Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 16:06 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Egypt

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Egypt, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4f2c.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

According to its Constitution, Egypt is a social democracy in which Islam is the state religion. In July the People's Assembly reelected President Hosni Mubarak, who was unopposed, to a third 6-year term by a 439 to 7 margin. In accordance with the Constitution, Mubarak's election was put to a popular referendum in October in which he received more than 96 percent of the votes cast. The President appoints the Cabinet, which is responsible to him. The National Democratic Party (NDP) has been in power since its establishment in 1978. It commands large majorities in the popularly elected People's Assembly and the Shura (consultative) Council. One opposition party is represented in the People's Assembly; others boycotted the previous People's Assembly election in 1990 and are not represented.

There are two security services under the Ministry of Interior: the General Directorate for State Security Investigations (GDSSI), which conducts investigations and interrogates detainees, and the Central Security Force (CSF), which enforces curfews and bans on public demonstrations and conducts paramilitary operations against alleged terrorists. Both the GDSSI and CSF have been implicated in many reports of torture and other abuses of prisoners and detainees.

Egypt has a mixed economy dominated by an inefficient public sector. Under an ongoing economic structural adjustment program, Egypt has reduced or eliminated subsidies on consumer goods, agricultural inputs, energy, and services and has liberalized the currency and capital markets. The Government is moving slowly to restructure or privatize many state-owned companies. Low economic growth rates and a growing population have contributed to a decline in real per capita income in each year since 1988.

The Constitution provides for various human rights, including a multiparty political system, regular elections, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, freedom of opinion, and the right to peaceable assembly; a number of them are limited in practice, and there are many other serious abuses. The human rights situation continued to deteriorate in 1993 as a result of actions by terrorist groups, the Government, and nonviolent Islamic activists. Egypt's security services and terrorist groups continued to be locked in a cycle of violence. Terrorist groups attacked government officials, security forces, Egyptian Christians, and foreign tourists. Many innocent bystanders died in terrorist attacks. The Government also perpetrated many abuses, including the arbitrary arrest and torture of hundreds of detainees, the use of military courts to try accused terrorists, the failure to punish officials responsible for torture, infractions committed under the Emergency Law, the harassment of journalists, and the Government's attempt to gain greater control over civil society. Although most of the arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, and torture were perpetrated on suspected members of terrorist groups, the police also victimized nonviolent Islamic activists and ordinary citizens. In 1993 actions by nonviolent Islamic activists posed a danger to the freedom of expression. The NDP dominates the political scene to such an extent that, as a practical matter, Egyptians do not have a meaningful ability to change their government. Women and Egyptian Christians face discrimination based on tradition and some aspects of the law.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In 1993 at least 12 persons died from injuries allegedly sustained while in police custody. It was also learned in 1993 that another person, Ahmed Hamido Al-Sawi, reportedly died under torture in December 1992. The Government has not adequately investigated or publicly explained these deaths. According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), medical reports released on deceased detainees in 1993 fail to note the origins, and even the existence, of scars in alleged torture cases. Seven of the deceased were reportedly suspected Islamists: Mohamed Gomaa and Abdul Satar Abdullah who died in August; Ahmed Farouk Ali, Bahaa Abdel Raouf, Eissa Taher El-Bishari, and Ahmed Abdel Rahman who died in September; and El-Mohammadi Mohamed Morsi who died in October. Delegations from the United States raised this and other human rights issues in a continuing dialog with top Egyptian officials.

According to the Islamist newspaper Al-Shaab, Mohamed Gomaa died under torture at Tora prison. According to Ministry of Interior officials, Ahmed Farouk Ali, 27, died of a heart attack at the State Security headquarters in Cairo on September 2 after 1 day in police custody. Ahmed was arrested for his alleged role in the failed assassination attempt on Interior Minister Al-Alfi in August. A preliminary report issued by the Ministry of Interior's Directorate of Health Affairs stated that Ali's body had "several bruises on the face and death occurred as a result of failure in heart and respiratory functions." However, the final report issued in November stated that death was not due to physical abuse, but "occurred due to normal reasons."

The five other persons who died are not believed to have any connections to Islamist groups. They are: Mahmoud Hussein Mohamed who died in May from injuries sustained during interrogation by security forces (see Section 1.c.); Abdel Gayed Sayed Abdel Gayed who also died in May; Emad Saad El-Hawashi who died in September; and Effat Mohamed and Hosni Salah Sayed who died in October.

In addition to the 12 persons cited above, at least 4 other persons died after allegedly jumping from windows or stairwells to escape arrest or avoid giving information to the police. These include Haithem Abdel Sabour Kahlaf; Ahmed Kahlaf; Eissa Taher Suleiman, who allegedly jumped from a window at the Aswan Security Directorate headquarters in April; and Ahmed Abdel Halim, who allegedly jumped from the top of an apartment building stairwell in October while under police escort.

