The Impact of Digital Transformation on Economic and Social Rights


Technological advancements are happening at an unprecedented rate in human history. Furthermore, the dissemination and rapid implementation of new technologies are also unparalleled. The latest technology available today can be used in many ways shortly after being discovered.

Advanced technology changes the world in every aspect, increasingly every day and everywhere. This vast transformation, which the world has witnessed and continues to witness throughout the last few decades, can be called the “Digital Transformation.”

Digital technologies, through their increasing and speedy evolution, have transformed the way people practice all their daily life activities. More than half the world’s population today uses mobile phones. Most of them are connected to the Internet through these phones or many other devices throughout the day and every day.

This fact alone is enough to consider the current era a digital one. However, the penetration of digital technologies in every field of daily human practice is much deeper than the fact that most people, as individuals, have devices that use these technologies to connect them to the Internet.

This paper discusses the impact of digital transformation on economic and social rights. It focuses on three main rights: the right to education, the right to work, and the right to healthcare. For each of these rights, the paper examines the potential of digital transformation to address the challenges of providing these rights in the Egyptian context, the possible negative effects of digital transformation, and the extent to which current government policies positively or negatively influence each case.

Digital Transformation and Economic and Social Rights

In its general conception, digital transformation is constituted by the continuous resort to digital technologies in the various aspects of life and work. This trend occurs almost spontaneously without prior planning. Additionally, digital transformation is a title for a set of strategies and policies set by different states and institutions aiming to direct these processes in a way that serves their objectives and interests.

This means that digital transformation is a change imposed by technological advancement on societies whose individuals and institutions adopt the use of digital technology almost spontaneously, according to their needs and as allowed by different circumstances. It is also a planned strategic endeavor. Thus, digital transformation and its impact on people’s lives can be understood through these two lenses.

On the other hand, economic and social rights are a set of rights related to guaranteeing the minimum needs of an honorable life, and effective full participation in societies for every human being. Main examples of these rights are the right to work, education, health, social insurance, food, water, shelter, and a clean environment.

The international system for human rights includes many legal instruments that guarantee the recognition of these rights, such as international treaties, charters, and covenants. These instruments oblige the states to guarantee and protect these rights and their citizens’ access to them. The most important among these legal instruments are:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Adopted in 1948. The declaration stipulates that every person has the right to social security, work, rest, recreation, education, health, food, clothing, shelter, and participation in cultural life.
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Adopted in 1966. It obliges states to respect, protect, and guarantee economic and social rights and to ensure their citizens’ access to these rights up to the limit of their available resources.
  • The UN’s 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development: Adopted in 2015. It sets 17 goals through 169 steps aiming to abolish poverty, protect the environment, and ensure peace and prosperity for all by 2030. Many of the agenda’s goals and their implementation steps are related, either directly or indirectly, to economic and social rights. For example, the first goal (no poverty), 3rd goal (good health and well-being), 4th goal (quality education), 8th goal (decent work and economic growth ), and 10th goal (reducing inequality).

Digital transformation, both with its spontaneous and planned aspects, affects in a very deep and wide manner the potential for citizens’ access to their economic and social rights. As these rights depend mainly on the processes of exploiting material and human resources to provide basic needs, the transformation of such processes to depend on digital technology leads to changing them radically.

Digital Transformation in Egypt and the Right to Education

The Current Situation

Education in Egypt has faced many prolonged crises throughout many decades. According to global competitiveness indices issued by the World Economic Forum, the setback in education service quality in recent years has led to Egypt’s fall behind its international rank. This rank has deteriorated continuously, reaching 93 in 2019.

Among the major features of the education crisis in Egypt, is the increasing density of classrooms in pre-high education facilities. This density increased by 5.11% in the period from 2015 to 2020 in government schools, and by 3% in private schools. The areas deprived of education have increased by 6.5% of the total number of villages and their dependents. This is in addition to an increase in the rate of skipping mandatory education, especially in rural governorates.

In a developing country that faces many economic crises and an increasing rate of poverty, the capability of the great majority of Egyptian families to provide quality education to their children, depending only on their resources, ranges between entirely absent and very weak. This leads to dependence almost entirely on education services supposedly provided by the state for free.

The Egyptian constitution states in Article 19 that education is a right for every citizen. It obliges the state to guarantee free education in pre-high education stages and to set a value equal to at least 4% of GDP for public expenditure on education. However, the Egyptian government hasn’t abided by this obligation since the constitution was issued in 2014. Accordingly, low governmental investment in education is one of the major obstacles to facing the towering problems in this sector.

