Human rights in Egypt

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Most sources agree that Egypt is a gross violator of human rights. Authorities have effectively banned protests and freedom of expression, imprisoned its opponents, usually after unfair trials, outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, and expanded its anti-terrorism powers. Torture, forced disappearances, and deaths in custody are not rare occurrences. The government continues to persecute NGOs and journalists. Women and members of religious minorities are subject to discrimination. People are arrested for “debauchery” and sexual orientation.

Due to an insurgency in Northern Sinai, the army has enacted curfews and evicted communities from their homes along the border with Gaza in order to restrict the flow of arms. A new constitution was adopted in January 2014. The document, in principle, improved protections for women’s rights, freedom of expression, and other civil liberties. However, these rights have not been enforced in practice.[1]

There is a critical lack of accountability, with most human rights violations being committed with impunity. In a December 2016 report, a panel of UN experts concluded that: “The continuous persecution of women human rights defenders such as Azza Soliman and Mozn Hassan... establishes and reinforces a pattern of systematic repression of the Egyptian women’s rights movement, aiming to silence and intimidate those working tirelessly for justice, human rights and equality”[2] On July 24, 2018, a hearing was held before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, on security, human rights, and reform in Egypt.[3]

Demonstrators holding the Rabia sign in solidarity with the victims of the August 2013 Rabaa massacre of pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo.

Rights and liberties ratings[edit]

Freedom House, the "independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world," rated Egypt "not free" in 2011. It gave Egypt a "Political Rights Score" of 6 and "Civil Liberties Score" of 5 on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.[4] (Freedom House’s office was among the offices of NGOs in Cairo raided by Egyptian security forces 29 December 2011 for "violation of Egyptian laws including not having permits."[5] The raid was condemned by Freedom House as "an unprecedented assault on international civil society organizations and their local Egyptian partners."[6])

In 2000 the related Center for Religious Freedom placed Egypt as partly free at 5; this put them in line with Muslim nations like Turkey and Indonesia.[7] Reporters Without Borders placed Egypt between Bhutan and the Côte d'Ivoire in press freedom.

See List of indices of freedom for more information on these ratings and how they are determined.

Freedom of speech[edit]

Nabil Maghraby, one of the oldest opinion prisoners in Egypt, was released from prison in 2012, but arrested again in 2013.[8]

The Press Law, Publications Law, and the penal code regulate and govern the press. According to these, criticism of the president can be punished by fines or imprisonment. Freedom House deems Egypt to have an unfree press, although mentions they have a diversity of sources.[9] Reporters Without Borders 2006 report indicates continued harassment and, in three cases, imprisonment, of journalists.[10] They place Egypt 143rd out of 167 nations on press freedoms.[11] The two sources agree that promised reforms on the subject have been disappointingly slow or uneven in implementation. Freedomhouse had a slightly more positive assessment indicating that an increased freedom to discuss controversial issues has occurred.[12]

According to Al, "in the past few years, independent Egyptian newspapers have emerged that have proved willing to hold the rich and powerful elite to account, right up to the presidency. The old state-owned newspapers are beginning to lose their readership."[13] In July 2006, the Egyptian parliament passed a new press law. The new law no longer allows journalists to be imprisoned for comments against the government, but continues to allow fines to be levied against such journalists. The independent press and the Muslim Brotherhood protested this law as repressive.[13]

Although the Egyptian Government rarely bans foreign newspapers, in September 2006, Egypt banned editions of Le Figaro and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, because of their publication of articles deemed insulting to Islam. According to Al Jazeera, the German newspaper contained an article authored by the German historian Egon Flaig, "looking at how the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was a successful military leader during his lifetime". Al Jazeera quotes the Egyptian minister of information as saying that he, "would not allow any publication that insults the Islamic religion or calls for hatred or contempt of any religion to be distributed inside Egypt."[14]

Following the Arab Spring there was hope for greater freedom of speech in Egypt. However, as of February 2012, television journalist Tim Sebastian reported a "re-emergence of fear" in Egypt.

