During the past period, humanity has faced a challenge that is harshly threatening its survival, nature and shape, to which humans have been accustomed since the dawn of life. Owing to that challenge, many statements related to the nature of human coexistence have been refuted, the first of which being Aristotle’s “Man is social by nature” statement. According to which, it had been deemed peculiar for a person to live isolated or socially excluded. The pandemic came to break all these taken for granted concepts, making it necessary for a person to contradict his or her nature of being social, since isolation and social exclusion under dominance of the virus have become a prerequisite for the continuation of their own life. Likewise, the epidemic has shattered the brains of globalization, as it killed the well-bred thought of turning the world into a single global village and dropped the fundamental idea that cultural friction and social mixing were a condition for catching up with the renaissance convoy. Today, in order to preserve humanity, it has become unavoidable for societies to isolate themselves from other societies and, worse, from one another, since they would have to give up the simplest prerequisite for their existence and refrain from sociability, simply though ironically meaning they cannot be called “societies” anymore. The pandemic has extended borders, deepened gaps, and raised walls among nations and among people, shutting everything down and shutting our mouths up. It seems that Corona is a message from God to Earth, in order to direct the people to renovate the falling structure of the human action system, which had deteriorated and been corrupted through years of value loss, and perhaps now is the only time left for reconstruction.
Not only have all signs of closeness and affinity born in the human customs and traditions and associated with social interaction and communication such as greetings, salutes, handshakes, hugs, high-fives, etc., been shunned and frowned upon, but also business, trade, projects, plans, travel, transportation, trade, importation and exportation, etc., have all been suspended, halted, or at least cut short. In other words, the potential and reality of the millennium objectives, ambitions, and inspirations have been questioned by Covid-19, which caused a damning exposé of all the defects within most, if not all, of the international regimes. It has been proven to the public that the manifestations of development and progress many countries brag about are “All crown, no filling”.
In this context, a recent United Nations report points out the effects of this epidemic on the 17 sustainable development goals, explaining how this catastrophe may prompt the organization to rearrange its goals and priorities following the pandemic, for which there is no reliable indicator to predict a forthcoming end, or a total estimate of its expected material and human losses. The report concluded that the epidemic has hampered food production and supplies distribution, and brought about inability of large human groups to access clean water, depriving them even from washing their hands properly. According to the statistics of the World Health Organization, there are 3 billion people globally who may not have access to basic hand washing facilities in their homes. Perhaps this is what made these groups more vulnerable to the epidemic. In this regard, the report also indicated that slum dwellers are more susceptible to infection with the virus due to the fact that slums are the most overcrowded areas and have an abysmal lack of hygiene and disinfection material. Additionally, this epidemic has caused the health systems in most countries to be unable to receive and seat for all those infected with the virus, not to mention its disastrous impact on the medical staff themselves.
With regard to education, the report indicated that nearly 1.25 billion learners, equal to 72.9% of the total registered learners around the world, were affected by the outbreak of the corona virus until last March, forcing the closure of too many schools, and urging lots of governments to resort to distance education, which was deemed by several experts insufficient and unattainable for most students. According to the report, the epidemic has caused a violation of the principle of gender equality, depriving women of a large part of their income, in addition to increasing the rate of violence directed at them. Since women represent the largest segment of health and social care workers, they are again more vulnerable to infection.
As for work environments and economic growth, the International Labor Organization has forecast that nearly 25 million people will lose their jobs due to the economic and labor crisis caused by the pandemic. The organization warned that people who have temporary jobs may not receive the social protection they need in times of crisis. The organization has called on governments to guarantee at least a basic level of social security for their citizens, and to progressively ensure adequate levels of protection for as many people as possible, and as soon as possible. Another big deal the U.N report points to is the economic losses countries are likely to incur as a result of the spread of this epidemic, since its spread led to the disruption or cessation of many economic activities, in addition to a reduction in working time and workers number, eventually leading to a decline in the level of income and an increase in the unemployment rate. The fact that numerous families and communities fall below the poverty line make them the most vulnerable groups who usually pay a heavy price in crises.
