United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Egypt, 26 February 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6118.html [accessed 14 February 2016]
This 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. The National Democratic Party (NDP), which has governed since its establishment in 1978, has used its entrenched position to dominate national politics, and it maintains an overriding majority in the popularly elected People's Assembly and the partially elected Shura (Consultative) Council. President Hosni Mubarak was reelected unopposed to a third 6-year term by the People's Assembly in 1993. The Cabinet and the country's 26 governors are appointed by the President and may be dismissed by him at his discretion. The judiciary is independent. There are several security services in the Ministry of Interior, two of which are involved primarily in combating terrorism: The State Security Investigations Sector (SSIS), 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 terrorists. The President is the commander-in-chief of the military; the military is a primary stabilizing factor within society but generally does not involve itself in internal issues. The use of violence by security forces in the campaign against suspected terrorists appeared more limited than in previous years. The security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Egypt is in transition from a government-controlled economy to a free market system. The Government continued its privatization program, although key sectors of the economy remain under government control. Agriculture remains the largest employer and is almost entirely in private hands. The tourism sector generates the largest amount of foreign currency. Petroleum exports, Suez Canal revenues, and remittances from approximately 2 million Egyptians working abroad are the other principal sources of foreign currency. In the past 8 years, the Government has enacted significant economic reforms, which have reduced the budget deficit, stabilized the exchange rate, reduced inflation and interest rates significantly, and built up substantial reserves. The success of the macroeconomic reform has resulted in an annual economic growth rate of 5 percent for fiscal year 1997-98. Continued progress in economic development depends primarily upon implementation of a wide range of structural reforms. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is about $1,100 per year. Official statistics place 34.4 percent of wage earners in the agricultural sector, and knowledgeable observers estimate that perhaps 3 to 5 percent of those engage in subsistence farming. The annual population increase is 2.1 percent. Adult literacy rates are 63 percent for males and 34 percent for females. The Government continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses, although its record improved somewhat over the previous year. The ruling NDP dominates the political scene to such an extent that citizens do not have a meaningful ability to change their government. The Emergency Law, which has been in effect since 1981, continues to restrict many basic rights. The security forces and terrorist groups continued to engage in violent exchanges. In fighting the terrorists, the security forces continued to mistreat and torture prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and detain persons, hold detainees in prolonged pretrial detention, and occasionally engage in mass arrests. In actions unrelated to the antiterrorist campaign, local police killed, tortured, and otherwise abused both criminal suspects and other persons. The Government took disciplinary action against police officers accused of abusing detainees, including prosecution of several offenders, but it did not pursue most cases or seek adequate punishments. Local human rights groups reported that in the course of a murder investigation in August and September, the police detained hundreds of citizens, including relatives of suspects, women, and children, in the largely Coptic Christian village of al-Kush in Sohag governorate. Local observers reported that dozens of these detainees were subjected to torture and mistreatment. In October the public prosecutor in Sohag charged local clergymen Bishop Wisa and Arch-Priest Antonius with witness tampering after they publicly protested the police conduct. They were questioned and released after each paid bail. On December 1, a state security prosecutor charged the secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Hafez Abu Se'da, with accepting foreign money and publishing false information with the intent to harm national interests. The charges were based on a report critical of the Sohag incident published by the EOHR on September 28. Abu Se'da was detained for 6 days and then released on bail. A state security prosecutor also levied the same charges against EOHR attorney Mustafa Zidane on December 9. Zidane is the author of the EOHR report on the Sohag incident. He was not detained but required to pay bail. The charges raised against Bishop Wisa, Arch-Priest Antonius, Abu Se'da, and Zidane have not been dropped. Prison conditions are poor. In a significant policy shift, the Ministry of Interior announced in December that it had released up to 5,000 political