What Digital Transformation Can Provide

The use of digital technologies in different aspects of the educational process provides many opportunities for enhancing education services at low costs. One of the most important ways of using digital technologies in the educational process is remote education solutions.

Remote education solutions provide opportunities for surpassing many of the problems facing education in Egypt, including:

  • Low quality of education service: High-quality education content by highly qualified teachers can be provided through remote education. Education courses can also be developed in addition to training enough teachers to provide educational content in an attractive way, depending on interactive tools provided by digital technologies.
  • Deprivation of some rural and remote areas from education services: Remote education is an ideal and most cost-effective solution for providing education services to students in rural and remote areas. It replaces the need to build more schools and provide them with the required teachers, administrative staff, and workers, as well as the different equipment and periodic operating and maintenance costs required for schools.
  • Density of classrooms: Remote education allows the possibility of moving some educational activities outside schools. This reduces the need for daily attendance for all students and teachers in the school, thus contributing to dealing with the problem of high-density classrooms. This allows the students to benefit from what teachers can offer in terms of explanation of educational content within these classrooms.
  • Weak expenditure for the education sector: Using remote education solutions allows directing available financial and human resources to low-cost, high-return solutions, whether in terms of student numbers and geographic coverage or the quality of the service provided.

Therefore, digital transformation provides practical solutions for most of the problems facing education in Egypt today. Digital transformation can be leveraged in innovative ways beyond the traditional boundaries that have historically defined the education process. This requires great flexibility to adapt and reshape this process, maximizing the benefits of digital transformation.

Government’s Strategy for Digital Transformation in Education

In a workshop titled “Understanding Egypt’s Current Readiness to Leverage Digital Technology for Educational Improvement,” the current Minister of Education, Dr. Reda Hegazy, stated that his ministry’s strategic approach is to integrate digital transformation into the educational process rather than running it parallel to the existing system. This means working to use digital technology within the traditional educational framework, represented by the “school, teacher, student” triangle.

The minister added that digital solutions can be used in:

  • Training teachers for producing digital educational content.
  • Using digital platforms for training teachers.
  • Replacing printed books with digital material on tablets distributed to high school students.
  • Performing exams and correcting them electronically.
  • Using digital technology for the process of recruiting and promoting new teachers.

The use of tablets in Egypt is the most prominent and, at the same time, the most controversial aspect of the digital transformation policies in education over the past few years. This initiative has had mixed success and failure, with the general public’s perception of it being mostly negative.

The use of tablets in schools has caused a number of problems. The most significant issues were related to conducting exams using tablets. This process relies on internet connectivity and the use of websites designated by the Ministry of Education for this purpose. The inability of these websites to handle the immense load of a large number of students connecting simultaneously, along with the instability of WiFi networks in schools, disrupted the exam process.

On the other hand, a study on the impact of tablet use by students highlighted a positive effect on their educational and developmental skills. This was reflected in increased interaction and comprehension rates. Another study, conducted to evaluate the reception of the experience by both teachers and students, confirmed that the majority had positive perceptions of the initiative.

There is a major problem that prevents digital transformation from becoming a tool for allowing more access to the right to education. This problem is the strategy of adhering to the traditional educational structure while incorporating digital technologies within it. This approach restricts the potential of digital technologies, limiting their benefits to narrow confines that do not represent the best they can offer.

Moreover, this strategy results in digital transformation initiatives becoming victims of various other issues. These include the chronic structural problems of the existing educational system, the inadequacies within this structure, and its lack of flexibility. Additionally, the system suffers from the low efficiency of most participants, which limits the chances of these initiatives succeeding.

Digital Transformation and Labor’s Rights

Labor rights are an umbrella of many detailed rights. They are concerned with the right of citizens to have a fair opportunity to benefit from their natural and acquired capabilities and gain incomes that allow them to cover their basic needs and achieve their ambitions for self-fulfillment and the pursuit of happy lives.

Guaranteeing such a fair opportunity consists first of finding proper employment opportunities that meet conditions for fare return, stability, and safety. It also consists of providing fair access to these opportunities without discrimination among those qualified for performing related jobs.

Under the globally prevalent capitalist system, however, different economic activities create unbalanced work relations between business owners and wage workers. Thus, guaranteeing employment opportunities that meet the conditions of fare return, stability, and job safety requires restoring a balance between the two parties involved in work relations.

