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Egyptian companies pledge to stand behind Sisi’s promises to the disabled

The Egyptian government and the private sector are working to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

CAIRO — Twenty-five Egyptian companies have committed to offering training sessions and 2,000 jobs to working-age disabled Egyptians, holding out the promise of providing substance to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s declaration to make 2018 the “year of those challenged with a disability.” The commitment followed an employment fair held April 14 in Cairo for people with special needs. The Professional Development Foundation (PDF) and Jobzella organized the event.

Sherif Gamal, PDF's director of marketing and events, spoke to Al-Monitor about the fair, which reflects an effort by state and civil society institutions to address the rights and requirements of a class of individuals in Egyptian society suffering from marginalization.

“We took advantage of the fact that 2018 is the year of those challenged with a disability to think of a way to help create job opportunities, so we decided to organize this fair and invite companies to hold interviews and hire those who match job qualifications,” Gamal told Al-Monitor. “The fair was a success. At first, only five companies responded to our invitation, but we managed to persuade 25 companies all in all, and a large number of people with special needs came to apply for jobs.”

PDF, a nongovernmental organization, works on developing human resources and raising individuals' capabilities. It cooperates with private companies, including foreign businesses, to improve the skills of people with special needs so they can integrate into the labor market.

Gamal noted that one of the lessons learned from the fair was the need to tool training programs according to the particular type of disability, because the latter affects the nature of the work a person can do. He emphasized his intention to organize job fairs in other governorates, starting in Alexandria at the end of 2018.

Ahmed Azzam, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, was fired from the only job he has held, working as an accountant in a small plastics factory. The employment fair gave him hope of finding another job despite his limited professional experience.

“I am married and receive 450 Egyptian pounds [$25] a month from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, but it is not enough to cover our daily needs, so I need to get a job,” he told Al-Monitor. “The conditions of employment some companies have are impossible to meet, such as having experience and speaking English.”

One of the motivational speeches delivered at the job fair might bolster Azzam's hopes. Tarek Salem, left paralyzed by a broken spine from a car accident, works as a networking engineer at Vodafone International. He too gets around by wheelchair.

Salem commented on how Egyptians with disabilities not only face a range of problems finding a job, but also can have difficulties getting to the office once they have found one.

“The lack of adequate infrastructure in Egypt, such as accessibility to public transport, forces us to find our own means of transportation,” he told Al-Monitor. He noted that even Egyptian companies that hire disabled people often also lack the infrastructure required to accommodate special needs, such as wheelchair-accessible bathroom facilities.

These hindrances aside, the main issue, Salem said, is that the job market for the disabled is so limited that it forces many of them to seek jobs that do not match their skill sets. As a result, they often end up doing work that offers little chance of development or advancement.

Salem began work in customer service, but insisted on developing his skills so he could advance. He ultimately landed his IT job. “We can be successful,” Salem remarked, “but we first need to answer questions like what we really want and what our actual skills are.” 

Article 53 of the Egyptian constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens with special needs. Article 81 obliges the state to guarantee the health, economic, social, cultural, entertainment, sporting and educational rights of persons with disabilities, strive to provide them with job opportunities, allocate a percentage of job opportunities to them and adapt public facilities and their surrounding environment to their needs.

In December, parliament passed the Law on Persons with Special Needs, which was influential in 2018 being dedicated to assisting those challenged with a disability. The law provides them protection from discrimination and access to social services, including in health care, education and employment, regardless of the type of disability, and it requires public and private sector companies to fill 5% of positions with people with special needs. Sisi signed the law in February, and it is expected to take effect in the next few months, pending the Cabinet's ratification of executive regulations.

Ashraf Mari, secretary-general of the National Council for Disability Affairs, a government council addressing the affairs of people with special needs, told Al-Monitor that the new law represents a glimmer of hope for the rights of the disabled being guaranteed, largely because it includes penalties for noncompliance in both the public or private sectors. The penalty for an employer who discriminates against people with disabilities in the hiring process is “imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine between 10,000 Egyptians pounds [$565] and 30,000 Egyptian pounds [$1,695].”

Mari asserted, “The council is working on managing media campaigns to highlight success stories in the educational and professional fields to create a positive image of people with special needs in the community. We are collaborating with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and state institutions to work out a comprehensive plan to deal with the people with special needs dossier to provide a decent life for them.”

According to Mari, Sisi's declaration on 2018 is a good start in finally recognizing people who constitute 11% of Egyptian society. He said the state is taking serious steps, such as working on making transport and travel paths accessible, to improve life for those with disabilities.

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