Glimmer of light for Egypt’s disabled citizens with new law

There are an estimated 15 million disabled citizens in Egypt.
January 07, 2018
Disabled karate athletes attend training in Cairo. (Reuters)
Willpower. Disabled karate athletes attend training in Cairo. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Egypt’s disabled citizens are expressing high hopes over the passage of a bill of rights for the handicapped into law.

The measure, approved by the parliament on December 5, would give the disabled — who make up nearly 15% of Egypt’s population — tax cuts and require the government and private sector to allocate 5% of job vacancies to workers with disabilities. The new law would also require transport service providers to dedicate space for disabled commuters. Under the bill’s mandate, the disabled would receive free medical treatment at state-run hospitals.

Mohamed Abdullah, a 45-year-old blind resident of Cairo, said there are anti-discrimination pro­tections on paper in Egypt but since the laws are not enforced, the situation has not improved. “There is a lot of talk about laws but the conditions of the disabled have remained the same over the years,” he said.

Hani Morgan, a member of par­liament’s Solidarity Committee, which approved the bill, described it as a milestone towards making the lives of disabled citizens easier.

“The bill paves the road for disa­bled citizens to enjoy full rights,” said Morgan. “It presents the nec­essary legal framework for protect­ing them against violations and ex­ploitation.”

The bill’s approval by the par­liamentary committee had coin­cided with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3. Measures have been accumulating over the years in Egypt to protect the rights of the disabled but few of the articles of the laws were enforced.

Egypt established its first dis­ability law in 1959, giving disabled citizens the right to education and vocational training. Laws enacted in 1964, 1971 and 1982 gave disa­bled citizens additional rights but advocates say they are mere ink on paper.

Mahmud Ibrahim, the head of the disability section at NGO Manshiet Nasser Youth Society, attributed the failure of the gov­ernment to enforce such laws to a “lack of will.”

“The lack of this will on the part of successive governments pro­duced an intolerable situation for millions of disabled people,” Ibra­him said. “To be disabled in this country means you will be left out of all services and brave all types of discrimination alone without any social or state support.”

Abdullah’s story is an embodi­ment of problems disabled people face in Egypt even after getting an education. He was born blind and received religious education at the schools of al-Azhar before earning a bachelor’s degree in commercial studies.

He tried to land a job for many years after graduation but no em­ployer he sought out was ready to hire a blind worker, despite a cur­rent disability law committing em­ployers to specifying a percentage of jobs to people with handicaps.

Abdullah has depended on his sweet-sounding voice to try to earn a living. He recites the Quran at funerals, earning the equiva­lent of $8.50 every time he is in­vited to do so. Abdullah said he earns about $68 a month, far from enough money for him to feed his wife and two children.

“We have to stick to the very ba­sics to keep going,” Abdullah said.

He married a blind woman after being snubbed by sighted women he had been interested in.

He says he faces humiliation whenever he goes out on the street. A fruit seller once tried to swindle him by giving him spoiled apples. When Abdullah objected, the seller and passers-by laughed.

“I have to take these situations very easily because I face them every day,” Abdullah said.

Under the new law, discrimina­tion against or exploitation of the disabled will not be taken lightly, those who drafted the legislation said.

They said, apart from monitor­ing the new law’s implementa­tion, efforts will be made to ensure that the social attitudes regarding people with disabilities change to help end discrimination.

This, they added, would be done by introducing new materials in school curricula and initiating a nationwide media campaign about the rights of the disabled.

“Disabled people suffered great­ly over the years and this suffer­ing cannot go on forever,” Morgan said. “This is about time a real change was made.”