Perhaps the only positive side in that situation is that the spread of this epidemic, as indicated by the report, prompted the U.N to issue an urgent global call for a cease-fire worldwide. The United Nations also called for a unified international effort to combat the disaster, stressing that the anger of the virus illustrated the folly of war, and that it was high time for the armed conflict to halt, and for regimes to focus on the real battle for the sake of peoples’ lives. The people most likely to suffer the devastating losses of the virus are residents of conflict-ridden societies.
Despite the growing opposition against globalization driven by the outbreak of the virus, and the government’s disregard to climate improvement activities and programs, with international cooperation efforts merely devoted for public health, the decline in production rates and the decrease in transportation and commute have accidentally effected a decline in the environmental pollution rates. In conclusion, the report makes it clear that most of the efforts made by world governments to confront Corona are defensive efforts that may not achieve the desired results. Not only through defense do we win the battle, but primarily through offense can we defeat this malicious enemy. Hence, we do need to engage the viral enemy with aggressive clear-target tactics.
Corona and the Crisis of the State Social Role:
Although the repercussions of the emerging covid-19 are not over yet, researchers and those concerned with development in most countries of the world have gone beyond addressing these consequences, and proceeded to discuss the future of development following the not yet determined end of that pandemic. Talking about the future of development in view of such constantly increasing rates of infection is pure absurdity!
Since the pandemic have typically halted all strategic plans of the majority of institutions, societies, and even individuals alike, the only rationale plan under the unstoppable spread of this pandemic, which coincides with an unprecedented rise in the rate of infection and death, would be the plan to prevent infection with the virus. Consequently, it is not acceptable to close the eyes to these repercussions or stop addressing and dealing with them. The pandemic has had so many victims, mostly women, the elderly, as well as the nongovernmental and nonofficial laboring classes.
Since the pandemic has exposed the shortfalls in health systems in several countries in the world with no distinction between rich or poor countries, we must agree that the health and social insurance services provide coverage only for the working classes and only until retirement age, overlooking the unemployed groups and those over the work age, of which women naturally constitute a large part. Only workers in the official economic sector can benefit from these services, with no covering for the marginal or non-official economic sector.
Although the virus does not discriminate between people on the basis of their wealth, the level of income has to do with the available coping mechanisms, as the low-income workers do not have the ability to do their work remotely and do not get paid if they are absent from work. With home confinement continuing and economies entering recession, the poorest segments of society, who make up the majority of citizens, will be unjustly affected. Temporary workers will find it impossible to deal with the repercussions of this situation. However, we do not seem to have a solid plan on how to minimize the economic and social damage caused by this pandemic. This is not the case in Egypt solely. I believe the absence of an effective plan for equitable health care and protection has undoubtedly become a global issue.
In this context, we cannot deny that there are many challenges facing temporary employment in all its forms, whether seasonal, day-to-day or wage-earning. Those suffering from difficult living conditions, exorbitant cost of accessing health services, dependence on aid or daily wages, a shortage of legal protection, national loaning or insurance coverage, and deprivation of education; are on top of that facing, along with the entire world, the challenge of the emerging global epidemic. Given that these fragile groups of workers are among the groups mostly affected by the absence of a just health system, health care has become not only an ethical but also a political requirement, as the first priority and the only guarantee of stability in social, economic and political components.
This pandemic highlighted the significance of investing in health infrastructure and systems so as to develop positive response to emerging needs, and to deal with globalized epidemics, restoring the social role of the state represented in protecting health security, as well as the pivotal role of the public health sector, especially due to its comprehensiveness and the limited financial obstacles to obtaining its services when compared to the private sector.
Considering the multiplicity and complexity of the impacts of this cursed virus, thinking should not be confined to the defensive position, but we ought to thinks seriously about how to turn this epidemic into an added opportunity for development, and a conducive atmosphere for integrity and solidarity among all sectors of the state which have no alternative to supporting and investing in health development, in a way that serves the achievement of universal coverage objectives with equitable health systems, “seeking the noble goal of health for all”.
Therefore, we should now agree that profitable health institutions, no matter how large and various they are, do not constitute fair health systems, and will forever remain competing corporations, whose number one commodity is human health. Consequently, we cannot combat this epidemic, except by eliminating the phenomenon of “commodification of human health”. This requires a real change in the mentality of those in charge of formulating health care policies, but then again that will not be possible except by setting an overall policy that exalts the value of health, and categorically rejects the commodification of human health.
