Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that the government is obliged to provide unemployment benefits under the constitution.
The July 3 ruling obligates the state, represented by the Cabinet, to make unemployment payments sufficient to provide a “decent life” for the unemployed. Citizens who are not already covered by the social insurance system will have the right to such payments if they are unable to support themselves and their families because they are unable to find work or if they are unable to work because of old age or incapacity.
The local media said the government is currently reviewing the court ruling.
The ruling offers hope in an economically struggling country with an unemployment rate of 12%.
“I hope it [the ruling] will be applied soon,” Mohamed Gamal, a graduate in commerce from Helwan University, told Al-Monitor. “I looked for suitable job opportunities for nearly two years, but my efforts were in vain.”
Amr Gomaa, who has been unemployed for eight years, told Al-Monitor that although providing benefits is but a “palliative remedy,” it’s a step in the right direction.
“I think providing a job is much better,” said the Cairo University arts graduate. “However, it is a good start that lets us feel that the decision-makers are trying to solve our problems.”
Salaheddin Fahmy, a professor and former head of economics in the commerce school at Al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor that the court’s historic, long-awaited decision “is a victory for the idea of social solidarity and achieving interdependence between the citizens. It is a confirmation of the constitution's provisions with respect to the need to provide a decent life for the citizens.”
Fahmy said the state will not grant all unemployed citizens unemployment benefits; there will be requirements and standards in selecting who receives the money.
“There are people who like sitting in cafes and don't want to work — of course they will not be [covered] by the state," he said. “But for those who look eagerly for jobs but don't find them, the state will provide them with unemployment benefits for some months until they find a job.”
He added that during those months, the state should provide the unemployed with data on all the vacant jobs according to their specialties.
Abdel-Fattah Mohamed, a member of parliament's Manpower Committee, said previous administrations and their lack of development spending are responsible for the unemployment crises. He said that, in part, this is what led citizens to flock to the streets in 2011 to demonstrate in the January 25 Revolution.
"But the current state’s recently adopted policy of insisting on a role for young people in development makes us feel that the state has begun to behave in the right way to eliminate unemployment,” he told Al-Monitor.
Egypt’s unemployment rate decreased to 12% in the first quarter of 2017, compared with 12.7% in the same period a year ago. The 12% jobless rate is the lowest since the third quarter of 2012.
During the first quarter of this year, the number of unemployed people fell by 118,000 to 3.5 million, and the number of employed rose by 828,000 to 25.6 million.
Mohamed said he has presented a draft law, based on the court's ruling, to press the government to provide the money for jobless benefits. Parliament will discuss the draft law in October.
He said numerous projects are in the works that soon will pump money into the state budget. He cited the Zohr natural gas field, one of the world's largest, and projects that will be established in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, in addition to gold production, which can be a future source of growth for the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, economic expert Wael El Nahas said the government has the right to object to the ruling. “The government has the final say in this matter. If applying this decision will add [too much of a] burden on its budget, it can reject it," Nahas told Al-Monitor.
He said that if the government does apply the ruling, it will need a mechanism for accurately documenting the number of unemployed citizens and gathering more information about them.