At least 201 people were killed in civil unrest in 1993, the highest recorded level since 1981. Security forces killed at least 63 suspected terrorists and an undetermined number of bystanders. A number of the deaths caused by security forces appeared to result from an excessive use of lethal force. In March security forces surrounded a mosque in Aswan and opened fire with automatic weapons after the worshipers inside refused to depart. At least nine persons inside the mosque were killed in what was reportedly a one-sided exchange of fire. Also in March, security forces conducted several raids on the homes of alleged terrorists in the Cairo area, killing 9 persons, including the wife and child of an alleged terrorist, as well as a raid in Assiyut city in which they killed 10 alleged terrorists. The three assaults in March occurred only a few days after the murder of police officers by terrorists, suggesting a retaliatory motive behind at least part of the cycle of violence. After assuming office in April, Minister of Interior Hassan Al-Alfi deemphasized mass arrests and large-scale police raids on alleged terrorist strongholds.

A majority of the deaths resulting from civil unrest in 1993 were caused by terrorist groups. Terrorists killed at least 83 members of the security forces and 54 civilians. At least 26 of the civilians died in terrorist bombings. As they have in recent years, terrorists also continued to attack Egyptian Christians. They murdered at least nine Coptic residents of Assiyut Governorate, including physicians, students and Ibrahim Hana, a village official. They also burned churches and other properties owned by Copts.

Terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Atef Sedky in November; the attempted assassination in August of Interior Minister Hassan Al-Alfi; the assassination in August of Qena Governorate Deputy Director of Security Brigadier General Abdel Halim Ghobara, his driver, and bodyguard; the attempted assassination in July of Army General Othman Shahine in Cairo; the assassination in April of Assiyut Governorate Deputy Director of Security Brigadier General Mohamed Abdel Latif El-Shimi, his bodyguard, and driver; and the attempted assassination in April of the Information Minister Safwat Al-Sherif.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of new disappearances in 1993, but three cases dating from 1988, 1989, and 1990 remain unsolved.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Penal Code prohibits the use of torture to obtain a confession, there is convincing evidence that police and security forces systematically practice torture. Such a determination was made in August when a state security court found that all 27 defendants tried for the October 1990 assassination of People's Assembly Speaker Rifaat Al-Mahgoub were tortured while in custody. The court acquitted 17 defendants of all charges but sentenced 10 to prison on related charges. The presiding judge found that security forces used "hideous methods to extract confessions." However, no action was taken to punish the officials responsible for the torture.

In September a military court ordered the release from detention of Sami Salamah Abdel Mumin, one of 35 defendants in a trial of alleged terrorists. The court decision was based on a complaint by Abdel Mumin that both his feet were crippled and his kidneys injured by physical abuse committed by security officers while he was in police custody.

Mahmoud Hussein, 45, died in May several days after his release from police custody, reportedly owing to injuries sustained during interrogation by security forces for his alleged connection with terrorist groups. The Government stated that it was investigating the case, but at year's end there had been no public statement.

The Government generally investigates torture complaints in cases involving persons arrested for common crimes and has punished offending officers. However, the Government does not adequately investigate torture complaints in cases involving detainees in political or religious cases. There is no public record that offending officers in such cases are punished, thus suggesting that the Government tacitly condones the mistreatment of those it considers to be opponents.

Officers of the Interior Ministry's GDSSI are known to practice torture on both alleged terrorists and nonviolent Islamists. Torture, which takes place in police stations, at GDSSI offices, and at CSF camps, is used to extract information, coerce the victims to end their antigovernment activities, and deter others from such activities.

Torture victims are usually taken to GDSSI offices where they are handcuffed, blindfolded, and questioned about their associations, religious beliefs, and political views. Victims have reported the following torture methods: During interrogation, detainees are frequently stripped to their underwear; hung by their wrists with their feet touching the floor, hung upside down, or forced to stand for prolonged periods; doused with hot and cold water; beaten; forced to stand outdoors in cold weather; and subjected to electric shocks. Some victims in 1993, including female detainees, reported that they were threatened with rape.

As many as 10 days may elapse from the date of arrest until detainees enter the penal system. During that period, detainees are usually held at GDSSI offices where they are questioned and often tortured. The security forces do not acknowledge any detention during that period, pointing to the lack of any documentary proof of arrest. The lack of written records during the early days of arrest invites the abuse of detainees and frustrates investigations into torture complaints. The Government denies that such "temporary disappearances" occur and maintains that all arrests are conducted with warrants and that written records are always kept on the whereabouts of detainees.

Moreover, the security forces sometimes transfer detainees from prisons to other facilities where they are interrogated, tortured, and then returned to prison. No written records are kept on such transfers.

To pressure fugitives to surrender, security forces have taken their relatives, including minors and female family members, into custody. An undetermined number of such detainees have been physically abused while in custody.

Persons arrested for ordinary criminal offenses are commonly mistreated by the local police. Mohamed Ali Mohamed Ali, 38, arrested in January for car theft, was allegedly hung by his wrists for extended periods and beaten with a stick while in police custody. An investigating officer allegedly injected a mixture of water and human waste into his leg, causing gangrene. On October 17 Ali appeared in court on a stretcher and told the judge that the police had injected his leg with feces after he refused to confess to several car thefts. The court acquitted Ali on one charge of car theft but sentenced him to 6 months on other charges. At year's end, there had been no public record of any investigation into Ali's alleged mistreatment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention are widely practiced against alleged terrorists and others thought to threaten national security. However, in some mass arrest operations, security forces have subjected villages to collective punishments, so that many persons with no association with terrorist groups have been taken into custody. Such arrests and detentions are conducted under the State of Emergency, which has been in effect since President Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981. The present Emergency Law is scheduled to expire on June 30, 1994.