detainees during the year. The use of military courts to try civilians continued to infringe on a defendant's right to a fair trial before an independent judiciary. However, during the year the Government referred only one case, involving 65 civilian defendants, to the military court system. The Government used the Emergency Law to infringe on citizens' privacy rights. Although citizens generally express themselves freely, the Government continued to place some restrictions on freedom of the press. The Government restricts freedom of assembly and association. Despite difficulties due to an inadequate legal framework and periodic government harassment, a number of local human rights groups are active. Although the Government does not legally recognize them, it allows these groups to operate openly. The Government places limits on freedom of religion. Women and Christians face discrimination based on tradition and some aspects of the law. Domestic violence against women is a problem. Terrorist violence against Christians is a problem. Child labor remains widespread despite government efforts to eradicate it. Abuse by employers continues, and the Government does not enforce the law effectively. Although the Government enforces the 1996 decree banning the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), many families persist in subjecting their daughters to the traditional practice. The Government limits workers' rights. Terrorist groups committed numerous serious abuses. Terrorist groups seeking to overthrow the Government and establish a purportedly Islamic state continued their attacks on police and Coptic Christians. Terrorist groups were responsible for 29 deaths throughout the year. In September Amnesty International (AI) issued a report on the impact of terrorist groups titled "Human Rights Abuses by Armed Groups," which covers the period 1992-1998. AI reported that armed groups in Egypt, particularly the Islamic Group and the Jihad Group, have been responsible for numerous serious abuses and have killed hundreds of civilians, including Coptic Christians and foreign tourists. However, the report noted that political violence appeared to have diminished considerably over the first 8 months of the year.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings; however, police committed extrajudicial killings, and such killings also may have occurred in certain antiterrorist operations. On April 9, Waheed Al Sayyid Ahmad Abdallah died as a result of torture during interrogation by police in the village of Belqas in Mansura governorate (see Section 1.c.). In response to Abdallah's death, the public prosecutor charged five security officials with premeditated murder. On April 30, Mahmoud Fares died as a result of torture while detained at a prison in Port Said (see Section 1.c.). On September 26, Gamal Mohammed Abdallah Mustafa died as a result of torture during an investigation by police in the Cairo suburb of Ma'adi (see Section 1.c.). The public prosecutor is investigating the incident. Four persons died in Luxor on April 17 after security forces opened fire on a crowd protesting government demolition of their homes. The names of these persons were Mohammed Ahmad Radwan, Mohammed Ahmad Ahrya, Badawy Ahmad Al Bahairy, and Mohammed Mahmoud Ahmad. In civil unrest related to the ongoing implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law, security forces killed four persons in ensuing clashes. According to the Land Center for Human Rights, the persons who died were Mohammed Ali Hemeida, Ahmed Mohammed Abdou, Sweilam Shamiya Mahrous, and Mohammed Mohammed Ali. In antiterrorist campaigns, security forces killed 18 suspected terrorists during raids on suspected terrorist hideouts; there were no reports of the excessive use of lethal force. No suspects died while attempting to escape arrest. There were no reports of killings of relatives of suspected extremists by security forces in apparent vendettas. Eleven persons died in prison, reportedly due to medical negligence by the authorities (see Section 1.c.). The public prosecution is investigating allegations of the use of torture by police that resulted in the death of a businessman in November 1997 in the governorate of Galoubiya (see Section 1.c.). In response to a 1994 charge of police torture of Fateh Al-Bab Abdel Moneim, a court convicted the defendant to 1-year's imprisonment in January. The officer is appealing the verdict. According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), the prosecution dropped the case against a police officer charged with the 1995 torture of Gamal El-Shazly. Reportedly, the officer was subjected to an internal reprimand and transferred. Terrorist groups were responsible for the majority of the deaths in civil unrest. They killed 29 persons, compared with 155 in 1997. This total included 11 police and security officers and 18 civilians, including 8 Coptic Christians. On February 1, the Government executed four members of the Islamic Group who were sentenced to death by a military court in 1997 for killing a state security officer in Giza in 1993, and for bombing nine banks in Cairo and Giza in 1993 and 1994. On June 10 the Government executed two members of the Islamic Group sentenced to death by a state security court in 1997 for carrying out acts of terrorism in Sohag governorate in 1994. On May 24 the Government executed the two men who were sentenced to death by a military court in 1997 for carrying out a terrorist attack resulting in the death of nine German tourists at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in September 1997. On November 25, the government executed one member of the Islamic Group sentenced to death by a military court in 1995 for planning to carry out acts of terrorism in the Khan al Khalili market of Cairo. Also on November 25, the government executed two members of the Islamic Group, including local leader Gamal Abu Rawash, convicted during the year for planning to kill public figures (see Section 1.e.).
