Since July 3, 2013, Egypt’s human rights record has been widely criticized both domestically and internationally. Over the course of the past year, a host of laws and decrees have been issued to restrict rights and limit freedoms.
This drastic decline in rights and freedoms took place during the 11-month administration of former interim President Adly Mansour. The ex-chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court is responsible for issuing dozens of presidential decrees, while hundreds of ministerial decrees were also issued during his 330 days in office.
This article will focus on the most prominent pieces of legislation affecting basic rights and liberties issued since last year, particularly Mansour’s decrees.
On the anniversary of Morsi’s ouster earlier this month, Amnesty International claimed that Egypt is “failing on all levels” in terms of human rights, while Human Rights Watch wrote that Egypt is witnessing its “worst situation in decades” in terms of the condition of rights and liberties in the country.
In 2014, Egypt ranked second after China for the highest number of death sentences issued worldwide. Sinking even further, this year Egypt was also ranked the third deadliest country for journalists, just behind Syria and Iraq.
Estimates suggest that somewhere from several hundred to potentially more than 1,400 opposition elements have been killed on the streets by security forces, while according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, an unprecedented number of civilians have also been arrested or prosecuted this year, amounting to well over 41,163.
Moreover, 80 civilians are reported to have died in the custody of security forces this year.
“I am not alone in my perception that interim President Adly Mansour is the worst president Egypt has had since July 1952,” says human rights lawyer Gamal Eid. “His rule has been characterized by a squandering of justice, and a sharp increase in violations, even though he is a judge.”
“Many decrees issued by Adly Mansour and the Ministry of Justice have further granted the military institution wide ranging rights, additional lands, increased clout and sovereign powers,” says Eid, and “due process rights guaranteed in the Constitution are almost entirely ignored” by prosecutors and judges.
The lawyer explains that ruling authorities and their security forces are immune from trial and their budgets remain concealed, while there is practically no oversight or accountability for the systematic violations of rights.
Of the few trials of police personnel for abuses, nearly all were eventually acquitted.
On November 24, 2013, Mansour issued Presidential Decree 107/2013: Law Regulating Right of Assembly, Processions and Peaceful Protest. Commonly known as the Protest Law, this is likely the most controversial piece of legislation passed since July 3 last year.
This law has been used to stifle any unauthorized protest or assembly involving more than 10 people, thus highly restricting the mobility of protest marches.
Moreover, it grants police sweeping powers to forcefully disperse protesters at will using teargas, water cannons, batons or rubber pellets, even if authorization was granted for the protest action. Authorization is also granted to arrest anyone involved.
Furthermore, this law imposes a time restriction of 24 hours on any such assembly, thus prohibiting all forms of occupations, sit-ins or sleep-ins. In addition, the law bans any form of protest which would obstruct production, and thus can be used to crush labor strikes as well.
Those found to violate this law may be issued fines of up to LE300,000 and/or prison sentences ranging from two years to more than seven years.
Amnesty International claims that the law represents “a serious setback that poses a grave threat to freedom of assembly and gives security forces a free rein to use excessive force, including lethal force, against demonstrators.”
In televised interviews conducted in May, Sisi announced that he would uphold the Protest Law as is when he became president.
This law has been used to arrest and prosecute not only Islamist protesters, but also secular opposition activists, striking workers and participants in popular protests.
On June 11, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced 25 secular protesters to 15 years in prison for violating this law.
According to Eid, the Protest Law goes hand-in-hand with new judicial norms that disregard defendants’ rights to due process.
On December 25, the Muslim Brotherhood was dealt an unprecedented blow. Under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, the Cabinet classified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. This decree is not registered in the Official Gazette, however.
In doing so, Beblawi’s government brought into effect a wide array of measures to further crackdown on Egypt’s largest political opposition force — the Muslim Brotherhood, its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party and its associated businesses and interests.
On September 25, Mansour issued Presidential Decree 83/2013 allowing for the indefinite detention of prisoners if they have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment. In accordance with this decree, provisional detentions of such defendants can now be renewed by appeals courts every 45 days at will, with the previous time limit of two years detention being scrapped from the law.
Laws tailored For Sisi?
On January 27, Mansour issued Presidential Decree 38/2014, which promoted Sisi from the rank of general to that of field marshal — the highest military rank in Egypt, reserved for generals who have commanded troops in battle — even though Sisi has no real combat experience.
Sisi was promoted to the rank of field marshal in the beginning of February, and announced his presidential bid the following month. On March 26, Sisi — who was serving as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, minister of defense, minister of military production, chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and deputy prime minister — officially declared that he was stepping down from these posts and would be running for the highest office in the country.
On the same day, the Cabinet issued Decree 513/2014 accepting Sisi’s resignation from these posts and opening the way to his presidential nomination.
On March 29, the Presidential Election Commission issued Decree 9/2014, Regulating Electoral Campaign Finances. This state-appointed commission raised the ceiling on campaign expenditures from LE12 million — the limit during the 2012 presidential election — to LE20 million.
Furthermore, with less than one month in office, the interim president moved to raise the basic presidential salary from LE2,000 to LE21,000, in addition to another LE21,000 in the form of bonuses, thus amending a 1987 law which had fixed the presidential salary at LE2,000 per month.
After taking office, Sisi pledged to give up half of his income as a donation to Egypt, but this would still render him the highest paid president in the country’s history.
Sisi has pushed government officials to donate their salaries in a similar fashion, and to keep the maximum wage for state administrators and public servants capped at LE42,000, or 35 times the minimum wage.