Seeking to achieve this may proceed through two paths:

  • First, legislating labor laws that oblige business owners to fulfill these conditions through setting a minimum wage, prohibiting unwarranted contract termination, and contributing to social insurance funds.
  • Second, ensuring workers’ right to collective negotiations to demand their rights and to seek improvement of their work conditions through the formation of trade unions that coordinate their collective efforts.

Status of Labor Rights in Egypt

Labor rights in Egypt have witnessed great setbacks with the adoption of what was called “openness” (Infetah) policies at the end of last century’s seventies. This was followed by the state’s turn to privatization and limiting its intervention to regulate market movement, especially the labor market. These policies led to diminishing the state’s role in creating and providing employment opportunities, and to a great reduction in the percentage of labor enjoying trade unions coverage.

It has also led to an increase in unsafe jobs, which now account for more than half of the jobs in formal sectors. Finally, the ratio of business owners’ commitment to contributing to workers’ social insurance diminished to less than 50% in most economic sectors.

In the following sections, the paper explores various aspects of the relationship between digital transformation in Egypt and labor rights. The paper discusses the potential contribution of this transformation to solving the accumulated problems of the Egyptian labor market, the deteriorating conditions of workers, and the decline of various guarantees of their rights. It also addresses the possibility that digital transformation might exacerbate some issues, potentially leading to a further decline in labor rights guarantees.

Digital Transformation and Structural Change of Labor Market

Digital transformation, in its broadest sense, leads to a significant and profound modification of production and consumption processes, and consequently, the labor market based on these processes. The ability to trade goods and services over the Internet has created opportunities for productive activities that can be undertaken by micro-enterprises and individuals at a much higher rate than ever before.

The internet has introduced a new form of small-scale and artisanal production, which is evolving into a trend towards micro-industries over time. This trend supports the growth of the freelance labor market, where professionals in various fields offer their services to end users or businesses without entering into permanent employment relationships.

Additionally, the Internet has created a new type of production known as content creation. This content can be related to any field; it may be news, educational, entertainment, or a combination of these. It can be presented in various forms—written, audio, visual, or a mix of these formats.

The internet provides the ability to convert content into a marketable commodity that can generate financial returns. This can be achieved through accompanying advertisements, direct sponsorship from advertisers, or through direct subscriptions. This creates a vast array of job opportunities, which are not necessarily limited to specialists in certain fields or to individuals with specific educational qualifications.

The changes in production, marketing, and the labor market described above have become increasingly noticeable over the past decade in Egypt. Although there are no statistical studies on this topic, the number of individuals and micro-entities offering goods for sale through the Internet and social media has increased significantly. Similarly, the number of Egyptian content creators on platforms like YouTube and TikTok has grown considerably.

The stance of Egyptian state institutions towards these structural changes in the labor market can be described as largely negative. These institutions approach internet-based activities with a high degree of mistrust due to the perceived difficulty of exercising control over them. Consequently, their policies range from attempts to impose some level of control and subject these activities to the same regulations as traditional economic practices, to depriving practitioners of the protections afforded by laws to traditional practices.

Digital Transformation and Traditional Labor Market

What this paper refers to as the traditional labor market is one based on conventional employment relationships, where economic institutions—small, medium, and large—create jobs for workers in exchange for regular wages. This market receives the most attention from policymakers because it remains the most influential in general economic indicators, including those related to the rates of new job creation. Digital transformation has introduced significant changes to this market through its impact on production processes, business management, and banking operations.

The increasing reliance of businesses across various economic sectors on digital technologies has created numerous job opportunities for specialists who can adapt these technologies for different uses and those who operate and maintain hardware and software components. These professionals now have roles in many economic institutions that require their services daily for internal operations. Additionally, they are essential in new economic enterprises that offer various services related to the operation and management of digital technology requirements.

The rapid digital transformation leads to high growth rates in the ICT sector globally. This sector is currently the fastest-growing economic sector in Egypt, responsible for creating a significant number of new jobs annually. The sector’s growth rate in Egypt was about 16.3%, surpassing all other state sectors during the fiscal year 2021/2022.  It currently provides 280,000 jobs. However, the proportion of these jobs relative to the total size of the Egyptian labor market remains small, although this percentage has grown from 1.4% in 2009 to 1.9% in 2021.

While digital transformation directly contributes to the growth of employment opportunities in the ICT sector, its impact on job growth in other economic sectors is not uniformly positive. One of the economic advantages of digital transformation is making businesses more efficient in terms of human resource utilization. This means achieving higher returns using fewer resources, i.e., higher productivity with fewer workers. Consequently, in many fields of work, digital transformation leads to a reduction in the number of available jobs.

