CAIRO: Politicians, UN officials and key players in forming Egypt’s UN Development Report for 2008 praised the role of what is being called “the third pillar of the Egyptian nation: civil society.
Entitled “Egypt’s Social Contract: The Role of Civil Society,” the report was launched yesterday before an audience of press and civil society workers and activists.
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, in a speech read by Minister of Social Solidarity Aly El-Moselhi, announced that, “It is true that we have been cutting out a great player in the development court. Our presence here now is one of the steps to the right path.
“The government has succeeded in a number of areas which proves we are on the right path to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and implementing the new social contract programs.
The Social Contract program was proposed in the 2005 Egypt Human Development report. It put forward plans for 55 programs to alleviate poverty in Egypt.
Nazif pointed to the decrease in poverty from 24.3 percent to 19.7 percent from 1999 to 2005, as well as the drop in density population as examples of government achievements in alleviating Egypt’s social ills.
He also congratulated the role of civil society on its role saying, “This sector of society does not only help to lessen the pain of poor, but carries out a role that is needed right now. It plays an essential role as an active partner in the performance of public programs.
Both Nazif and fellow mandarin Osman Mohamed Osman, minister of economic development, pointed to the gradual move towards decentralization, alluding to the retreat of the government from certain social arenas and passing the mantle to vehicles of civil society.
“The government must give up its economic and social responsibilities to allow for civil society to take a larger role in social services and commercial goods. This will be achieved by removing government monopolies. said Nazif.
One of the aims of the 2008 Development Report, in championing the role of the Egyptian society, is to dispel commonly held beliefs that civil society organizations often work as facades for external agendas with foreign funding.
Heba Handoussa, a leading author of the development report, used the launch platform to assuage fears of the foreign exploitation of Egyptian CSOs.
“We discovered that the amount that CSOs receive in foreign donations is [relatively] miniscule, about LE 300 million, which is nothing compared to the revenues of 20,000 organizations. We also found that the organizations that receive funding are only about 5 percent of those 20,000. she said.
However, despite a general mood of optimism for a new era of social liberalization to match its economic counterpart, there were those among the audience who remained unconvinced by the government’s “lip-service conviction.
“There are still many legal constraints that restrict the activity of CSOs in Egypt. The Civil Society Law 84 of 2002 only served to further circumscribe out role, Nihad Abu El-Qantany of the Egyptian Organization for Women’s Rights told Daily News Egypt. “We need a new law if we are, as they say, to spearhead the social contract.
The report devotes a section to the pros and cons of the 84/2002 law, which it describes as being both “constructive and restrictive to the role of CSO activities. Similar to the NGO Law 153 of 1999, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court in 2000.
Although the Law renders CSOs exempt from certain taxes and contract registration fees that CSOs must register with the Ministry of Social Solidarity instead of maintaining the status of civil companies, as many groups would prefer. The former status means organizations are vulnerable to criminalization “predicated on the basis of vaguely worded provisions.
“This report addresses this issue of the legislative environment very frankly. I’m hopeful that this report will lead to a re-consideration of this legislation, UNDP Resident Representative James W. Rawley told Daily News Egypt. “I can’t promise, but I can say that the previous HD report have stimulated public debate that have translated on the policy reform.