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. The Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners is investigating the cases of 19 persons who disappeared during the period between 1992 and 1996. One individual reported missing in 1997 by the center has been found. During the year the EOHR reported the disappearance of 21 persons since 1994. The EOHR suspects that 17 of these persons are members of the terrorist organization known as "the Islamic Group in Egypt." The EOHR continues to investigate nine previously reported disappearances. The EOHR has provided these names to the U.N. Committee on Disappearances, but the Government reportedly has denied any involvement in these cases, and has not responded to queries from human rights monitors regarding other outstanding cases. After an investigation of the case of former Libyan Foreign Minister Mansur Kikhiya, who disappeared from Cairo in 1993, a Cairo court on March 21 rejected claims of government culpability in his kidnapping and execution. Kihiya's family sued the Government following reports that he had been kidnaped from Cairo by Libyan agents, taken to Libya, and executed there in early 1994.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits the infliction of "physical or moral harm" upon persons who have been arrested or detained; however, torture and abuse of detainees by police, security personnel, and prison guards is common. Under the Penal Code, torture of a defendant or orders to torture are felonies punishable by temporary hard labor or 3 to 10 years' imprisonment. If the defendant dies, the crime is one of intentional murder punishable by a life sentence at hard labor. Arrest without due cause, threatening death, or using physical torture is punishable by temporary hard labor. The use of cruelty against persons by relying on one's position is punishable by imprisonment of no more than 1 year or a fine of no more than $65. Victims may bring a criminal or civil action for compensation against the responsible government agency. There is no statute of limitations in such cases. Despite these legal safeguards, there were numerous credible reports, including statements by government officials, that security forces tortured and mistreated citizens. Reports of torture and mistreatment at police stations remain frequent. In December Interior Minister Habib al Adly publicly stated that "it is no longer possible to disregard human rights or excuse violations under the pretext of confronting security risks." However, Adly added that "some legitimate extraordinary measures initiated for the public good to address an extraordinary danger should not be described as a human rights violation." While the Government has investigated torture complaints in criminal cases and punished some offending officers, the punishments are not in line with the seriousness of the offense. However, government officials have stated that administrative punishments can be severe enough to prevent further career advancement, and that some police officers have opted to face criminal charges instead. The Government has stated that it would not disclose further details of individual cases of police abuse for fear of harming the morale of law enforcement officers involved in counterterrorism operations. Human rights groups believe that the SSIS continues to employ torture. Torture takes place in SSIS offices, including its headquarters in Cairo, and at Central Security Force camps. Torture victims usually are taken to an SSIS office where they are handcuffed, blindfolded, and questioned about their associations, religious beliefs, and political views. Torture is used to extract information, coerce the victims to end their antigovernment activities, and deter others from such activities. Egyptian human rights groups and victims reported a number of torture methods. Detainees frequently are stripped; hung by their wrists with their feet touching the floor or forced to stand for prolonged periods; doused with hot or cold water; beaten; forced to stand outdoors in cold weather; and subjected to electrical shocks. Some victims, including female detainees, report that they have been threatened with rape. While the law requires security authorities to keep written records of detained citizens, human rights groups report that such records often are not available, not found, or that the police deny any knowledge of the detainee when inquiries are made about specific cases, effectively blocking the investigation of torture complaints. On April 9, Waheed Al Sayyid Ahmad Abdallah died as a result of torture during interrogation by police in the village of Belqas in Mansura governorate (see Section 1.a.). On April 30, Mahmoud Fares died as a result of torture while detained at a prison in Port Said (see Section 1.a.). On September 26, Gamal Mohammed Abdallah Mustafa died as a result of torture during an investigation by police in the Cairo suburb of Ma'adi (see Section 1.a.). The EOHR and other groups reported that the police in the mainly Coptic Christian Al-Kush village in Sohag governorate detained hundreds of citizens, including relatives of suspects, women, and children, in the largely Coptic Christian village of al-Kush in Sohag governorate during the investigation of the double murder of two Copts in August and September. Local observers reported that dozens of these detainees were subjected to torture and mistreatment. It is unclear whether religion was a factor in the officers' actions. There are credible reports that in the course of the interrogations the police disparaged the religion of the detainees. However, most local Christian leaders and human rights activists say the incident was not a case of religious persecution or discrimination. They characterize it as an example of systemic police brutality. However, confusion and suspicion about police motives remain (also see Sections 1.d. and 2.c.). During the year the Government took action against several policemen charged with torture during interrogation of detainees. In three separate cases a court found Interior Ministry officials guilty of torture and ordered compensation paid to the victims. In a fourth case, the court acquitted the defendant. An official at the Tora prison complex in Cairo was suspended during an internal investigation following allegations that he and officials under his command beat members of the press syndicate during an August 25 visit. The public prosecution is investigating allegations of the use of torture by police that resulted in the death of a businessman in November 1997 in the governorate of Galoubiya (see Section 1.a.). In December a criminal court directed the public prosecutor to investigate allegations that 13 members of the Alexandria police force tortured Mohammed Badr al Din Gomah during the investigation of a 1996 murder case. Gomah had been convicted of murder and imprisoned because of testimony he provided while subject to torture. In the same decision, the court ordered Gomah's release. In separate but related action, the Interior Minister ordered an internal investigation of these police officers. Prison conditions remain poor. Government authorities reported the renovation or construction of 14 prisons during the past 5 years. Nonetheless, human rights groups report that overcrowding and unhealthy conditions continue. Cells are poorly ventilated, food is inadequate in quantity and nutritional value, drinking water is often polluted, and medical services are insufficient. These conditions contribute to the spread of disease and epidemics. The use of torture and mistreatment continues to be common. During the year, the EOHR and the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners issued several reports describing the inhuman conditions of 10 prisons, focusing on inadequate medical treatment of hundreds of prisoners. The reports cover conditions in Abu Zaabal Industrial Prison and Leman Abu Zaabal, Al-Wadi Al-Jadid, Wadi Al-Natroun I and II, Damanhour, Fayoum General, Assiyut General, and the prisons of the Tora complex. Human rights groups estimate that at least 11 persons died in prison during the year and attributed these deaths to medical negligence by prison authorities. The names of these persons were Hassouna Gaber Abdel Latef, Magdi Mohammed Abdul Maqsoud Afifi, Sa'eed Mohammed Mohammed Al-Meliegi, Abdul Aziz Abdul Wahid Abdalla, Abu Bakr Sa'ad Mahmoud, Hamid Fathi Abdul Aziz, Ali Abdel Nasser, Fathi Ali Orman, Fathi Abdel- Aziz Ibrahim, Sa'eed Eid Mohammed Eid Adam, and Mahmoud Nour Eddine. The human rights groups continued to investigate these deaths. However, The EOHR reported that the Ministry of Health inoculated the inmates of Damanhour prison in May following a prisoner's death from meningitis. Relatives and lawyers often are unable to obtain access to prisons for visits. Prisons in Abu Zaabal, Tora, and Al Fayoum remain closed to visits. Since 1994 there have been seven court orders directing the Interior Ministry to open these prisons for visits. However, human rights groups report that visits have been refused at several prisons. At others restrictions have been placed on visits to prisoners incarcerated for political or terrorist crimes, limiting the number of visits allowed each prisoner, and the total number of visitors allowed in the prison at any one time. In principle, human rights monitors are allowed to visit prisoners in their capacity as legal counsel, but in practice they often face considerable bureaucratic obstacles that prevent them from meeting with prisoners. The Government does not permit the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
As part of the Government's antiterrorist campaign, security forces have conducted mass arrests and detained hundreds of individuals without charge. Police also at times arbitrarily detained persons. Under the provisions of the Emergency Law, which has been in effect since 1981, the police may obtain an arrest warrant from the Ministry of Interior upon showing that an individual poses a danger to security and public order. This procedure nullifies the constitutional requirement of obtaining a warrant from a judge or prosecutor upon showing that an individual likely has committed a specific crime. The Emergency Law allows authorities to detain an individual without charge. After 30 days, a detainee has the right to demand a court hearing to challenge the legality of the detention order and may resubmit his motion for a hearing at 1-month intervals thereafter. There is no maximum limit to the length of detention if the judge continues to uphold the legality of the detention order, or if the detainee fails to exercise his right to a hearing. In addition to the Emergency Law, the Penal Code also gives the state wide detention powers. Under the Penal Code, prosecutors must bring charges within 48 hours or release the suspect. However, they may detain a suspect for a maximum of 6 months, pending investigation. Arrests under the Penal Code occur openly and with warrants issued by a district prosecutor or judge. There is a system of bail. The Penal Code contains several provisions to combat extremist violence. These provisions broadly define terrorism to include the acts of "spreading panic" and "obstructing the work of authorities." During the year security forces and police arrested 62 persons allegedly associated with the terrorist organizations known as The Islamic Group in Egypt and The Jihad Group in Egypt. Security forces also arrested 24 persons suspected of belonging to the nonviolent, Islamic fundamentalist group Qutbiyyoun. During the year they arrested a total of 75 persons allegedly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (an Islamist opposition organization). Eight of these persons reportedly were released later. In April state security forces reportedly arrested 30 members, including the leader, of a cult-like Islamic group associated with the Al Tableegh Wal Daa'wa (Withdrawal Movement). In April the Interior Ministry announced that these detainees would be referred to Al Azhar University for reeducation on the correct interpretation of Islam. Local human rights groups reported that in the course of a murder investigation in August and September, the police detained hundreds of citizens, including relatives of suspects, women, and children, in the largely Coptic Christian village of al-Kush in Sohag governorate. Local observers reported that dozens of these detainees were subjected to torture and mistreatment. On December 1, a state security prosecutor detained EOHR secretary-general Hafez Abu Se'da and charged him with violating two articles of the Criminal Code. The prosecutor acted in response to allegations that Abu Se'da had received bribes from a foreign country to spread reports of discrimination against Coptic Christians. The charges raised by the state security prosecutor followed publication of an EOHR report critical of police conduct in Sohag (see Sections 1.c., 2.a., and 2.c.). Abu Se'da was released from detention on December 6 after paying bail. However, the charges raised against him have not been dropped. Human rights groups reported that hundreds, and according to one report, thousands, of persons detained under the Emergency Law have been incarcerated for several years without charge. The courts have ordered the release of several of these detainees, but prison officials reportedly have ignored the orders. The Ministry of Interior frequently reissues detention orders to send detainees back to prison. One such detainee, Abdel Moneim Gamal Eddine, went on a hunger strike in May to protest his detention. He was transferred in June from Al-Wadi Al-Jadid prison in the New Valley to the hospital in the Tora prison complex in Cairo. During the year, the Government released and then rearrested some of the 31 persons convicted in 1995 and given a 3-year sentence for association with the Muslim Brotherhood. In December the government reported that during the year it had released 5,000 political detainees, whom the government described as "repentant extremists." Human Rights groups reported that the government released an estimated one to three thousand political detainees. The Government also released an additional 2,300 prisoners who had been convicted of ordinary crimes and were serving sentences. These prisoners were released on October 6 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Neither the Government nor human rights groups were able to provide firm figures for the total prison population. However, following the 1998 release, one human rights group estimated that there are 10,000 prisoners who are registered and serving sentences and an additional 13,000 political detainees. The Government does not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is independent; however, cases involving national security or terrorism may be handled by military or State Security Emergency courts, in which constitutional protections may not be observed. The Constitution provides for the independence and immunity of judges and forbids interference by other authorities in the exercise of their judicial functions. The President appoints all judges upon recommendation of the Higher Judicial Council, a constitutional body composed of senior judges, and chaired by the President of the Court of Cassation. The Council regulates judicial promotions and transfers. In the last few years, the Government has added lectures on human rights and other social issues to its training courses for prosecutors and judges. There are three levels of regular criminal courts: Primary courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation, the final stage of criminal appeal. The judicial system is based on the Napoleonic tradition; hence, there are no juries. Misdemeanors that are punishable by imprisonment are heard at the first level by one judge; at the second level by three judges. Felonies that are punishable by imprisonment or execution are heard in criminal court by three judges. Contestations of rulings are heard by the Court of Cassation. A lawyer is appointed at the court's expense if the defendant does not have one. The appointment of lawyers is based on a roster chosen by the Bar Association; however, expenses are incurred by the state. Any denial of this right is cause for contestation of the ruling. However, detainees in certain high security prisons alleged that they were denied access to counsel or that such access was delayed until trial, thus denying counsel the time to prepare an adequate defense. A woman's testimony is equal to that of a man's in court. There is no legal prohibition against a woman serving as a judge, although in practice no women serve as judges (see Section 5). Defense lawyers generally agree that the regular judiciary respects the rights of the accused and exercises its independence. In the past, criminal court judges have dismissed cases where confessions were obtained by coercion. However, while the judiciary generally is credited with conducting fair trials, under the Emergency Law, cases involving terrorism and national security may be tried in military or State Security Emergency courts, in which the accused do not receive all the constitutional protections of the civilian judicial system. In 1992 following a rise in extremist violence, the Government began trying cases of persons accused of terrorism and membership in terrorist groups before military tribunals. In 1993 the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the President may invoke the Emergency Law to refer any crime to a military court. This use of military and State Security Emergency courts under the Emergency Law has deprived hundreds of civilian defendants of their constitutional right to be tried by an ordinary judge. The Government defends the use of military courts as necessary in terrorism cases, maintaining that trials in the civilian courts are protracted and that civilian judges and their families are vulnerable to terrorist threats. Some civilian judges have confirmed their fear of trying high visibility terrorism cases because of possible reprisal. The Government claims that civilian defendants receive fair trials in the military courts and enjoy the same rights as defendants in civilian courts. However, the military courts do not ensure civilian defendants due process before an independent tribunal. While military judges are lawyers, they are also military officers appointed by the Minister of Defense and subject to military discipline. They are not as independent or as qualified as civilian judges in applying the civilian Penal Code. There is no appellate process for verdicts issued by military courts; instead, verdicts are subject to a review by other military judges and confirmation by the President, who in practice usually delegates the review function to a senior military officer. Defense attorneys have complained that they have not been given sufficient time to prepare defenses and that judges tend to rush cases with many defendants. During the year, the Government referred 65 civilian defendants to the military courts in the case named after Gamal Abu Rawash, a leader of the Islamic Group. The defendants, including four lawyers who previously had defended members of the Islamic group, were charged with planning in 1995 to kill the President of Cairo University, presidential advisor Osama Al Baz, and the head of the cabinet, Zakariyya Azmy. On February 1, the court acquitted 32 persons, sentenced 2 to death (including Abu Rawash), 1 to life imprisonment, and the remaining 30 to prison sentences varying from 3 to 15 years. The State Security Emergency courts share jurisdiction with military courts over crimes affecting national security. The President appoints judges to these courts from the civilian judiciary upon the recommendation of the Minister of Justice and, if he chooses to appoint military judges, the Minister of Defense. Sentences are subject to confirmation by the President but cannot be appealed. The President may alter or annul a decision of a State Security Emergency court, including a decision to release a defendant. During the year, the State Security Emergency courts issued judgments in 5 cases involving 129 defendants who were charged with terrorist acts. There are no reliable statistics on the numbers of political prisoners, but the total may approach 100; observers estimate that the number of political detainees may be in the thousands (see Section 1.d.).