Moreover, digital transformation creates more employment opportunities for specialized and skilled labor. In contrast, it creates only a limited number of jobs for unskilled labor and significantly reduces the need for such labor.

For the Egyptian labor market, which has long relied on creating more jobs for unskilled labor, the general trend toward digital transformation results in a structural change in the labor market’s composition and requirements. This is expected to have significant negative impacts in the short term, at the very least. These impacts could extend into the long term if policies and measures are not implemented to provide labor suited to the new market requirements.

Digital Transformation and Labor Rights

Digital transformation can contribute to more efficient labor rights protection processes. This includes providing a greater ability to store and process data related to labor relations, which in turn allows competent authorities greater ability to oblige economic establishments to respect the legal rights of their workers.

Workers in Egypt suffer from a glaring weakness in monitoring the commitment of businesses in the private sector to legal rights. This includes:

  • Permanent legal contracts.
  • Minimum wage and social insurance.
  • Periodic and annual vacations.
  • Overtime hours recording and provision of fate compensation for them.

The use of digital technologies can help monitoring authorities to get information about how committed are businesses to guaranteeing these rights.

Additionally, digital transformation can provide workers with more flexible means of communication and collaboration, enabling them to form trade unions. Organizational efforts based on communication and information exchange through digital technologies can help workers in various fields better organize to defend their rights. They can also assist workers in sectors that previously lacked strong union formations in overcoming obstacles to creating such unions.

On the other hand, digital transformation allows many business institutions to rely on temporary contractual arrangements to obtain services from professionals in various fields. This may result in a decrease in the number of permanent jobs these institutions create for such professionals. Consequently, there is a reduction in the number of jobs subject to labor laws, as these positions are converted into contracts without guarantees for those performing the work.

Digital Transformation in Egypt and the Right to Healthcare

The right to health, in its basic form, includes the state’s commitment to providing the minimum necessary level of healthcare services to all its citizens. This poses a significant burden for developing and low-income countries due to the high cost of providing these services, which require highly specialized human resources, as well as material resources such as hospitals and health units, which entail considerable expenses. Healthcare also encompasses providing medications, taking necessary measures to combat epidemics, endemics, and chronic diseases, and spreading health awareness among citizens.

The healthcare sector in Egypt has witnessed a significant decline in recent decades, especially concerning government healthcare services and health insurance. Most citizens, particularly those with low incomes who cannot afford the expenses of private sector services, rely on these government services. Government hospitals, in particular, suffer from high rates of patient overcrowding, whether in residents or in emergency departments and specialized clinics, and a severe shortage of equipment, medication, and various medical supplies.

Digital transformation can help solve many chronic problems in Egypt’s healthcare sector, especially if digital technologies are utilized flexibly and creatively. When appropriate, using digital technologies to provide remote medical services can reduce overcrowding rates in hospitals. This can alleviate the pressure on reception and emergency departments in hospitals and also reduce the suffering of patients who need to travel to hospitals and wait for long periods.

Egypt is trending towards digitizing healthcare services, which gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some startups have already begun offering services such as chronic disease management by monitoring pharmaceutical needs and more using AI and GPS technologies. Such initiatives in the private sector are oriented toward providing a higher level of healthcare to a limited group of people who have the proper financial capacity.

The most prominent trend in the use of digital technologies in providing healthcare services is led by startups offering patient appointment booking services for doctor clinics through mobile phone applications. Additionally, several major pharmacy chains are moving towards providing medication purchase services through mobile phone applications.

While such services undoubtedly make it easier for some patients to access their healthcare needs, the sector benefiting from them remains limited to a portion of citizens. However, experiences can be utilized to attempt to provide similar services to a broader sector of citizens through low-cost healthcare services that enable low-income patients to access medical consultations and medication at low costs.


The clear reality is that the trend towards digital transformation dominates our world today. This transformation will continue, whether it happens spontaneously or as a result of government intervention to direct, regulate, and oversee it for greater benefit. In this context, the economic and social rights of Egyptian citizens will inevitably be affected by this shift. This impact is a mixture of positives and negatives. 

This paper has presented a definition of digital transformation as well as economic and social rights. It also discussed the positive and negative aspects of digital transformation in Egypt, particularly its impact on three key economic rights: the right to education, the right to health, and the right to work. 

In conclusion, there are immense opportunities to harness digital technologies to enhance Egyptian citizens’ enjoyment of their economic and social rights. However, this depends on the availability of a clear political will to guide digital transformation towards achieving this goal and making necessary structural changes to government services so that digital transformation can achieve the desired impact.