On February 20, 2012, The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) celebrated the World Day of Social Justice at the Tahrir Lounge, as part of the activities of CIHRS Alumni Club. The celebration began with keynote by Mr. Mohammed Zarea, Egypt Program Director in CIHRS, in which he asserted that the claim for social justice was the first spark that ignited the Egyptian Revolution, and even the majority of Arab revolutions. He pointed out to the role that civil society organizations have been playing for many years to entrench the principles of Social Justice. Zaree also stressed that the success of the Egyptian Revolution is contingent upon the people’s capacity to extract these rights and to impose them on decision-makers.
The first part of the celebration included a presentation of the most prominent socio-economic files in Egypt. Mr. Nadim Mansour, Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights began with broaching workers’ rights. He indicated that, despite the success scored by workers in winning a judicial verdict to raise the minimum wage, no action or decisions have been enacted so far to put this verdict into effect, adding that workers are still suffering harsh conditions, which is incommensurate with the crucial role they play in society. Workers are still restricted in their freedom of association; even though more than 300 independent trade unions exist at the moment, no law has been issued yet to reinforce the role and value of these associations. Mansour concluded by inviting everyone to support the rights of workers as a central approach to achieving social justice.
Moving from Workers’ Rights to Women Rights, Ms. Mona Ezzat, head of the campaign of freedom of association at the New Woman Foundation highlighted the deplorable and deteriorating status of women regarding to socio-economic rights, particularly the right to work and the right to education. She pointed out that privatization and economic liberalization policies have had ruthless social consequences on the low, impoverished but also on the middle classes over years of the rule of the former regime, given state withdrawal from providing many services such as education and health. Ms. Ezzat indicated that women’s economic role in the community has been maximized, not only among the poor strata where households are often headed by women (widowers, divorcees, abandoned, breadwinners, wives of interim workers), but also among middle classes, where it has become impossible for households to rely on male income only. Regarding the right to education, Ezzat confirmed that the policies of the former regime deprived many women from their right to education due to state negligence of the geographic and cultural particularities of some regions, particularly border regions, whereas the concentration of schools and universities in citiesand urban centers and their remoteness from villages and towns and inaccessible zones precludes women’s enjoyment of this right. Furthermore, the cultural heritage enshrined in education curricula reduced the role of women in society in procreation and house cleaning.
Alaa Shukrallah, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Health and Environmental Development Association, started his speech saying: “I am persuaded and optimistic that the revolution is continuing. I expect it will affect the region and will open new prospects for us”. He stressed on the absence of social justice as major cause of the Revolution against the regime, not only the Egyptian regime but also the global order that infringes upon the foundations of social justice. Shukrallah focused in his keynotes on the Right to Health as one of the most important socio-economic rights, explaining the reasons behind the deterioration of health services in Egypt and describing the current situation as “ill”, and reviewing some of the proposed solutions to remedy the situation. Shukrallah considered that when the state receded from spending on health services, it contributed directly to the gradual collapse of these services. He explained that those who have been dubbed “thugs” by the former regime during the events of the January Revolution are no more than poor people who were protesting against the deplorable health services offered by hospitals and the dismal situation that led so to describe these hospitals as “slaughterhouses”.
Hossam Haddad, lawyer at the Hesham Mubarak Law Center, focused on the Right to Housing as an inherent right ensuring social justice. He called upon the state to be committed to providing adequate and decent housing for its citizens, since without the right to housing the individual cannot enjoy any other rights. Hence, the state should enact laws to facilitate the obtainment of the right to housing, and should not leave the matter up to greedy landlords and tenants.
The second part of the celebration included a debate between several parties on guarantees of social justice in their party platforms. Mr. YehiaFikry, representative of the People’s Alliance Party opened up the floor for discussion by asserting that there is no democracy without Social Justice. The concept of democracy rests on the will of the people, this people which protested to claim their rights. He stressed that the platforms and plans of political parties represented in Parliament should be based on two pivotal questions: how to fund social security and how to guarantee it? The People’s Alliance, he said, found the answer to these questions in the process of redistribution of wealth through the reduction and restructuring of spending.
In his turn, Mr. Farid Zahran, representative of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, emphasized that the cornerstone of social justice is the idea of development. The developmental mentality of the former regime, he contended, was based on the slogan “businessmen are the vector of development”. The result was that 42% of the people were below poverty line, and 40% were impoverished. Hence, what is needed, according to him, is a development model benefiting 82% of the people. He confirmed that the funding resources and the necessary infrastructure are available in Egypt.
The celebration was concluded with a musical performance by the “Basata Band”, which sang a collection of highly expressive songs of the cause, such as “The crowded train of the destitute” and “Many youth is fed up”, and “Hey Hey”.
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