Egypt’s disabled look for protest victory

Egypt’s disabled look for protest victory

CAIRO: They braved the cold Cairo night, huddled under blankets as dozens of riot police gather nearby. Scores of Egyptian special needs citizens continue their weeks-long protest for equality in front of Parliament. The three-week long protest has tested their patience and highlighted yet another labor problem facing Egypt.

They are demanding equality with other disabled people who have received government jobs under the five percent required allocation to disabled citizens within government agencies. They are also demanding of the government housing units from the proportion allocated to disabled in the Cairo governorate.

“We want to be heard,” said Said, a bank teller and driver in his spare time. “We are no different than other citizens, but we have certain things guaranteed to us that were not being met by the government.”

He added that the protesters are not demanding “more than what has been promised other groups in this country.”

The demonstrators have demanded First Lady Suzanne Mubarak intervene to resolve the deadlock and give them apartments and jobs in the state, or licensing of kiosks. The first lady has positioned herself as a champion of the disabled in Egypt, which only recently has begun to remove the stigma associated with special needs citizens.

The demonstrators have been chanting slogans throughout their ordeal toward the first lady: “Mama, Mama Susanne, oh, see how disabled people suffer in Egypt.”

Abdel-Azim Wazir, the Governor of Cairo said that the governorate continues to receive applications submitted by disabled people from within the governorate and that some offices had allocated positions “specifically to receive applications for the provision of housing, jobs or units.”

But the protesters said they have submitted their applications, but nothing has come of them. “Are we supposed to wait? No other jobs will take us because they don’t want our kind working,” said Yussif, a 26-year-old economics graduate.

Despite the protesters statements, the governor added that “around 30 disabled [people] applied for job opportunities and they were referred to the Directorate of Manpower to discuss their situation and to provide suitable employment according to their qualifications and the extent of [their] disability.

The protesters have repeatedly said they would remain on the sidewalk by Parliament until their situation was resolved. With the erratic weather in Cairo recently, it has become tough on a number of them, said Said. The cold nights have not been kind, he added.

“We understand what is going on and for those who stay there day and night, we should show our respect, but it is hard when the local media treat us like dogs without any real rights and don’t cover this important issue that much. It is sad,” he added.

**additional reporting by Joseph Mayton

 Republished with Permission from Bikya Masr