Once again, I was told, Egyptians are starting to look over their shoulder to see who might be listening, to be careful what they say on the phone, to begin considering all over again who they can and cannot trust.

“The intelligence services are extremely active,” says a well-known commentator.[15]

The United States State Department voiced concern in August 2012 about freedom of the press in Egypt, following a move by the authorities to put two critics of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on trial. The State Department also criticized Egypt for actions against Al-Dustour, a small independent newspaper, and the Al-Faraeen channel, both of which have criticized Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.[16]

In July 2016, Egyptian security forces stormed the home of Liliana Daoud, a Lebanese-British journalist, and whisked her to the airport. Without advance warning, Ms. Daoud found herself on a plane to Lebanon. Before her deportation, Ms. Daoud was fired from her job at local private channel just a few weeks after a pro-Sisi businessman bought it.

According to human rights organizations, Egyptian authorities have banned over 500 people, most of them are activists, from travel at Egyptian airports since July 2013.[17]

Amnesty International said Egyptian authorities are increasingly using arbitrary and excessive probation measures as a way to harass activists. They have been imposed extreme conditions in some cases, where activists released from prison forced to spend up to 12 hours a day in a police station. Police probation in Egypt requires released prisoners and detainees to spend a certain number of hours at a police station daily or weekly. Amnesty International has documented at least 13 cases in which probation measures were excessive or were arbitrarily imposed against activists. In some cases, activists are detained for a second time as a probation ways. Amnesty International called the Egyptian authorities to lift all arbitrary probation measures and order the immediate and unconditional release of activists who have been detained.[18]

Freedom of religion[edit]

See also: Persecution of Bahá'ís in Egypt and Egyptian identification card controversy

Islam is the official state religion of Egypt. According to a 2003 US State Department report, "members of the non-Muslims worship without harassment.[19] The government has made efforts toward greater religious pluralism and Christians are a significant minority who have served in government. Coptic Christmas (January 7) has been a national holiday since 2002.

That said, intolerance at a cultural and political level remains according to two US-based sources.[12][20] Islam is the state religion and the government controls the major mosques. There have been disputes between Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria and the government. Christians have found the building and repair of churches, however, to be problematic. Government regulations dating from Ottoman times require non-Muslims to obtain presidential decrees before building or repair a place of worship. Although in 1999 President Mubarak issued a decree making repairs of all places of worship subject to a 1976 civil construction code, in practice Christians report difficulty obtaining permits. Once permits have been obtained, Christians report being prevented from performing repairs or building by local authorities.[19] However, new legislation was passed in September 2016 that now grants permits to churches for rebuilding regardless of the number of Christians in the neighborhood, a law that has been applauded by various Christian Members of Parliament.[21]

Human Rights Watch also indicates issues of concern. For example, they discuss how the law does not recognize conversion from Islam to other religions.[22] According to a poll by the PewResearchCenter in 2010, 84 percent of all Egyptian Muslims polled supported the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion.[23] Human Rights Watch also mentions strict laws against insulting Islam, Christianity or Judaism and detention for unorthodox sects of Islam, such as Ahmadiyya.[24] In 1960, Bahá'í institutions and community activities were banned by Presidential decree of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. All Bahá'í community properties, including Bahá'í centers, libraries, and cemeteries, were subsequently confiscated. Bahá'ís are also not allowed to hold identity cards, and are thus, among other things, not able to own property, attend university, have a business, obtain birth, marriage and death certificates. This ban had not been rescinded as of 2003. In 2001 18 Egyptian Bahá'ís were arrested on "suspicion of insulting religion" and detained several months without being formally charged.[19]