Corona and Traditional Forms of Social Protection:
Corona has drawn up a test for the traditional forms of social protection. Today, global social policies are at a crossroads, as traditional aid programs have failed to protect the most vulnerable and the poorest from economic risks. This prompted the major economic and development institutions in the world to talk about a “Universal Basic Income,” which aims to provide a stable income for all citizens without exception, so that they can meet their basic needs, in an attempt to reduce inequality among people, while giving priority in protection to the groups most at risk, such as unofficial workers, the elderly and the unemployed. The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a fixed amount provided by the state to all its citizens, without exception, regardless of income or work position. In this regard, there are several proposals for implementation. While some see that the state should disburse these sums on a weekly or monthly basis, there are those who consider giving the citizen the full amount as soon as they reach the age of 18.
The amount varies from one country to another, but the constant is that the amount is as much as the average basic needs of the individual in a particular country. This system has been referred to by several terms, including the unconditional basic income, the citizen’s income, and the basic insurance system. Although this system may seem somewhat socialist, it is strange though that most of the capitalist class supports it! While some see the need to implement the system in order to redistribute wealth and restore the lost balance, and that it is a good ground for achieving economic security, which gives people an opportunity to continue education, training, and planning for the future; there are those who believe that paying people money without working leads them to lose the motive to have a job.
Regarding the Egyptian situation, the International Monetary Fund has made a calculation for the application of the universal basic income in Egypt, in which it presented three scenarios to reduce poverty, the fixed or universal basic income being the bottom line. Although the financial amount decided for the proposed basic income in the three scenarios is weak and the cost of granting it to citizens is not great, it still contributes significantly to reducing poverty rates, bearing in mind that the application of such universal basic income scheme is not a substitute for other social protection programs, but rather a complement to them.
In the first scenario, the state grants all citizens a lump sum of 725 Egyptian pounds annually. The cost of this scenario does not exceed 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). Despite the small amount, it contributes to reducing the poverty rate by 4.1%, and also contributes to reducing inequality by 6 points based on the Gini coefficient. While in the second scenario the same amount is directed to groups of children under the age of 17. Usually, this option contributes to reducing the poverty rate by 5.6%, and its cost does not exceed 1.3% of GDP. In the third scenario, support or basic income is directed to children and the elderly over 65. The cost of this scenario is 1.5% of GDP. This option contributes to reducing the poverty rate by 6.1%. Apparently, Universal basic income can be applied gradually between different population groups, as well as between different geographical areas.
Perhaps all of these scenarios push our minds to think outside the box and reconsider the traditional social protection programs that rely on cash support either conditional or unconditional, emphasizing that these programs do not actually reduce poverty; but rather, their role is limited to maintaining the survival of the poor, and also emphasizing that continuing to provide cash support for a period exceeding three years is a negative indicator, which confirms the inadequacy of the social protection programs to rid the poor of poverty. The real confrontation with poverty lies in establishing a culture of work and production and facilitating all means toward that aim, which can happen through replacing cash support programs with ones that provide the means and tools of production for the poor.
The Egyptian model of contemporary reform and development has been able to transcend the traditional antireform predicaments, the most important of which being the inability of multiple human categories and production patterns to keep pace with the reform policies. This leads to high rates of marginalization, poverty and vulnerability, which often prompted countries to gradually retreat from the idea of complete reform for fear of massive popular uprisings that might undermine all the returns of reform. However, the uniqueness of the Egyptian reform program lies in its integration into a comprehensive sustainable development plan, for the duration of over 15 years, from 2015 to 2030.