Under the Emergency Law, the Interior Minister may detain a person without indictment for 90 days. Detention orders are issued by public prosecutors who have limited powers to commit individuals to confinement. Some detainees are not allowed to inform their relatives of their detention, and access to legal counsel has been delayed. In theory, those arrested under the Emergency Law should be indicted or released within 90 days. In practice, the Government often simply writes a new detention order for those whose release has been ordered by a court – in effect continuing to detain them without due process for prolonged periods. However, most detainees are released much sooner, after interrogation. Under the Emergency Law, there is a continuous flow of new arrests and releases from detention.

Under ordinary criminal procedure, arrested persons are charged with violations of specific laws, have the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrest, and should be formally charged within 48 hours of arrest or be released. Arrests under this procedure occur openly and with warrants issued by a district prosecutor or a judge. There is a system of bail. However, the regular Penal Code also gives the State wide detention powers. State prosecutors may obtain court orders to detain persons for 45 days and to confine them for up to 6 months to complete investigations. Detainees are often released without explanation or acknowledgement that charges have been dropped.

The Penal Code contains several provisions to combat terrorist violence. These provisions broadly define terrorism to include the acts of "spreading panic" and "obstructing the work of authorities," allow the police to hold suspects for 24 hours before obtaining arrest warrants, and prescribe the death penalty for persons found guilty of terrorism and life imprisonment for membership in a terrorist group.

Egyptian human rights monitors estimate that about 140 Palestinians were in detention during the third quarter of 1993. Many entered Egypt illegally from the Israeli-occupied territories. Others are legally resident in Egypt and are under investigation for alleged political activities. Some Palestinian detainees reportedly have been tortured.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of persons in detention. Observers estimate that at the end of 1993, 3,000 persons were in detention under the Emergency Law, many for political reasons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the judiciary in recent years has exercised considerable independence and has sometimes upheld defendants' constitutional rights against acts of abuse by executive branch officials, the Government has used its powers under the Emergency Law to use military courts to create "emergency" state security courts (civilian and military) to try suspected terrorists, thus circumventing the regular courts. Trials in such state security courts do not meet international standards for fair trial (see below).

There are three levels of regular civilian criminal courts: primary courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation, the final stage of criminal appeal. There is also a Supreme Constitutional Court, but its jurisdiction is limited to constitutional challenges. It does not hear criminal appeals. There are no juries. Criminal cases are heard by panels of three judges. Most trials are public.

There are three sets of special courts for criminal cases: civilian and military state security courts and the courts of ethics. The state security courts have jurisdiction over serious offenses such as armed insurrection. They are divided into upper and lower divisions.

Trials in a civilian state security court are heard by three judges, but two military officers may be added by presidential decree to the upper division. Defendants before a civilian state security court may be indicted under the Penal Code or the Emergency Law. When an indictment is handed down under the Emergency Law, the court is designated an emergency state security court.

A defendant has no judicial appeal from an emergency state security court. However, he may file an appeal for clemency from the President – or the Prime Minister, acting on powers delegated by the President – who is empowered to amend, commute, or cancel decisions or order a retrial. These powers mean that acquittals, as well as convictions and sentences, may be canceled and the defendant retried for the same offense.

In 1993 the Government subpoenaed Omar Abdel Rahman and 48 of his alleged followers for retrial on charges related to their alleged roles in a 1989 antigovernment riot. An emergency state security court had acquitted the defendants of all charges in 1990, but the acquittals were never ratified by the Prime Minister, who subsequently ordered the defendants retried on grounds that the Court had committed several procedural errors.

In 1993 the Government used military state security courts to try civilian defendants accused of terrorist acts or of belonging to terrorist organizations, claiming that civilian trials were too lengthy and civilian judges too susceptible to intimidation under the current "exceptional circumstances." These courts are comprised of three military officers. The presiding judge usually has general officer rank. In January the Supreme Constitutional Court upheld the use of military courts to try civilian cases. It ruled that the President of the Republic, acting under powers in the Emergency Law, is authorized to refer any crime to a military court.

According to Egyptian military sources, at least 446 civilian defendants accused of committing terrorist acts, or belonging to terrorist organizations, have been tried in military courts since late 1992. Most defendants were tried in groups ranging in size from as few as 8 to as many as 65 persons, but many suspected terrorists were tried individually. The military courts reportedly acquitted 205 defendants, sentenced 177 to less than 5-year terms, 26 to more than 5-year terms, and 38 to death.

The Government maintains that the civilian defendants receive fair trials in the military courts. It argues that all military judges have the same legal training as judges in the civilian courts; defense attorneys are accorded sufficient time to review the prosecution's files and inspect the State's evidence; trials are conducted under the same procedures used in civilian courts; defense attorneys have the right to cross-examine and to call any witness; military judges apply only the Penal Code in trying cases involving civilian defendants – no civilian defendant is subject to military law or military punishments; there are adequate safeguards against the admission of confessions obtained under duress; defense attorneys are appointed by the Bar Association at state expense for indigent defendants; verdicts are reviewed by two panels of military judges, who examine the trial procedures before the verdicts are forwarded to the President for ratification; and all defendants have a constitutional right to appeal for clemency from the President.