On 6 April 2006, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of recognising the right of Egyptian Bahá'ís to have their religion acknowledged on official documents."[25] However, on 15 May 2006, after a government appeal, the ruling was suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court.[26] On December 16, 2006, only after one hearing, the Supreme Administrative Council of Egypt ruled against the Bahá'ís and stating that the government may not recognize the Bahá'í Faith in official identification numbers.[27] The ruling left Bahá'ís unable to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country unless they lie about their religion, which conflicts with Bahá'í religious principle.[28] Bahá'ís cannot obtain identification cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, or passports.[27] Without those documents, they cannot be employed, educated, treated in hospitals, or vote, among other things.[28] In 2008, a Cairo court ruled that Bahá'ís may obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents.[29]

An Egyptian convert from Islam to Christianity, Mohammed Beshoy Hegazy has recently sued the Egyptian government to change his religion from Islam to Christianity on his official ID card. Earlier this year, Egyptian courts rejected an attempt by a group of Christians who had previously converted to Islam but then returned to Christianity and then sought to restore their original religion on their ID cards. The case is currently before an appeals court.[30] The most recent violations of human rights towards Christians include the Nag Hammadi massacre which occurred in January 2010,[31] and the 2011 Alexandria bombing which occurred on January 1, 2011.[32]

In October 2012, a number of legal cases against Egyptians, particularly Christians, were filed because the defendants allegedly showed contempt for Islam. The large number of Islamists on the panel to draft the Egyptian constitution after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian Revolution has led to concern by non-Muslims and liberals. Rights groups have said that Islamic conservatives have felt emboldened by the success of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi Nour, and other Islamic groups in the Egyptian elections, and have been more bold in imposing their standards on other Egyptians. In one example, an Egyptian teacher cut the hair of two 12-year-old students because they didn't wear a Muslim headscarf.[33]

The Amnesty International published a report denouncing the silence of the Egyptian Authority on the attacks committed by the so-called Islamic State against the Coptic Christians in North Sinai. Between 30 January and 23 February, seven Coptic Christians were murdered there. Before the last attack in February, a Sinai armed group of ISIS broadcast a video message threatening the lives of Copts and claiming responsibility for bombing of a Cairo church in December 2016 that killed at least 25 people. Due to the latest attacks in Egypt, at least 150 Coptic Christian families have fled al-Arish, seeking shelter in the neighborhood of Ismailia. As the report mentioned, Majid Halim fled al-Arish to Cairo with seven of his family members after his father, who runs a stationery shop in al-Arish, had received many threats over the past two years, and his photo had been published on Facebook pages alongside a message inciting violence against Coptic Christians and demanding that they had to leave the town. On 22 February 2017, Nabila’s son in law, Sameh Mansour, was told by his neighbor that two masked men came to his home and knocked on his door while he was out making arrangements the burial of his two relatives murdered by ISIS. That same day one of his neighbors, Kamel Abu Romany, who lived 150 meters away from Mansour’s house, was also killed by armed gunmen. Mansour, therefore, fled with his family leaving his house and his job. Now he lives in temporary accommodation in Ismailia, and tries to place his young children in new schools in Ismailia.[34]

Status of religious and ethnic minorities[edit]

From December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000, 21 Coptic Christians were killed by an angry mob in Al-Kosheh.[35] Al-Ahram in part cites economic resentment as the cause,[36] but discusses Muslims who condemned the action. A Coptic organization[37] saw it as a sign of official discrimination. In 2005 a riot against Copts occurred in Alexandria.

Privately owned and government-owned newspapers publish anti-Semitic articles and editorials.[19]

On May 19, 2016, a prominent Coptic worker for Amnesty International, Mina Thabet, was arrested for 'inciting terrorist attacks on police stations, despite reports of paltry evidence.[38][39]

Status of women[edit]