For nearly seven years now, Egypt’s working class has been demanding a minimum wage of LE1,200 per month, while others have raised their demand for a monthly wage of LE1,500.
Moreover, since 2011, labor activists, labor NGOs, professional syndicates and independent trade unions have been calling for a maximum wage of no more than 15 times the minimum, or between LE18,000 and LE22,500.
But according to Eid, “Neither the minimum nor maximum wages will properly be implemented or enforced.”
Indeed, while on January 15 Beblawi issued Cabinet Decree 22/2014, Augmenting Wages of Civil Servants, this minimum wage of LE1,200 was made available to just under 4.9 million employees from an aggregate of some 7 million workers in the public sector, out of a total national workforce of some 27 million.
This failure to provide the minimum wage even among public sector workers led to a renewed wave of labor strikes and industrial actions from February to April, 2014.
Since the 2011 uprising, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions has issued numerous statements denouncing the “authorities’ failures” for hastily issuing laws that seek to outlaw protests and strikes, while simultaneously dragging their feet in terms of issuing new trade union legislation to replace the restrictive Law 35/1976, or a new labor law to replace Law 12/2003, so as to protect the rights and organizational freedoms of workers and their labor organizations.
Another one of Mansour’s last decrees issued on May 21, Presidential Decree 39/2014, was to extend the term of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) by another year. ETUF elections have been postponed several times since October-November 2011, when they were due to be held. This has further facilitated the government’s appointment of the ETUF’s leaders without any form of elections. The ETUF is the country’s oldest and largest trade union federation, claiming a membership of over 4 million nationwide.
Constitution: Rights and violations
Drafted by interim authorities after July 3, 2013, the Constitution passed in January 2014 includes a host of new provisions protecting personal freedoms and basic rights.
However, it also upholds several of the worrisome articles carried over from the Muslim Brotherhood-drafted Constitution of 2012, with allowances for military tribunals of civilians (Article 204), secrecy of the Armed Forces’ budget (Article 203), forced labor (Article 12) and child labor (Article 80).
“This Constitution includes many progressive articles, which are typically ignored by authorities,” claims Eid, while its repressive articles are swiftly upheld.
For example, Article 52 of this new Constitution strictly prohibits torture — yet reports of torture, police abuse, sexual assault, rape and even deaths in police custody abound.
In Cairo’s Matareya police station, three detainees are reported to have died in custody during the month of May alone. Nobody has been brought to trial for these deaths.
In June, judges acquitted four policemen who tear gassed 37 detainees in a prisoner truck, resulting in their deaths.
Eid explained that while Article 40 of the Constitution protects individuals from unwarranted searches and seizures, this has not keep security forces from violating it.
“Despite the law and the Constitution, police still confiscated 1,000 copies of our human rights publication,” he points out.
Following much debate and controversy, on April 2 Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s government agreed to import coal for use in Egyptian industries, and specifically to fuel the cement industry, in light of the country’s natural gas shortages.
However, as environmental activist Ahmed al-Droubi, coordinator of the Egyptians Against Coal group, points out, this decision has the weight of a Cabinet decree but was never actually registered in the Official Gazette.
“Therefore, we have no details regarding the government’s plans for the importation, use or regulation of coal in industries. We don’t know if the government will approve the use of coal in industries other than cement,” says Droubi.
Beyond a news release from Mehleb’s Cabinet posted on Facebook, little is known about the government’s plans to use this highly polluting fossil fuel in the cement industry, which is already one of top polluting industries nationwide.
According to Droubi, the use of coal in cement or other industries will have a negative, and likely an irreversible impact not only on the environment, but also on public health, residential rights, labor rights, tourism and the economy as a whole.
“Coal has been imported and used in the cement industry prior to the Cabinet’s vote,” Droubi explains. Indeed, coal imports first began arriving in the Alexandrian Port of Dehkeila in October 2013.
“Coal will be continue to be imported and used regardless of the whether there is a Cabinet decree regulating it or not,” the activist argues.
“Over the past year, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs has embarked on some worthwhile projects, such as solid waste management,” he concedes. But as for worthwhile environmental decrees, he claims he has not encountered any since July 3, 2013.
One of the most eagerly anticipated and welcomed decrees issued by Mansour on June 5, just three days before the end of his interim presidency, addressed the nationwide problem of sexual harassment and assaults against women.
Presidential Decree 50/2014, Amending Provisions of the Penal Code, imposes fines ranging between LE3,000 to LE5,000 for those caught in the act of sexual harassment or assault, whether by gestures, words or actions. Furthermore, such assailants are to be sentenced to not less than six months in prison.
Additional penalties of imprisonment for one year, and fines ranging from LE5,000 to LE10,000 will be imposed on repeat offenders, or for those found guilty of stalking.
However, this decree did not prevent mob sexual assaults on women in Tahrir Square during Sisi’s inauguration on June 8, when several women were reportedly assaulted or raped in or near the square.
In response, the Ministry of Interior claims that it arrested seven men involved in these attacks, and submitted them to prosecution. Other sexual assailants have since been arrested in other incidents, and also handed over for prosecution.
Eid welcomes Mansour’s decree and efforts to counter sexual assaults against women.
However, he explains, “There have been some worthy amendments made to some laws. Yet in terms of new legislation we’ve been watching the government and waiting for any progressive laws to be issued, we haven’t come across such laws this year.”
On June 16, Sisi established via Presidential Decree 187/2014 the Supreme Legislative Reform Committee composed of ministers, lawyers, professors of law and religious scholars. This legislative committee is presided over by Mehleb, and is to serve as the centralized body by which laws and decrees are issued until a new parliament is voted in.