January 1, 2011, an explosion outside an Alexandrian church killed 21 people and injured a further 79. In retaliation, attacks increased on mosques in the area. Despite numerous displays of solidarity among Christians and Muslims during the revolution early in 2011, the US Committee on International Religious Freedom has noted that the transitional government in Egypt has continued to “enforce discriminatory laws and policies that continue to have a negative impact on freedom of religion or belief in Egypt.
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