The Ministry of Health issued a decree in 1996 declaring female circumcision unlawful and punishable under the Penal Code,[40] and according to UNICEF the prevalence of women who have had this procedure has slowly declined from a baseline of 97% of women aged 15–49 since 1995.[41] According to a report in the British Medical Journal BMJ, "[t]he issue came to prominence...when the CNN television news channel broadcast a programme featuring a young girl being circumcised by a barber in Cairo. ...Shocked at the images shown worldwide, the Egyptian president was forced to agree to push legislation through the People's Assembly to ban the operation".[42] Despite the ban, the procedure continues to be practiced in Egypt[43] and remains controversial. In 2006, Al-Azhar University lecturers Dr. Muhammad Wahdan and Dr. Malika Zarrar debated the topic in a televised debate. Dr. Zarrar, who objected to the procedure, said..."Circumcision is always brutal...I consider this to be a crime, in terms of both religious and civil law". Dr. Wahdan defended the partial removal of the clitoris for girls who Muslim doctors determine require it, saying it prevents sexual arousal in women in whom it would be inappropriate such as unmarried girls and spinsters. He cited Muslim custom, Islamic law, and a study reporting that the procedure is a determinant of chastity in Egyptian girls. He also blamed the controversy about the procedure on the fact that the "West wants to impose its culture and philosophy on us".[44] The ban was controversial in the medical community as well. In the debates leading up to the ban, a gynecologist at Cairo University, said that "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching," and, "called on the government to implement training programmes for doctors to carry out the operation under anaesthesia. Another doctor reportedly said, "If my daughter is not circumcised no man is going to marry her." Other MDs opposed the ban stating that the, "trauma of the operation remains with the girl for the rest of her life,..."[disputing] the argument that the procedure prevents women from "moral deviation," and argued that it is not, "a legitimate medical practice, and when it is conducted by untrained people it frequently results in infection and other medical problems..."[42]

In 2017 Cairo was voted the most dangerous megacity for women with more than 10 million inhabitants in a poll by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Sexual harassment was described as occurring on a daily basis.[45]

Child labor[edit]

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor's report Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Egypt stated that "children in Egypt are engaged in child labor, including in agriculture and domestic service" and that "the Government has not addressed gaps in its legal and enforcement framework to protect children". In fact, statistics in the report show that 6.7% of Egyptian children aged 5 to 14 are working children and that 55% of them work in agriculture.[46] In December 2014, the department's List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor mentioned 2 goods produced under such working conditions: cotton and limestone. Quarrying limestone has been determined by national law as a hazardous activity.

Status of homosexuals[edit]

Homosexuality is not technically illegal in Egypt, but is considered taboo. Until recently, the government denied that homosexuality existed in Egypt, but recently official crackdowns have occurred for reasons felt to include the desire to appease Islamic clerics, to distract from economic issues, or as a cover-up for closet homosexuals in high places. In 2002, 52 men were rounded up on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub, by police, where they were beaten and tortured. Eventually 29 were acquitted and 23 were convicted for "debauchery and defaming Islam" and sentenced for up to five years in prison with hard labor. Since the trial was held in a state security court, no appeal was allowed. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party rising in popularity in Egypt, condemns homosexuality, saying, "From my religious view, all the religious people, in Christianity, in Judaism, condemn homosexuality," he says. "It is against the whole sense in Egypt. The temper in Egypt is against homosexuality." A government spokesman said the Queen Boat incident was not a violation of human rights but, "actually an interpretation of the norms of our society, the family values of our society. And no one should judge us by their own values. And some of these values in the West are actually in decay."[47]

In 2006, Human Rights Watch released a 144-page report called In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice in Egypt's Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct. The report stated that "The detention and torture of hundreds of men reveals the fragility of legal protections for individual privacy and due process for all Egyptians." Egyptian human rights organizations including the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Egyptian Association Against Torture, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Nadim Centre for the Psychological Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information also helped HRW to launch the report. A spokesman for Human Rights Watch stated, "when we talk about the situation of homosexuals in Egypt, we don't describe the Queen Boat Case, but we describe a continuing practice of arresting and torturing gay men." A Cairo court sentenced 21 men to prison in 2003 after it found them guilty of "habitual debauchery", in a case named after the nightclub they were arrested in, the Queen Boat. He also pointed out that, under the pretext of medical exams, the Forensic Medical Authority contributed to the torture of the defendants."[48]

