World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010

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Contemporary Social Policy in Egypt: Poverty, Welfare, Employment and Education (310) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) - (UK)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Hania Sobhy

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:
Shifts in economic orientation and ideology have translated into significant and ongoing changes in social and welfare policy in Egypt in the past few decades. The ongoing neoliberal restructuring of the state has contributed to changes in how development “problems” are framed and in the policies to tackle them. The state’s own self-presentation and its propagated ideals of citizenship and state-society relations, as reflected in state media or educational curricula, have also witnessed significant changes. In collaboration with the state, International Financial Institutions, Donor Agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations are important players in the design, execution and assessment of welfare policies. While we have some knowledge of these larger trends and changes, our understanding of the concrete ways in which these policies are developed, executed and experienced at the level of lived realities, is lacking. This panel examines a number of critical issues in contemporary social policy in Egypt, using in-depth qualitative methods. The panel covers analysis of new poverty alleviation programs, measuring poverty rates, workforce training and employment practices, and the economic ideology propagated in official educational curricula. The purpose is to examine trends in social policy through how they are experienced; including how their design is informed (or not) by lived realities, how their execution is mediated by such realities and how their impact can be understood at that level of lived experience. This includes state-administered policies as well as programs managed and carried out by international donors and non-governmental organizations. The panel attempts to open up discussions and offer reflections on critical areas of social policy as they are played out in everyday experiences and practices.

Chair: Paul Fean (University of Sussex)

Paper presenter: Shahinaz Ahmed (Education for Employment Foundation - Egypt), “Confronting the Authority of The Employer: An Analysis Vis a Vis an Employment-Driven Educational Program”
This paper seeks to explore the power dynamics and relationship between graduates of the Education for Employment Foundation - Egypt Merchandiser Training Program (MTP) who are underprivileged/excluded recent entrants into the job market and their employers in the textile ready-made garment industry in Egypt. Drawing on the literature on the discourse of power as an analytical framework, the employment driven EFE-Egypt MTP is examined specifically focusing on the power relationship between employers and employees. The paper proposes that despite the academic merit of MTP graduates it is in the employer’s best interest to hinder the empowerment of the employee allowing for the maximum exploitation of employees as cheap labour evident in the mechanisms of employment: lower salaries than agreed, informal employment and lack of insurance. With ethnographic data drawn from first hand experience of program implementation and interviews with employers and employees, together with literature on the status of the textile industry in Egypt the hypothesis is that the employer utilises their authority to exploit recent entrants in the job market drawing on various mechanisms that maintain the less powerful positionality of the employee ensuring employer access to cheap labour. In particular this paper analyses the roles of the employer and employee drawing on their own discourse and practices, which contribute to hindering the social mobility and empowerment of socially excluded youth.

Paper presenter: Heba Gowayed (Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo - SRC), “Discussing the Gender Impact of the Egyptian Conditional Cash Transfer Program”
Egypt is currently piloting a new type of social policy program, a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), in the Cairo slum of Ain Es-Sira. The Egyptian CCT, like most CCT programs, gives cash to the female-head-of-household in exchange for the fulfilment of conditions on child health and education. CCT programs have been criticized as burdening the female-head-of-household with the responsibility of fulfilling the program’s conditions, without focusing on the needs of the female beneficiaries. Within the context of this debate, this paper looks critically at the development of the Egyptian CCT, discussing the needs expressed by the women in the fieldwork conducted to inform the program, in light of the data gathered through the gender assessment conducted two months into the program’s implementation. Reporting on a running program, this paper presents preliminary results, while questioning the impact of the program on gender empowerment within the Egyptian context. All research informing this paper is conducted by a team from the Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo (SRC), who have been commissioned by the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity to design this program.

Paper presenter: Sarah Hartmann (Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, Freie Universität Berlin),“Between State, Market, and Civil Society: The Informal Education Sector in Egypt”
Rather than a remedial measure for weak students, private and group tutoring has become a “normal” and seemingly indispensable part of the education process in contemporary Egypt, which is prevalent across all social classes and educational stages. The variety of offers in this “informal education sector” ranges from expensive one-on-one private lessons at home to group and mass tutoring in special “tutoring centers”. Many of these centers, which have sprung up all over Cairo during the last decades, especially in lower and middle income neighborhoods, are associated to mosques and religious charity organizations. On the basis of ethnographic field research carried out in 2009 and 2010, this presentation will give a brief overview of some of the features of the informal education sector and the different kinds of centers, before focusing on the case studies of two “star teachers” working there. What does it mean when teachers are described as “famous”, how do they work and how do they relate to their students? What is the impact of tutoring on the relationship between students and teachers and on the social status and role of teachers in general? Finally, I will offer some reflections on the political significance of the informal education sector and the opportunities it offers for a more general analysis of state-society relations in Egypt.

Paper presenter: Hania Sobhy (University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies - SOAS), “The Ideological Content of Secondary School Curricula in Contemporary Egypt: Political Economy and Social Policy”
This paper presents a reading of constructions of economic ideology and state-society relations in national Egyptian secondary education curricula. This is based on analysis of textbook content across different subjects, in addition to discussions and observations in a number of public and private Egyptian schools. The paper explores: 1) understandings of political economy and economic ideology, and 2) constructions of state-society relations and representations of the state as they relate to social policy and the corresponding citizen roles and values. The paper offers an analysis of these areas of curriculum content, not only by analyzing the texts at hand, but by situating this analysis in reference to, educational policy and practice, and observations of key lessons as they were taught in public secondary schools in Egypt in 2009/2010, including discussions with students about them. In addition to an overview of the larger arguments of the paper, the presentation will focus on two concrete lessons and offer reflections about their delivery and reception by students in general and technical secondary schools.