However, the military courts do not afford the defendants due process before an independent tribunal. The military courts are less independent than the civilian judiciary, as the judges and prosecutors are both part of the State's executive authority. The military judges do not appear to grant defense attorneys adequate access to case files or time to meet with defendants; they tend to rush complex cases with many defendants so that most cases are tried within 6 weeks. Moreover, as with the civilian emergency state security courts, defendants in military court trials do not have the right of judicial appeal. Sentences and trial procedures are reexamined by military review panels, although the defendants may appeal to the President of the Republic. Finally, there is no information that the large numbers of defendants acquitted in recent military trials have been released from prison.

The court of ethics hears cases falling under Law 95 of 1980 which makes illegal such activities as "endangering the public safety," inciting youth "to depart from religious values and loyalty to the fatherland," and denying the three "heavenly religions." It has an upper and lower division. The ethics courts allow nonjurists to try cases. In recent years, the ethics courts have been used relatively infrequently to try "economic crimes" such as corruption and drug trafficking. An ethics court conviction denies the defendant the right to engage in certain occupations or activities.

A person may be tried in a state security court and an ethics court on similar indictments: in the former for criminal offenses and in the latter for the financial gains associated with those offenses.

In the regular civilian court system, the President appoints all judges based on nominations from the Higher Judicial Council, a constitutional body designed to ensure the independence of the judiciary. The Council is composed of senior judges, lawyers, and law professors, and is chaired by the President of the Court of Cassation. It regulates judicial promotions, salaries, transfers, and disciplinary actions. In practice, however, the Minister of Justice, an executive branch officer, has considerable influence over judicial appointments and transfers. Judges may be appointed as prosecutors and vice versa.

In recent years, the judiciary has exercised considerable independence from the executive branch. Judges on occasion have ordered inquests into torture cases; acquitted defendants in cases where confessions were extracted by torture; challenged the ban on workers' strikes; defended the right to nonviolent ideological opinion; overturned bans on prohibited political parties; and overturned an election law that discriminated against independent candidates and dissolved the People's Assembly elected under that law.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of convicted political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

There continued to be substantial abridgment, under the Emergency Law, of constitutional provisions regarding the right to privacy. In theory, police must obtain warrants before undertaking searches and wiretaps, and courts have dismissed cases in which warrants were issued without sufficient cause. Police officials who conduct searches without proper warrants are subject to criminal penalties, although these are seldom imposed. The Emergency Law, however, empowers the state to search persons or places without warrants.

Intelligence agencies and security services frequently place political activists, suspected subversives, journalists, and writers under surveillance, screen their correspondence (especially international mail), search them and their homes, and confiscate personal property.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and to a large extent the Government refrains from curtailing political expression. Egyptians openly express their views on a wide range of political and social issues, including vigorous criticism of the Government, without fear of retribution. Nevertheless, there are some limitations on the freedom of speech and press. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet are often targets of criticism, but the press law stipulates fines or imprisonment for criticism of the President or a foreign head of state. In recent years, however, journalists have, within limits, criticized the President without harassment, although he may not be satirized in cartoons.

Most major dailies are government owned, their editors in chief appointed by the President, and generally follow the government line. Nevertheless, criticism of government policies is frequently found in the government-owned press.

The opposition newspapers are associated with political parties. Most are weeklies with small circulations, except the centrist daily Al-Wafd and the smaller Islamist semiweekly Al-Shaab. They give greater prominence to human rights abuses in Egypt than do state-run newspapers. The opposition press is independent but is printed and distributed by a government- owned publishing house.

The Government influences the press in several ways. It controls the right to publish through its power to license newspapers. The Higher Press Council, chaired by the Speaker of the Shura Council, has the power to approve applications for new publications. Most members of the Higher Press Council are close to the ruling National Democratic Party and are inclined to follow the Government's lead.

In 1993 there was a pattern of government interference with freedom of expression, including the arrest or harassment of Egyptian journalists, the increased harassment of foreign journalists, and the confiscation of printed material from the market. In June a prominent journalist, Mohamed Sid Ahmed, was called in for questioning for several hours regarding statements attributed to him in a U.S. newspaper on the morale in the Egyptian armed forces. At the same time, a retired army general, employed as a military affairs analyst at a government-affiliated institution, was detained for 6 days for statements about the Egyptian armed forces attributed to him in the same article. Neither was charged with any crime, however.

In October security forces arrested and detained overnight the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP), Adel Hussein and Mohamed Helmy Murad, and two journalists for Al-Shaab, the SLP's newspaper, Salah Bedeiwy and Ali Al-Qammash. The four were reportedly questioned by state prosecutors about publishing articles in Al-Shaab that allegedly harmed Egypt's national interests, spread extremist views, insulted President Mubarak, and accused the Government of rigging the October 4 national presidential referendum. The Government did not file any charges. In October the Government also proposed amending the Press Law in a way that would give the Government greater control over membership in the journalists' syndicate, thus impairing the independence of Egypt's journalists, who must be licensed by the syndicate. Many journalists objected to the proposal, and in November the Government quietly shelved the proposal in exchange for a "review of the profession" to be undertaken by the journalists' syndicate.