According to a report in the Egyptian press, "the government accuses human rights groups of importing a Western agenda that offends local religious and cultural values. Rights groups deny this claim, but independent critics argue that it's not void of some truth. Citing the failure of these groups to create a grass-roots movement, critics point to "imported" issues such as female genital mutilation and gay rights as proof that many human rights groups have a Western agenda that seems more important than pressing issues that matter to ordinary Egyptians—such as environmental, labour, housing and educational rights," and says that the issues brought up at the press conference to launch the above report, "reminded some in the audience of US efforts to impose its own vision of democracy in Egypt as part of the US administration's plan for a Greater Middle East."[48]

Status of Palestinians[edit]

Palestinians who lived in the Gaza Strip when Israel came into being were issued with Egyptian travel documents which allowed them to move outside of the Gaza Strip, and Egypt. Their status as refugees has been deteriorating rapidly since the 1970s. After 1948 they were allowed rights similar to Egyptian nationals, and in 1963 they were allowed to own agricultural land, nor did they have to acquire work visas. In 1964 the government decreed that Palestinian refugees had to obtain an exit visa, an entry visa or a transit visa. In 1976 a law was passed stating that no foreigners could own real property, although Palestinians were later granted the right to own agricultural land. In 1978 the ability of Palestinians to work in the civil service was revoked. Gradually the process of attaining travel documents for Palestinians has become more difficult.[49] Jordanian Palestinians who hold two year passports are now required to obtain entry and exit visas to travel to Egypt.

President Anwar Sadat enacted a law banning Palestinian children from attending public schools. He enacted Law 48, banning Palestinian workers from employment in the public sector. Palestinians came under surveillance by Egyptian security services after the 1978 assassination Egyptian Minister of Culture Yusuf al-Sibai by the Palestinian terrorist group Abu Nidal.[50]

Egypt has been accused of practicing apartheid against Palestinian residents by refusing to grant them the opportunity to become citizens.[51]

Conditions for detainees and torture[edit]

According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights in 2011, 701 cases of torture at Egyptian police stations have been documented since 1985, with 204 victims dying of torture and mistreatment.[52] The group contends that crimes of torture occur in Egyptian streets in broad daylight, at police checkpoints, and in people's homes in flagrant violation of the people's dignity and freedom.`[53]

A 2005 report of the National Council for Human Rights, chaired by former UN secretary-general and former Egyptian deputy prime minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali, cites instances of torture of detainees in Egyptian prisons and describes the deaths while in custody of 9 individuals as, "regrettable violations of the right to life." The report called for "an end to [a] state of emergency, which has been in force since 1981, saying it provided a loophole by which the authorities prevent some Egyptians enjoying their right to personal security."

According to an Al-Jazeera report, the Council asked government departments to respond to complaints, but "The Interior Ministry, which runs the police force and the prisons, ...answered [only] three out of 75 torture allegations." The council also recommended that President Hosni Mubarak, "issue a decree freeing bad health."[54]

In February 2017, Amnesty International's report accused the Egyptian authority of violating human rights. On February 9, 2017, El Nadeem Center for rehabilitation of victims of violence was shut down. The shutdown of the center was considered another shocking attack on civil society since it offers supporting victims of torture and other ill-treatment and families of people subjected to enforced disappearances in the country, which should have been given support not punishment over carrying out its values. As the report suggested, the shutdown of the center follows a year of harassment by the authorities on human rights activists; yet the center made a judicial appeal against the decision. The police carried out the latest raid without waiting for the outcome of this appeal, however.[55]

Extrajudicial executions[edit]

Many cases of deaths in custody, forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions have been reported in Egypt.[56][57][58][59][60]

Historical situation[edit]

The following chart shows Egypt's ratings since 1972 in the Freedom in the World reports, published annually by Freedom House. A rating of 1 is "free"; 7, "not free".[61]1

International treaties[edit]

Egypt's stances on international human rights treaties are as follows: