The famous chant of “bread, freedom and social justice” continued to resonate in people’s heads as the 18-day uprising in 2011 drew to an end.
Since then, four successive administrations have issued legislation, mostly through the executive branch of government in the absence of Parliament for the better part of the past five years. These new laws took varying levels of distance from the slogan of bread, freedom and social justice, which at times did not transcend the poetry of a revolutionary chant.
With the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took charge of the country. After annulling the 1973 Constitution, the new rulers swiftly issued a constitutional declaration that included about 60 articles, including new criteria for the nomination to the presidency and limiting the presidential term to four years, renewable only once. The declaration also stipulated complete judicial supervision of the elections.
Laws of political participation, the formation of parties and the organization of elections were among the most important acts issued by SCAF during its time in power, relieving many restrictions imposed by the Mubarak regime.
New bills organizing political participation and elections allowed Egyptians abroad to vote for the first time, and granted people the ability to form a new party simply by notifying the authorities, without having to wait for authorization. This cleared the way for the formation of several political parties, foremost among them the Freedom and Justice Party — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — as well the Salafi Nour Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Dostour Party, the Popular Socialist Alliance and the Free Egyptians Party.
The political isolation law forbade any person charged with corruption under Mubarak from running for or holding public office, or exercising any political rights — whether voting or nominating a candidate — for a period of five years.
These laws looked like a step forward, but SCAF also passed a highly controversial bill that criminalized strikes and sit-ins, igniting the anger of wide sectors of workers, independent unions and revolutionary and youth movements.
The law stated that “any person who during the state of emergency organized a rally or an activity that resulted in obstruction or hindering the work of state institutions, any public authority or any public or private work institution will be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine. Any person who agitated or called or advocated, verbally or in writing or in any public way for the above mentioned acts, will be punished by imprisonment for a maximum period of one year and/or a fine between LE100 and LE500.”
Another law introduced a few days before the 2012 Parliament began sessions focused on Al-Azhar. A statement by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued at the time argued, “Although the law grants some independence for the biggest Islamic institution in Egypt by withdrawing the authority to appoint the head of Al-Azhar from the president, the law stipulated the continued chairmanship of [Grand Sheikh] Ahmed al-Tayyeb, who was appointed by Mubarak, granted him a lifelong term and held that he alone should form the first committee for senior scholars, a matter which reinforces the old balance of power inside the institution. “
In November 2012, freshly elected President Mohamed Morsi issued a supplementary constitutional declaration that proved to be the decisive nail in the coffin of his administration.
The move came after a major crisis between representatives of the Brotherhood in the 2012 committee tasked with drafting the Constitution on the one hand, and opposition political groups on the other. The crisis halted the Constitution-drafting process and threatened the fate of the Constituent Assembly.
The November 22 Constitutional Declaration expelled then-Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who had been appointed by Mubarak. The Brotherhood considered Mahmoud an obstacle to the implementation of justice post-January 25, and Morsi appointed Judge Talaat Abdallah in his place. The declaration also granted impunity for the Constituent Assembly and protected Morsi’s decisions from judicial contestation.
The declaration was decried as a harsh blow to the independence of the judiciary and an embodiment of Morsi’s wish to control both the executive and legislative authorities, resulting in a wave of demonstrations against the Brotherhood.
Morsi also issued a law for the protection of the revolution, which ordered a retrial in all cases implicating prominent figures of the Mubarak regime, whether they were accused of financial or political corruption or of killing demonstrators. But observers said the law had many gaps which emptied it of any substance, since the retrials would be granted only on the condition of new evidence — a condition many said could not be fulfilled. The law also stipulated the formation of a special prosecution office to investigate these cases, as well other cases related to blocking roads or insulting the president. The law granted the prosecutor general the authority to detain defendants in such cases for six months pending investigations.
In July 2012, Morsi issued a law granting state employees a monthly allowance amounting to 15 percent of their basic wage. The allowance would not be considered part of the basic wage, was not subject to any taxes or fees and was granted to both permanent and temporary state employees.
Morsi issued a similar decree increasing pensions for public employees by 15 percent, with a minimum of LE50 per month and no maximum cap, to be considered part of the pension and subject to all its regulations. He also passed a law increasing pensions of military personnel by the same percentage, as well as another law increasing monthly allowances for university faculty members and their assistants.