Foreign journalists in Egypt reported a pattern of increased harassment from government security forces. Several journalists were summoned for questioning, reportedly because of government concern that their reporting on internal events has damaged Egypt's reputation.

State-owned television and radio are more limited in the news they cover than are newspapers. Criticisms of government policies and reporting on human rights abuses are almost never broadcast on radio and television. Political parties do not have access to broadcast facilities even during election campaigns.

Books and works of art may be confiscated or banned by decree of various ministries without a court order. The Ministry of Interior regularly confiscates leaflets and other works by Islamic fundamentalists. In 1993 it prevented the public sale of audio cassette tapes by some Islamic preachers whose preachings were considered to foment sectarian strife. Activists are frequently arrested and detained for distributing antigovernment pamphlets. In 1993 military courts convicted a number of activists for possessing antigovernment printed material and sentenced them to prison terms. In August the Minister of Interior barred the public sale of "Omar Abdel Rahman, the Earthquake That Shook the World," a book printed in Egypt.

The Ministry of Defense may ban works about sensitive security issues. Plays and films must pass Ministry of Culture censorship tests as scripts and as final productions. In April the Ministry of Culture censored several scenes containing amorous embraces in Albert Farag's "Divorce Wedding," a play produced at the American University in Cairo. The Ministry of Culture also censors foreign films. Censors ensure that foreign films made in Egypt portray Egypt in a favorable light. Censors review scripts before filming, are present during filming, and have the right to review the film before it is sent out of Egypt.

The Ministry of Information censors television productions and foreign news publications. In 1993 the Ministry impounded, or otherwise prevented the sale of, some issues of a number of foreign publications. The Ministry does not usually inform the management of foreign publications of the reasons for impoundment. In October state prosecutors ordered the confiscation of "No to Mubarak's Reelection," a book published by the Socialist Labor Party.

The Islamic research association at Al-Azhar University has legal authority to censor the publication of the Koran and Islamic scriptural texts. In recent years, however, Al-Azhar has passed judgments on the suitability of nonreligious books and artistic productions. Although these pronouncements do not have the force of law, the Egyptian publishing industry usually complies with Al-Azhar pronouncements and does not publish or distribute works deemed offensive by Al-Azhar authorities. For years, Al-Azhar has banned the sale of "The Children of Gebelawi," a 1959 novel by Egypt's Nobel laureate, Nagib Mahfouz. In 1993 al-Azhar banned at least three works: the complete works of antifundamentalist writer Farag Foda, who was assassinated in 1992; "Creations of Flying Passions," a novel by Christian author Edward Kharrat; and a collection of poems by Muslim author Hasan Talab. In January President Mubarak signaled his public approval of Al-Azhar's censorship role, stating "when Al-Azhar renders an opinion (on censorship) it is expressing our adherence to our faith. Thus we cannot dictate to Al-Azhar what it should do."

The Government does not impinge on academic freedoms at universities. However, the growth of Islamist influence in the education system poses a threat to civil liberties. In April an Arabic language professor at Cairo University, Nasr Abu Zeid, was denied promotion to full professorship because a promotion panel found that his writings on the origin of the Koran were heretical. In June a group of Islamist lawyers acting as private individuals petitioned a court to dissolve Abu Zeid's marriage to his wife Ebtehal Younes. The petitioners claimed that Abu Zeid's writings are heretical and thus, as an apostate, he legally could not be permitted to remain married to a Muslim woman. The case was still in progress at the end of 1993.

In June an Islamic preacher, Shaykh Mohamed Al-Ghazali, testified in court that any Muslim who objects to the imposition of Islamic law effectively rejects his faith and is an "apostate." The Shaykh added that any Muslim who kills an apostate has carried out the legitimate punishment prescribed by Islamic law and should be treated with leniency. Al-Ghazali was called to testify as a friendly witness for suspected terrorists on trial for the 1992 murder of antifundamentalist writer Farag Foda. His remarks were interpreted by many Egyptian intellectuals to condone the murder of secularists who are deemed apostates.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

There continue to be substantial restrictions on this freedom. Under the Emergency Law, Interior Ministry approval is required for public meetings, rallies, and protest marches. Permits are generally granted for indoor rallies and those restricted to university campuses.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has the authority to license and dissolve "private organizations." Licenses may be revoked if such organizations engage in political or religious activities.

Since 1985 the Government has refused to license as private organizations the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) on grounds that they are political organizations. Both continue to operate openly (see Section 4). However, in August the Interior Ministry prevented EOHR officials from convening meetings with their local chapter members in several towns in southern Egypt.

In 1993 the People's Assembly approved a new law governing the activities of professional associations. The law stipulates that no association may elect a governing board without a quorum of 50 percent of its general membership. If the quorum is not met, another election is scheduled in which 33 percent of the membership are required to elect the board. Failing that quorum, the judiciary is authorized to appoint a caretaker governing board until new elections can be organized. The law was adopted to prevent further gains in the professional associations by Islamist candidates who had done well in elections with low voter turnouts.

c. Freedom of Religion

Although the Constitution provides for this freedom, there are important limitations. Islam is the state religion. Most Egyptians are Muslim, but approximately 10 per cent of the population, 5 million people, belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.

