A Cairo court decreed on Tuesday that all government employees participating in strikes and sit-ins would be retired from their positions for “opposing islamic Sharia.”
The Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling claimed that the provisions of Islamic law are based on “fending off corruption.” The court declared strikes and sit-ins as contrary to Sharia, as they “cause harm to citizens.”
The verdict was also based on Legislative Decree 34 (2011), which was issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and which criminalizes violating “the freedom to work.” The first article of the decree mandates that any individual who behaves in a manner that leads to the hindrance or obstruction of work at any state institution, public or private facility shall receive a prison sentence and a fine ranging between LE20,000 and LE50,000.
Tuesday’s verdict caused widespread outrage, ranging from anger at the court’s justifications for its verdict to mockery of the ruling.
Lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) Mohamed Adel Soliman described the verdict as unprecedented in the history of the Egyptian judiciary.
“It’s common knowledge that the Supreme Administrative Court has nearly always issued verdicts protecting rights and freedoms, even during the period when businessmen were at the top of the political regime,” he said.
According to Soliman, this verdict opposes all previously established principles of the court. “In the past, we used to refer to the court’s verdict in the case of Damanhour’s textile workers, which gave workers the right to strike and didn’t restrict them, on the basis of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Egypt signed. Right now, we have this verdict which almost serves as a law.”
Soliman clarified, “Of course the court was mistaken in its interpretation of the law and the provisions of Sharia. If we look at the history of the judiciary, we find that the Emergency Supreme State Security Court rightfully interpreted the laws in the case against railway workers in 1986, acquitting them of all charges on the basis that the law and constitution grant citizens the right to hold strikes and sit-ins.”
He continued, “Regarding the “fending off corruption” argument which the court mentioned, things are more complicated than it claimed. Strikers and participants in sit-ins have demands, and the natural reaction should be responding to these demands, which surely aim to benefit the group, and not just an individual.”
The court maintained that the provisions of Islamic Sharia view such behaviour as mutiny against presidential authority, and that “obeying the president is mandatory.”
It also restricted the rights of employees to object to the performance of their employers, using “means that align with the nature of an employee’s relationship to his employer, which should be kept within the limits of decency and good behavior,” he added.
Lawyer Malek Adly agreed with Soliman’s assessment, adding, “This is the first time the Supreme Administrative Court decides to twist the law and interpret it in the favor of the state at the expense of the self-evident rights of citizens.”
Adly found it odd that the same court issued a verdict a few months ago suspending a sentence against the head of the Quarry Workers Syndicate in Assiut for holding a sit-in. “It’s a clear paradox,” he said.
Leftist writer Ayman Abdel Moati, however, disagreed with Adly’s opinion.
Moati told Mada Masr, “Observers of the judicial situation in Egypt used to view the Supreme Administrative Court in a different way from other courts. We cannot forget that the same court issued a verdict to return ownership of privitized companies to the state. In reality, this court is not completely isolated from the general political situation. Tuesday’s verdict is a clear indication of how the judiciary is affected by state policies.”
The court’s verdict also mentioned that late President Anwar Sadat had established the conditions for the implementation of the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights, namely that the application of the principles of the covenant must align with the provisions of Islamic Sharia.
Adly said, “The state’s usual reservations regarding what it deems as a conflict of interest between international agreements and Islamic Sharia were all restricted to issues of sexual freedom and womens’ rights in the past. We never heard of a situation where a strike or a sit-in was considered to be in conflict with Islamic Sharia.”
Head of the legal unit at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) Alaa Abdel Tawwab told Mada Masr that “The verdict is undoubtedly rife with problematic issues, the least of which is relying on Law 34 (2011), which specifically mentions that it is only valid during a state of emergency.”
“This is not the case for this verdict, which also contradicts international agreements that the Egyptian Constitution recognizes as having a similar power to domestic laws, once Egypt signs them,” he added.
Tawwab clarified that the verdict issued by the Administrative Court is final and cannot be appealed.
According to him, the only solution is for the same court to issue an opposing verdict admitting that workers possess the right to strike. The two verdicts can then be referred to the Unifying Principles Court to look into the matter.
“However, right now, the verdict has the same power as a law that punishes strikers and protesters by placing them in early retirement,” he concluded.