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EGYPT: The disabled protest for more rights, better jobs

April 6, 2010 |  8:52 am

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Dozens of people with physical disabilities have been camping outside the Egyptian parliament for more than 50 days, trying to pressure officials into granting them basic rights such as jobs, housing and the chance to start a business.  

Egyptian law states that 5% of workers in companies and factories must come from the ranks of the disabled. But the protesters claim they are discriminated against and can seldom find work.   

"The 5% ratio is absolutely ridiculous compared to the number of disabled people in Egypt," demonstrator Saied Ali Mohamed, whose left leg is paralyzed, told The Times. "When a handicapped is lucky enough to be hired, he is simply asked to stay at home and receive a very humble salary. Companies consider us a liability and they employ some of us only because of their legal requirements."

Many of the disabled said they believe Egyptian culture and society have shunned them. "We’ve been totally marginalized by the government for decades now," Mahrousa Salem, coordinator of the demonstration, told The Times. "All laws stating disabled people's rights are inefficient, and unfortunately the government considers us as second-grade citizens."

Walid Ali Shahat was a member of the Egyptian wheelchair basketball team that won the African championship in 2008. He said the government's poor investment in disabled people must come to an end.

"The whole perspective towards people with special needs in Egypt needs to be changed. Our streets, underground stations and bus stops are not equipped to accommodate the handicapped," he said.

Shahat believes that any sportsman in his caliber would be making thousands of dollars in Europe or the U.S., while he was "forced to accept a job for [$45] a month in order to support my wife and two children."

Officials have responded to the demonstrators' calls by suggesting that the disabled may be granted more privileges and legal protections. No decisions have been made yet, and protesters say they will continue their sit in until they are granted their full rights. No accurate statistics have recently been released on the number of disabled Egyptians.

 -- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Disabled people protest outside the parliament. Credit: Al Destour

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