There are other small Christian denominations. The small Jewish community practices its religion without harassment. Members of recognized religions maintain links with coreligionists abroad. The foreign clergy pursue their ministries without harassment, but all non-Muslims are barred from proselytizing. In 1993 four Westerners were detained for more than 2 months and then expelled for proselytizing Muslims.

Islam accepts Christian and other converts, but Muslims face legal problems if they convert to another faith. There is no clear legal prohibition against conversion or proselytizing, but the Penal Code prohibits any person from "degrading or disdaining any of the holy religions or any of its religious sects" with "the intention of harming national unity and social peace." This is interpreted as forbidding the conversion of Muslims. Conviction is punishable by imprisonment.

In the past, state security forces have harassed, detained for prolonged periods, and sometimes tortured Egyptian Christians for proselytizing Muslims. In August the state security police arrested Kamel Soliman Badr, 36, a lay member of a Cairo church for printing or photocopying booklets containing the testimonies of Egyptian Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Badr was officially charged with the abovementioned Penal Code offense.

Egyptian courts have upheld the principle that Muslims may not change their identity papers to reflect their conversion to a new religion. As a consequence, married male converts from Islam must register their children as Muslims, as the law considers them Muslims.

An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain what is now a presidential decree to build or repair a place of worship. Coptic Christians maintain they are frequently unable to obtain such authorization. As a result, some communities use private buildings and apartments for religious services. However, in 1992 and 1993 the Government increased the number of building permits issued to Christian communities to an average of more than 20 a year, compared to the average of 5 permits a year issued in the 1980's. Most permits appear to be for the repair of existing structures and not for construction of new churches. Christian and Muslim reformers urge the abolition of the Ottoman decree, but Islamic fundamentalists defend the building restrictions.

In theory, mosques must also be licensed by the Government. The Penal Code prohibits using a place of worship for antigovernment speeches, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs proposes themes and monitors sermons. In practice, the Government cannot control all sermons, especially at "unauthorized" mosques where sermons sometimes invoke antigovernment, anti-Christian, and anti-Western themes. The Government continued its efforts to bring private mosques under its administrative control as a means to counter extremism. In recent years, the police have closed several unlicensed churches and mosques, although others continue in operation.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There is freedom to travel within Egypt except in certain military areas. Egyptian males who have not completed compulsory military service may not travel abroad or emigrate, although this restriction can be circumvented. Unmarried women under 21 must have permission from their fathers to obtain passports; married women require permission from their husbands. Citizens who leave the country have the right to return. In October the Government discontinued the practice of requiring a special travel permit, issued by the Ministry of Interior, for Egyptian citizens to visit Israel.

In recent years, the Government has denied permission to Christian converts from Islam to travel abroad. In a recent case, police arrested a convert to Christianity at Cairo airport and prevented her from boarding a flight to Europe. The Government also sometimes prevents travel for political reasons. In March security forces prevented Faten, the second wife of Omar Abdel Rahman, from departing Egypt for a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The deportation of Egyptian citizens and aliens granted political asylum is prohibited and not practiced. Egypt is host to thousands of refugees, but only a few are granted the right to resettle in Egypt. In the past, some Ethiopians and other Africans, who seek documentation as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, have been detained by the police and transported to areas near the Libyan or Sudanese borders where they are released. Some have returned to their countries; others have found their way back to Egyptian cities.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) dominates the 454-seat People's Assembly, the Shura Council, local governments, the mass media, labor, the large public sector, and the licensing of new political parties, newspapers, and private organizations to such an extent that, as a practical matter, Egyptians do not have a meaningful ability to change the national government.

In 1993 President Hosni Mubarak was elected unopposed to a third 6-year term by the People's Assembly. In October Mubarak's reelection was submitted to the public in a national referendum in which 96 percent of the voters approved it. The Government claimed that 86 percent of the electorate went to the polls, although the actual figure was believed to be much lower. Under Egypt's electoral system, the electorate was not presented with a choice among competing presidential candidates; it was offered the opportunity only to vote for or against Mubarak's reelection. Two opposition parties, the Wafd and the Islamist-affiliated Socialist Labor Party, urged the public to boycott the referendum, and two other parties, the leftist Tagammu and the Nasserist, urged the public to vote against Mubarak. The other opposition parties endorsed Mubarak's candidacy.

In the 1990 People's Assembly election, NDP candidates won 383 seats of 444 elected, independents won 55, and a leftist party won 6. Seven opposition parties boycotted the election.

Women and Copts generally do not hold positions of senior leadership in the Government or political parties. The Constitution reserves 10 Assembly seats for presidential appointees, which assures some representation for Copts and women. Ten women hold Assembly seats: seven elected and three appointed. Five Copts sit in the Assembly: one elected and four appointed.

The Assembly debates government proposals, and members exercise their authority to call Cabinet ministers to explain policy, but the legislature does not have sufficient authority to challenge or restrain the executive. Many executive branch initiatives and policies are carried out by ministerial decree without significant legislative oversight.

Presidential appointments do not require legislative approval; the executive initiates almost all legislation; the Assembly may not modify the budget except with the Government's approval; and there is little oversight of the Interior Ministry's use of Emergency Law powers. The military budget is prepared by the executive and not debated publicly. Roll-call votes in the Assembly are rare. Votes are generally reported in aggregate terms of yea's and nay's, and thus constituents have no independent method of checking a member's voting record.

