by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- The ongoing political conflict in Egypt delays the country's achievement of economic and social renaissance, Insurance and Social Affairs Minister Nagwa Khalil told Xinhua in an exclusive interview Sunday.
Khalil, a long-time social researcher and former head of Egypt' s largest national research center, noted that freedom and democracy were the major demands of people in the past but the economic issues, such as growing unemployment, low income and price hikes, have currently become their focus, pointing out they were among the reasons that led to the 2011 upheaval that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
"Constant protests of workers following the uprising pressured factories and companies to shut down or reduce production, leading to less job opportunities and increasing unemployment," the minister said.
Egypt has been witnessing social deterioration over the past two years, as the tight grip of the former regime got loose and the people, suppressed for decades, experienced extraordinary freedom, which led to growing social crimes such as sexual harassment, thuggery and rape.
"I feel now that we have become in a jungle where the strongest, in terms of power, money or weapons, survives," she lamented.
Khalil stressed that the current political chaos "was only a barrier" for social development,referring the main reason for social deterioration to a major change in the Egyptian personality for the worse.
"The lack of opportunities for leading a decent life led to the surge of poverty, thugs and slums," Khalil continued, "All these negative aspects could ruin the nation if we do not urgently combat them."
"There is a split in the Egyptian society besides a state of dissatisfaction due to difference of opinions," she said, noting that there must be a social consensus and real dialogues where the country's greater interest should be given priority.
"Egypt's growing social issues are known to everyone: poverty, drug addiction, unemployment, street children, price hikes, low income, etc.," Khalil enlisted, stressing the main difference between politicians was their ways to handle these issues.
The social affairs minister did not blame the upheaval for the current social issues, blaming the declining manners in the Egyptian society that led to abusing freedom.
"The freedom that the Egyptians have got is wonderful. Without freedom there would be neither production nor creation. However, this freedom lacks proper behaviors, manners and values," Khalil said.
The minister sees the current political scene in Egypt like a group of people fighting over a number of "worthless seats." "A political seat is not worth fighting for, because it involves real responsibility and an honest person would think more than twice before seeking one," Khalil said.
The Social Affairs Ministry submitted a draft law regulating civil society organizations and social groups, a bill that reportedly has caused uneasiness to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group, to which President Mohamed Morsi belongs, as the group would have to inform about their source of finance.
"If approved, not only the MB but any group will have to reveal its sources of finance," Khalil said, pointing out that the MB's Freedom and Justice Party as well as some liberal groups also submitted similar draft laws and they all went to the justice ministry for review.
Khalil told Xinhua that the Insurance and Social Affairs Ministry "is basically concerned with the poor, the orphans, the handicapped, the pensioners and the insured -- the weaker element of the society."
The minister revealed the ministry is currently working on a national plan under supervision of Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to combat drug addiction, and that the announcement of the executive plan will be discussed at the cabinet meeting on Monday morning.