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Under the Constitution, homes, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication "shall have their own sanctity, and their secrecy shall be guaranteed." Police must obtain warrants before undertaking searches and wiretaps. Courts have dismissed cases in which warrants were issued without sufficient cause. Police officers who conduct searches without proper warrants are subject to criminal penalties, although these are seldom imposed. However, the Emergency Law has abridged the constitutional provisions regarding the right to privacy. The Emergency Law empowers the Government to place wiretaps, intercept mail, and search persons or places without warrants. Security agencies frequently place political activists, suspected subversives, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance, screen their correspondence (especially international mail), search them and their homes, and confiscate personal property. The Ministry of Interior has the authority to stop specific issues of foreign-published newspapers from entering the country on the grounds of protecting public order; it exercises this authority sporadically (also see Section 2.a.). In April the Interior Ministry announced that 30 detainees associated with a cult-like Islamic group would be referred to Al Azhar University for spiritual "re-education" (see Section 1.d.). In August and September, during a murder investigation in al-Kush village in Sohag governorate, police detained relatives of suspects, women, and children. Local human rights groups reported that some of these relatives were also subject to torture by the police (see Section 1.c.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, however, the Government continued to place some limitations on these rights. Citizens openly speak their views on a wide range of political and social issues, including vigorous criticism of the Government. The Government owns stock in the three largest daily newspapers, and the President appoints their editors-in-chief. However, although these newspapers generally follow the government line, they frequently criticize government policies. The Government also enjoys a monopoly on the printing and distribution of newspapers, including the opposition parties' papers. The Government has been known to use its monopolistic control of newsprint to limit the output of opposition publications. In March the Government withdrew the permission to print at a government printing facility that previously had been granted to the Arabic language weekly newspaper, Al Dustur. Al Dustur, which had operated under a publishing license from Cyprus, lost its government permission to print following publication of articles about religious strife. Opposition political parties publish their own newspapers but receive a subsidy from the Government and, in some cases, subsidies from foreign interests as well. Most newspapers are weeklies, with the exception of the daily Al Wafd, the daily Al-Ahrar, and Al-Shaab, the semiweekly of the Islamist-oriented Socialist Labor Party. All have small circulations. Opposition newspapers frequently publish criticism of the Government. They also give greater prominence to human rights abuses than the state-run newspapers. All party newspapers are required by law to reflect the platform of their party. The Press Law, the Publications Law, and the Penal Code govern press issues. The laws stipulate fines or imprisonment for criticism of the President, members of the Government, and foreign heads of state. The Supreme Constitutional Court agreed in November to review the constitutionality of those articles of the Penal Code that specify imprisonment as a penalty for journalists convicted of libel. The Constitution restricts ownership of newspapers to public or private legal entities, corporate bodies, and political parties. However, there are numerous restrictions on legal entities that seek to establish their own newspapers, including a ceiling of 10 percent on individual ownership. In January the People's Assembly approved a law that requires newspapers managed by joint stock companies to obtain the approval of the Prime Minister prior to publishing. Given government restrictions, a joint stock company is the only feasible incorporation option for publishers. Under this new law, the Government denied a publishing license to two newspapers, including Al Dustur. Newspapers published outside Egypt may be distributed with government permission. However, the Government imposed a 2-month ban (March 31 to May 20) barring publishing companies located in the free-trade zone from printing more than 30 newspapers and magazines developed for the Egyptian market but licensed by a foreign government. On August 2, an administrative court issued a judgment declaring the ban unlawful. Libel laws provide protection against malicious rumor-mongering and unsubstantiated reporting. Financial penalties were increased substantially in 1996 when relevant provisions of the Penal Code were revised, but the judicial process remains long and costly, creating a bar to