Before Egypt began the first steps of reform, represented in floating the pound or liberalizing the exchange rate in November 2016, the Egyptian government had adopted an ambitious national program for social protection in 2015. The government entrusted its implementation to the Ministry of Social Solidarity with the aim of providing cash support to desperate families. The cash support program (Solidarity and Dignity) was then transformed into a conditional cash support program. There is no support for the illiterate, no support for dropping out of school, no support for lack of health care, and subsequently no support for early-marriage girls, the latest condition for obtaining cash support from the Ministry of Solidarity set by Mrs. Nevin Al-Kabbaj in the first half of 2021. The number of beneficiaries of this program to date has reached 3.8 million families, totaling 15 million beneficiaries out of 29.7 million poor people in Egypt, according to the latest report of the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
Around 2017, with a loan of $12 billion from the International Monetary Fund, the Egyptian government started to implement the economic reform program, during which the poverty rate witnessed a remarkable increase from 27.8% in 2015 to 32.4% in 2018. The Ministry of Social Solidarity announced that the monetary support policies along with the concept of complete dependence on the state must be changed, and then the policies of the Solidarity and Dignity program were altered to encourage production. At this time, the Ministry of Social Solidarity launched the “Chance” program, which guarantees the provision of an appropriate job opportunity for those who are able to benefit from the Solidarity and Dignity program as an alternative to cash support. Accordingly, the entire policies of the Egyptian government have shifted from a welfare state to a developmental state, in a way that subsequently reduced the poverty rate to 29.7% in 2020.
That was on the level of social reforms that preceded and coincided with the implementation of the economic reform program, but the state tended to invest in everything, even in the desert. For instance, housing policies turned to invest in desert areas to solve the housing crisis in Egypt by building more than 20 residential communities and more than 14 administrative capitals, and 22 other public buildings are being established in the Egyptian governorates. Hence, the price per square meter in the desert increased from 150 pounds at most to 14 thousand pounds at least. With such policies, the overpopulated areas in Egypt were relatively depopulated and, in return, the number of inhabited areas increased, while preserving human and cultural diversity through the establishment of tourist, rural, industrial and Bedouin communities.
Egypt has abandoned its mild role confined to providing limited care to its poor children, and powerfully turned to the developmental state that opens broader horizons before its citizens, ridding them of the vicious circle of poverty and making them active producers in their societies as opposed to the charity receivers they used to be. As a result, only those who were truly unable to work and deserve support receive assistance from the state institutions, and the support they receive is not a favor or charity anymore, but rather a right.
As the state forcefully entered the production and industry market through its interest in and concentration on giant and mega national projects along with other various fields, mainly relying on intensive-labor production patterns, and bridging the deficit in domestic consumption, encouraging exports and reducing import rates, the Egyptian state confirmed it was leaping at an unprecedented speed toward turning into a Smart Republic and thus witnessed a digital transformation in most sectors (smart cities, smart villages, smart schools and universities, etc.), a transformation in which the state does not abandon its caring role, but actually counts on investment in projects, services, and the people themselves.
How did the Egyptian government face the repercussions of Covid-19?
The Egyptian society, like the rest of the societies in the world, has been affected by the Corona pandemic, socially, economically and healthily. The only difference was the Egyptian reform experience, which had already begun almost three years before the pandemic, and was still ongoing. Whereas the economic reform program that Egypt had started as of 2015 began to bear fruits, it additionally assisted in bearing the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 crisis, and gradually restored economic stability.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the Egyptian government has allocated an amount of 100 million pounds to mitigate the effects of the Corona crisis. Most of that allocation was concentrated on supporting the tourism, industry and agricultural sectors, reducing the interest rate and allowing for longer grace periods to repay loans. In addition to the government attention to developing more comprehensive and long-term social policies, such as expanding insurance coverage for irregular employment, a strategy was set to protect and support temporary employees through an emergency support fund designated for this purpose. Egypt has also recorded remarkable progress in terms of study continuation in schools and universities during both the first and the second waves of the pandemic thanks to the progress in digital transformation and distance education.
The general framework set by the Egyptian government to deal with the Corona virus crisis included targeting temporary flexible mechanisms and measures capable of coping with the potential situation developments and updates at the economical and social levels throughout the phases of the crisis on the short and medium terms. In addition, the Egyptian government adopted the concept of selection, by assigning the lion share of protection and support to the most vulnerable groups and the most affected economic sectors, as well as working to enhance the principle of transparency and disclosure in facing the crisis through continuous communication with the public, as well as announcing clearly the size and development of support programs for the various concerned institutions, and publicizing what the government has done with regard to taking proactive measures to meet health and social needs, and also supporting the sectors directly affected by the crisis, noting that there are still risks to the economic outlook, especially due to the second wave of the epidemic which has raised uncertainty about the pace of domestic and global recovery.