There are 12 recognized opposition parties. New parties must be approved by the Parties Committee, a semiofficial body dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party. To form a party without a license is a felony. In 1993 the Committee did not grant registration to any new political party. However, in June an administrative court ordered the Committee to issue a license to the Social Justice Party. A court also reinstated the former leadership of the Young Egypt Party. In January a court upheld the ban on the Awakening Party, claiming the party's program includes soliciting funds outside Egypt, an activity prohibited by law.

The law prohibits political parties based on religion. Nevertheless, Muslim Brotherhood partisans are active. Some have served in the Assembly as independents or members of other recognized parties.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no officially recognized local human rights organizations. The Government refuses to license them as "private organizations" (see Section 2.b.) on the grounds that they are political organizations. Nevertheless, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and the associated Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) operate openly. EOHR's field workers visit prisons and call on government offices. Both the EOHR and AOHR have challenged the ruling on their legal status in the courts. In 1993 the Government did not interfere with EOHR's relocation to larger offices in Cairo and did not interfere with its receiving money from abroad.

In February an EOHR official was stopped and questioned by security forces while accompanying a representative from the U.S.-based Middle East Watch (MEW) on a fact-finding mission in southern Egypt. In August the Ministry of Interior prevented EOHR officials from holding meetings in several southern Egyptian towns.

In May Amnesty International released a report on human rights abuses related to the Government's antiterrorist campaign. The Government issued an official response asserting that terrorism requires the imposition of emergency laws; that cases of abuse occur in Egypt, but they are few and should not obscure Egypt's record of respect for human rights; and that the human rights record of any country should not be based on exceptional cases but on a comprehensive study of the country's social, cultural, political realities.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

Egyptian law provides for equality of the sexes, but aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women. Under Egyptian law, only males can transmit Egyptian citizenship. In rare cases, this means that children born to Egyptian mothers and stateless fathers are themselves stateless.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally correspond to an individual's religion, which for most Egyptians is Islam. A 1979 liberalization of the family status law strengthened a Muslim woman's rights to divorce and to child custody, but in 1985 the changes were found unconstitutional on grounds they conflicted with Islamic law and were repealed. Under Islamic law, non-Muslim males must convert to Islam to marry Muslim women, but non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Muslim female heirs receive half the amount of a male heir's inheritance, while Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half her parents' estate; the balance goes to designated male relatives. A sole male heir inherits all his parents' property. Male Muslim heirs have the duty to provide for all family members who need assistance.

Egyptian women have employment opportunities in government, medicine, law, academia, the arts, and, to a lesser degree, in business. About 100 officers in the Egyptian diplomatic service are women, including 3 ambassadors. Social pressure against women pursuing a career remains strong, however, and some Egyptian feminists say that a resurgent Islamic fundamentalist trend limits further gains. Women's rights advocates also point to other discriminatory attitudes and practices such as female circumcision and the male relative's role in enforcing women's compliance with religiously prescribed codes of sexual conduct. In 1993 Fatma Abdul Raouf was denied employment as a magistrate in a public prosecutor's office, the first step in Egypt to becoming a judge, because she is a woman. She is currently suing the Ministry of Justice for sex discrimination. There are no women judges in Egypt.

Family violence against women does occur, but its extent is unknown. Abuse within the family is seldom discussed publicly, owing to the value attached to personal privacy in this traditional society.

There are at least two active women's rights groups, one affiliated with EOHR. The other is the Communications Group for the Enhancement of the Status of Women, which has published a booklet on the legal rights of Egyptian women.

Children

The Government is committed to the protection of children's welfare. According to law, public education is compulsory until age 12, and the employment, or job training, of children under age 12 is prohibited. For many years, the Government has operated a "reading for all program" which seeks to bring literacy to older children and adults. The Government has also employed the media to promote children's education and welfare. Examples include Egypt's annual international children's film festival and television programming aimed at children's education. However, despite the Government's commitment to children's welfare, child labor is a widespread problem. Moreover, much of the resources for children's welfare are provided by international aid donors, especially in the fields of education and child immunization programs.

Female genital mutilation (excision), which international health experts have condemned as damaging to both physical and mental health, occurs – predominantly in rural areas – but there are few reliable statistics on its extent. Excision and the more drastic infibulation are practiced in some parts of upper Egypt. Female excision is not illegal, but doctors are prohibited from performing it in government hospitals.

Religious Minorities

The approximately 5 million Coptic Christians are broadly discriminated against by the Government and are also the objects of violent assaults by terrorists.

Government discriminatory practices include delays in issuing church building and repair permits; the detention and mistreatment of some Muslim converts to Christianity; laws that prevent Muslims from changing their identity papers to reflect their conversion to Christianity (see Section 2.c.); anti-Christian discrimination in education embodied in a requirement that all public school students memorize Koranic verses as part of their Arabic studies; a ban on the hiring of Christian Arabic teachers in public schools since the curriculum involves study of the Koran; the production of Islamic television programs, some with anti-Christian themes; job discrimination in the police, the armed forces, and government agencies; reported anti-Christian discrimination in admission to state medical schools; and underrepresentation in government. There are no Coptic governors and few Copts in the upper ranks of the military, police, and diplomatic service.

