Poverty is a phenomenon affecting much of the world's population. Understanding poverty as a societal phenomenon and a condition based on "individual failure" undermines the importance of "the legal structures that create and perpetuate income imbalances both internationally to a nation-state and globally." Beyond being a purely legal problem, poverty has become a deliberating problem of class and a predominant condition of societal vulnerability that stands in the way of the enjoyment of basic fundamental rights that makes the emblems of equality and human dignity as stipulated in the law to be nothing but an expression of "rich man's law" rather than "human rights law". This paper examines the concept of poverty as both a condition of legal and societal vulnerability with primary focus on the poor in Egypt. Examining the living conditions of Egypt's poor, it is apparent that the law as a "neutral" instrument is not targeted towards achieving equality for all in practice. With inequality being central to its functioning, the capitalist system in Egypt has created a situation where the formally equal are both socially and materially unequal in the enjoyment of rights, benefits and most importantly protection. Poverty as a condition of vulnerability creates a population at the margins of society and of de facto law. It is up to the law to recognize the wide gap between the de jure equality and the de facto inequality created by the situation of poverty, which thus calls for international human rights law to recognize this situation of vulnerability that is in need of special rights. With international human rights recognizing special rights for undermined groups that are largely labeled as being "vulnerable" under the law, this paper calls for the recognition of "the poor" as a group in need of special rights to realize the true essence of equality for all before the law.


School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

Degree Name

MA in International Human Rights Law

First Advisor

Monforte, Tanya

Document Type



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