Perhaps these measures have made Egypt one of the least affected developing countries either socially or economically by the Covid-19. Egypt managed to maintain its economic growth rates and was able to rank second in economic growth after China in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund report, which indicated that the Egyptian economy has become capable of withstanding all types of adversities.
It hurts to see the world that had reached the moon flipping and falling back down rapidly. It also hurts to see that all gates have been shut before you; however, the gates of heaven are still open. Perhaps our minds lured us when we started exploring the universe and believed we would leave the earth to find an alternative home on Mars or another planet, and maybe the earth became fed up with our corruption and amassed environmental disasters and finally decided to throw us away and bring to life a new creation that treats it with respect. Whatever the justifications, and whether we admit that it is a furious natural disaster or a biological third world war, we have to confess that the pain is the same in all cases. We are all losers here, no one is a winner.
The emerging corona virus crisis has shown that the neoliberal policies pursued for decades with its imposed unfairness against the disadvantaged and the abandoned restrictions in favor of the privileged as well as the privatization of vital public sectors is no longer able to protect us from this damning epidemic. Since those deprived of free health care and social protection are apparently the first and foremost victims of this pandemic, the poor, the irregular workers, the homeless and the marginalized are therefore the most underprivileged. Based on what the recent years have witnessed, there has been a growing awareness as to the need for strong, comprehensive and universal social protection, as reported by Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and the Social Protection Floors of the International Labor Organization. Although these initiatives are still shy and timidly developing, they nonetheless reflect an increased awareness and provide effective systems of social services, protecting and immunizing human beings against the vagaries of nature in all parts of the world. Therefore, it is time to take all necessary measures so that the relevant recommendations of the international community can be immediately implemented.
In recognition of the work of the World Social Forum for Health and Social Security together with its keenness to provide everything necessary to support the initiatives, and realizing the importance of all of us working toward adopting alternative public policies which prioritize people and environment, all developmental staff including those well-versed in social policies should cling to the demand for the adoption of alternative social policies to the brutal neoliberal policies. Based on the aforementioned besides my own convictions that we are fighting in a war we are not a party thereto, and that we are merely reaping its devastating harvest, most of the developing countries, including Egypt, are debtor countries or borrowers from giant international economic institutions and countries. In the midst of these circumstances, these countries may not be able to fulfill their debt obligations or interests. We therefore stress the need for the international system to provide a comprehensive health system that offers free health care to all, without exception, regardless of any cause for discrimination, either based on nationality or social class. We also advocate the necessity of linking, in light of these alternative policies, between guaranteeing the right to health care and the provision of all other social protection conditions. In that regard, we are bound to consider all the rights under the umbrella of social protection, such as the right to clean water, free education, proper food, decent housing, respectable job, fair income, and a healthy environment.
Accordingly, we demand the establishment of a world charter for the universal social protection, realizing that social protection is an inherent human right, based on the system of rights and freedoms as well as the broad global solidarity imposed as a result of the advocacy of such system. Hence, it is imperative for governments of the world to expedite the cancellation of debts burdened by poor countries, stop fighting, lift all forms of blockades or sanctions, and peacefully resolve conflicts in a manner that reflects positively on social protection.
Moreover; Governments should also expedite the adoption of the principle of nuclear, chemical and biological disarmament, trying to put an end to armed conflicts, encouraging and enhancing productive work, fundamental research, search for new medicines and vaccines, preservation of biodiversity, space conquest, and setting up human-rights-friendly budgets. These demands will not be achievable without these governments seeking to endorse the principle of social solidarity between the peoples in their constitutions, and the principle of public social utilities protection, especially in terms of health, education, water, electricity, fuels, and Internet services, etc.
This article is an urgent appeal to the international regimes to come together to confront the economic and social aftermath of the Corona virus. My dream is that my voice will reach out to the world governments, administrations, and institutions, sounding an alarm to those rational officials in order for them to issue their last call to save us all from the scourge of this insidious biological warfare.