Morsi’s Deed Act stated that property deeds would henceforth be treated as “official documents equal in value to be produced for a certain period of time not exceeding 25 years as a legitimate contract in Egyptian pounds or foreign currency, through a public or private subscription.” According to the law, government deeds aimed to fund developmental and investment projects. Detractors intensely criticized the deed for providing room to squander state-owned assets.
Morsi also amended the income tax law, raising the limit for tax exemptions to a maximum of LE5,000, with a 25 percent limit for the highest income tax bracket of LE250,000 or more per year.
Former interim President Adly Mansour, who took over following Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, issued a number of amendments to the Penal Code in September 2013. Notably, he allowed open-ended periods of pretrial detention if the defendants faced charges that could incur a life sentence or the death penalty, whereas the Penal Code had previously set a maximum period of two years for pretrial detention in all cases.
Mansour also issued the highly controversial protest law in November 2013. The law imposes restrictions on the right of protest and peaceful assembly, obliging organizers of a demonstration to inform security bodies of the time and place of the protest, and imposing fines and prison sentences on anybody who protests without receiving the requisite permission. The protest law further allows security forces to use force in dispersing demonstrations and gives them the right to cancel demonstrations and peaceful gatherings.
Another presidential decree amended some provisions in the tenders and auctions law, allowing direct contractual agreement upon a permit from the minister or concerned official in urgent cases. Mansour also issued a decree allowing reconciliation in tax disputes by empowering judges to form reconciliation committees. These committees would be entrusted with the reconciliation process between the authority and tax payers who appealed decisions obliging them to pay certain taxes, or people accused of tax evasion.
Another Mansour law pertained to appealing state contracts. The law protects contracts between the state and investors from appeal by third parties, which the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) considered a violation of the right to litigation and appeal against contracts that involve the selling and privatization of public-sector companies.
Mohamed Adel, a lawyer at ECESR, previously told Mada Masr that those laws were drafted to protect contracts that involve privatization and which the Administrative Court had annulled in previous rulings. He also argued the motivation behind annulling contracts for the sale of big companies, such as Omar Effendi or the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, is that they were made through direct agreement without public auctions.
Mansour also introduced an amendment to the Penal Code criminalizing sexual harassment with penalties ranging from six months to five years in prison.
Upon his election in June 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi joined his predecessor Mansour in monopolizing legislative power. Some 400 laws were passed in just two and a half years by the two men before a Parliament was seated in late 2015.
Sisi issued an anti-terror law after heated debate, particularly over an article stipulating that “law enforcement bodies are not subject to criminal prosecution if they use force while doing their duties or to protect themselves from a pending danger on self or moneys, if the use of that right is necessary and sufficient to face the danger.”
Another controversial Sisi law concerning the security of public and vital facilities refers such cases to military courts. It defines vital facilities as power stations, gas pipes, oil fields, railways, roads and bridge networks as well as other, unspecified facilities and public property. The law was used to expand the military trials of civilians accused of violence or of vandalizing such properties.
Sisi further amended some provisions in the law governing universities. Changes included allowing the president to appoint heads of universities and deans of faculties, whereas an earlier amendment of that law in 2012 had allowed them to be elected. Other amendments to the law empowered the heads of universities to expel students involved in acts of sabotage, and to fire faculty members for involvement in party politics or inciting violence.
The current president also introduced an amendment to the Penal Code that imposed harsher penalties for receiving foreign funding with the aim of harming national security, with violators facing life in jail or the death penalty. The amendment was considered key for a state crackdown on civil society workers, especially in the field of human rights.
In 2015, Sisi passed the civil service law — the only law rejected by the newly convened Parliament out of the 342 laws it reviewed that were passed in the legislative body’s absence. The law cancelled seniority as a criterion for promotion, replacing it with an evaluation by directors and heads of institutions, thus giving these officials wide leeway to fire or promote government employees. The law was criticized for reducing wages for state employees and threatening several labor rights.
Sisi had earlier decreed a wage cap of LE42,000 for state employees. However, several sectors — such as banking — were exempt from the law, provoking strong criticism from opponents.
In March 2015, Sisi passed a new investment law. In their commentary on the law, Osama Diab and Reem Abdel Halim, researchers at EIPR, noted that the act allowed for a number of governmental bodies to bestow “preferential treatment [on] investors in accordance with the law or in response to requirements of the economy or national security after approval by the Cabinet.”
The two researchers added that the law gives the Cabinet discretion to grant investors additional bonuses and tax exemptions, and provide them with state-owned land for free, opening the door to government corruption.