Egypt seeks help from NGOs to advance social protection programs

CAIRO — Egypt has recently increased its charitable activities across the country as part of efforts to support the government’s social welfare programs.

In cooperation between the Egyptian government and 18 charities and institutions, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on September 15 launched the “Gates of Kindness” convoy – Egypt’s largest charity convoy to help low-income households. and the most vulnerable groups.

The convoy includes 1,000 trucks carrying various kinds of aid to serve 1 million families across the country. It targets the sectors of health, social protection, urban and economic development, support for education and training, as well as the fight against disasters and crises.

The Long Live Egypt Fund, which organized the convoy launching ceremony, is the government’s main body for coordination between the state and civil charities to benefit from the latter’s capacities and presence in the community. grassroots across Egyptian governorates, cities and villages, through networks of volunteers and donors. This coordination is part of various presidential initiatives such as the Decent Life initiative which aim to eliminate poverty, hunger, slums and disease.

The Egyptian government launched an economic reform program in 2016 as part of Egypt’s Vision 2030. The program included floating the local currency exchange rate, phasing out energy and fuel subsidies, and implementing fiscal austerity policies.

These measures have had bad social repercussions, prompting the government to increase spending on social protection programs and strengthen the social safety net so that the poor do not have to bear the costs of economic reform and ensure popular support for reforms.

In order to fund social protection programs, which accounted for 283.4 billion Egyptian pounds ($18 million) in the 2021-22 budget, Sisi called on the Egyptian community to make donations. The first call made by the president dates back to February 2016 when Egypt Vision 2030 was launched.

The Egyptian government aims for social development by relying on an effective role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their integration into development plans in order to restore confidence in civil work, in particular charitable institutions which control large swathes of of the local community.

It should be noted that the law on NGOs ratified in 2019 led to an increase in the number of NGOs registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity. The numbers have increased from 37,500 organizations in 2012 to 50,572 in 2019, with almost every small village in Egypt having a charitable society to meet the needs of the most vulnerable population through sources of funding based mainly on donations such as zakat (Islamic charity) and almsgiving.

In this context, Talaat Abdel Qawy, head of the General Federation of NGOs, told Al-Monitor: “The state’s interest in integrating NGOs into initiatives that support development plans, combat poverty and hunger and support the health sector comes after a long history. of public works that have successfully served citizens in various sectors.

“NGOs will not undertake development efforts in local communities alone, but they will help the state to achieve sustainable development in several programs that were previously carried out only by the government,” he added.

Abdel Qawy continued, “Rebuilding trust between the state and NGOs is the basis of this joint effort after there were major concerns about civil works in Egypt. the [2019 NGO] The law now clearly sets the framework for the partnership and respects the status of associations while preserving the security and safety of the country.

As part of the NGO Act 2019, some NGOs have started to rectify their status and restructure their boards and management.

The Life Makers Foundation, for example, has included in its administrative structure Major General Mohsen al-Noamani, who was previously minister of local development, and Amr Ezzat Salama, former minister of higher education. The appointments came after the foundation sacked Islamic preacher Omar Khaled in a bid to separate religious preaching from development work.

It seems that the Egyptian government is also working to dismantle any charitable organization that could be a gateway to political Islam.

Egyptian justice is currently examining a lawsuit demanding the dissolution of the Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyah group and the Al-Shareyah association, the most famous Salafist organizations in Egypt created a century ago.

Abdel Nasser al-Banna, media adviser at the Life Makers Foundation, told Al-Monitor: “Our group is involved in development initiatives set up by the state, but also implements its own activities alongside under the state oversight.

“The state has recently implemented a policy of strict control over donations. Contributions are now collected only by means of a permit issued by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and under the supervision of the Central Control Organization. Even purchases made by charitable organizations such as livestock, medical devices or any other purchases are made through government committees,” he added.

“Political Islam’s control over charity work in the past has been one of the main reasons for its spread in poor villages and regions, which explains the popular support for these religious movements for years. The state could only be present in these communities through public works. That’s why he started [work with] charities to carry out development initiatives and provide support to citizens,” Banna said.

In a speech on the occasion of the International Day of Charity on September 5, Minister of Social Solidarity Nivine el-Kabbag summed up the partnership between the state and NGOs by saying: “Egyptian civil society has gone from assistance to individuals and households to institutions that plan and work in cooperation with state agencies.

However, Issam Adwi, a development expert and former adviser to the Ministry of Social Solidarity, told Al-Monitor: “Civil charity work cannot substitute for social protection policies, but it could support [these policies] in a transitional period. Charitable work is still necessary to cover cases of great poverty, but it will end after the implementation of development programs that are not limited to the distribution of food and medicine.

He added: “Most of the time, charities and the state have the same objectives, namely to fight poverty and unemployment and to improve the education and health sectors. But these goals can only achieve social justice if there is a parallel plan to address the root of the problems instead of just fighting the symptoms.

Adwi said, “There is still a need for an appropriate environment that gives charities a degree of independence in decision-making,” explaining that “after the new NGO law [was enacted in 2019]the associations had to change a few internal things like the appointment of the boards of directors and the election of the boards of directors.

“These structural changes must however be an internal decision and not dictated by the government, which must create a good climate for civil work without seeking to create and manage charities,” he said.

Civilian charity work may have gone a long way in supporting thousands of poor families in villages and hamlets across Egypt, but these efforts still need a broader reach which the government is now trying to expand through initiatives Presidential Development Campaigns, whose success also depends on continued financial flow from donations.

Joel C. Hicks