In addition to the murders of Copts by terrorists described in Section 1.a., terrorists attempted to murder a Coptic novelist, Shehata Guirgis, in Assiyut in April. The area of Dairut, Assiyut Governorate, the scene of a massacre of 13 Coptic residents in May 1992, is reportedly still tense as Coptic residents fear for their safety outside their homes. Islamists have obstructed church repairs and construction and harassed Copt-owned businesses. Christians have complained that the Government has been lax in protecting Coptic lives and property. Security forces arrest terrorists who perpetrate violence against Copts, but the Government does not always prevent attacks and does little to correct nonviolent forms of discrimination, including its own.

Several times in 1993 Minister of Education Hassan Kamel Behei Eddine stated publicly that religious intolerance has become more pronounced in the public school system. In March the Minister expelled four female secondary school students for playing an audio cassette tape in their classroom which reportedly contained anti-Christian remarks. Although the students were reinstated 2 weeks later, their expulsions sparked antigovernment and anti-Christian demonstrations in their home town. In the disturbances, at least 52 persons were hurt, and petroleum bombs were thrown at a local church.

People with Disabilities

The Government makes serious efforts to address the rights of the disabled. It works closely with United Nations agencies and other international aid donors to design job training programs for the disabled. The Government also seeks to increase the public's awareness of the capabilities of the disabled in television programming, the print media, and in educational material in the public schools. Although there is no known legislation for access to public accommodations, the disabled are provided with preferred seating on government- owned mass transit buses.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Egyptian workers may, but are not required to, join trade unions. A union local, or worker's committee, may be formed if 50 employees express a desire to organize. Most union members, about 25 percent of the labor force, are employed by state-owned enterprises. The law stipulates that "high administrative" officials in government and the public sector may not join unions.

There are 23 industrial unions, all required to belong to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the sole legally recognized labor federation. A 1993 critique by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) noted that the labor union law of 1976 impinges on worker rights in the following ways: The law defines which trade unions may be established, the manner in which they are to be organized, and their aims; it also prohibits the establishment of more than one trade union federation; the Government may disapprove or revoke the charter of any trade union, thus rendering it an illegal organization; with court approval, the Minister of Labor has authority to dissolve the national governing board of a trade union; the law does not define under what circumstances the national governing board of a trade union may dissolve the board of an affiliated union local. Moreover, only one union is allowed per workplace.

The International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts (COE), which has long noted these same defects, urged the Government in 1993 to guarantee to all workers the right to establish trade union organizations outside the existing trade union structure, to recognize the right of workers' organizations to elect their representatives in full freedom and to administer the finances of their activities without interference by the public authorities, and to remove restrictions on the right to strike.

The Government has shown no sign that it intends to accept the establishment of more than one federation. The ETUF leadership asserts that it actively promotes worker interests and that there is no need for another federation. The ETUF is nominally independent of the Government, but ETUF officials have close relations with the ruling NDP, and some are members of the People's Assembly and the Shura Council. They speak vigorously on behalf of worker concerns, but public confrontations between ETUF and the Government are rare. Disputes are more often resolved by consensus behind closed doors.

Even though the right to strike is not guaranteed, strikes do occur. The Government considers strikes a form of public disturbance and hence illegal. Strikes occurring in 1993 were brief and isolated.

Some unions within the ETUF have affiliated with international trade union organizations, and others are in the process of doing so.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Under the current law, unions may negotiate work contracts with public sector enterprises if the latter agree to such negotiations, but unions otherwise lack collective bargaining power in the state sector. Under current circumstances, collective bargaining does not exist in any meaningful sense because the Government sets wages, benefits, and job classifications by law. Larger firms in the private sector generally adhere to such government- mandated standards.

Labor law and practice are the same in the export processing zones as in the rest of the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is illegal and not practiced. There are no known instances of domestic or foreign workers forced to remain in situations amounting to coerced or forced labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 12. Education is compulsory until age 15. An employee must be at least 15 to join a labor union. The Labor Law of 1981 states that children 12 to 15 may work 6 hours a day but not after 7 p.m. and not in dangerous or heavy activities. Child workers must obtain medical certificates and work permits before they are employed. A 1989 study estimated that two-thirds of working children, perhaps 720,000 children, work on farms.

However, children also work as apprentices in repair and craft shops and as workers in heavier industries such as brickmaking and textiles. It is difficult to verify how closely the Ministry of Labor enforces child labor laws, especially in family-owned enterprises.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

For government and public sector employees, the statutory monthly minimum wage is $11.40 (38 Egyptian pounds) for vocational school graduates and $14.40 (48 pounds) for university graduates (for a legally maximum workweek of 6 days, 48 hours). The minimum wage has not been adjusted since the early 1980's. Like the base pay rates in the public sector, the minimum wage is supplemented by a complex system of fringe benefits and yearly bonuses. These additions may triple the worker's take-home pay. The minimum wage is also legally binding on the private sector, and larger private companies generally observe the requirement and pay bonuses as well. Smaller firms do not always pay the minimum wage or bonuses.

The Ministry of Labor sets worker health and safety standards, which also apply in the export processing zones, but enforcement and inspection are uneven. Under the current labor law, workers may decline dangerous work assignments without jeopardy to their employment. The law also requires employers to provide regular medical examinations to employees in hazardous occupations.

Search Refworld

Countries