realistic legal recourse for those wrongly defamed. In recent years, opposition party newspapers have, within limits, published articles critical of the President and foreign heads of state without being charged or harassed. The Government continues to charge journalists with libel. In 1996 the People's Assembly approved a revised Press Law, following criticism of a more restrictive revision that had been approved in 1995. In related legislation, the People's Assembly also revised certain articles in the Penal Code pertaining to libel and slander. In addition, in 1997 the Supreme Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional Article 195 of the Penal Code under which an editor in chief could have been considered criminally responsible for libel contained in any portion of the newspaper. The court ruled that the correct standard of responsibility should be "negligence." This lesser standard subsequently was applied by the courts. During the year, four journalists convicted of libel under the 1996 Press Law were imprisoned for short periods. However, the Court of Cassation overturned the libel convictions of Magdy Ahmad Hussein and Mohammed Hillal of the newspaper Al Shaab. Hussein and Hillal had been convicted on several counts of libel of former Interior Minister Hassan Alfi and his family. Alfi and Hussein reached an out-of-court settlement, and Alfi agreed to drop the remaining charges against Al Shaab. The Court of Cassation also overturned a lower court libel conviction of Gamal Fahmy, a reporter for the recently defunct Al Dustor. Amr Nassif, a reporter for the weekly newspaper Al Usbua served a 3-month sentence for libel. Both Fahmy and Nassif had published articles critical of a member of the Shura Council. By contrast, two other journalists, Mustafa Bakry and his brother, Mahmoud Bakry, who were convicted in October by a lower court and sentenced to 1 year imprisonment for libel, were permitted by the Public Prosecutor to remain free while they contest the ruling. Because Mustafa Bakry filed a complaint in November with the Public Prosecutor against the EOHR for its critical report on the Sohag incident (see Section 1. c.), many human rights activists are suspicious about the Public Prosecutor's decision to permit the Bakry brothers to remain free. Government officials filed suit against 10 journalists in 9 cases during the year. In three libel cases filed by the Government in previous years, the courts found the accused guilty and levied fines against them. The Government dropped two previously pending cases. On occasion, based on authority granted to him by law, the Public Prosecutor may issue a temporary ban on the publication of news pertaining to cases involving national security and order so as to protect the confidentiality of the cases. The length of the ban is based on the length of time required for the prosecution to prepare its case. The Public Prosecutor reportedly banned publication of news related to a strike staged during the summer in Bahariya (see Section 6.b.). On December 1, a state security prosecutor charged EOHR secretary-general Hafez Abu Se'da with violating Article 102 of the Penal Code, which relates to deliberate dissemination of false information or inflammatory propaganda that harms public security or public interests. The charge was based on an EOHR report critical of police conduct in the Sohag incident (see Sections 1.d. and 2.c.). Abu Se'da was detained and released on December 6. On December 9, a state security prosecutor levied the same charge against EOHR attorney Mustafa Zidane. Zidane, who is the author of the Sohag report, was not detained. The charges filed against both men have not been dropped. In May the People's Assembly approved a police law that prohibits current or former members of the police from publishing work-related information without prior permission from the Interior Minister. Following approval of the law, the Interior Minister, Habib Al Adly, suspended Brigadier General Hamdy Al Batran for publishing a novel titled "The Diary of an Officer in the Countryside." Although Batran had published his book in February, he was charged with failing to secure the Minister's approval, making false claims about police conduct, insulting the police, and other offenses. In September a disciplinary board found Batran innocent of all charges except for failing to secure the Minister's permission. The board also lifted his suspension. Both Batran and the Interior Minister are appealing the board's rulings. The book is available on the market and the Government has not attempted to confiscate it. Various ministries are authorized legally to ban or confiscate books and other works of art, upon obtaining a court order. The Islamic Research Center at Al Azhar University has legal authority to censor, but not to confiscate, all publications dealing with the Koran and Islamic scriptural texts. In recent years the Center has passed judgment on the suitability of nonreligious books and artistic productions. In January 1995, an administrative court ruled that the sole authority to prohibit publication or distribution of books and other works of art resides with the Ministry of Culture. This decision voided a 1994 advisory opinion by a judiciary council that had expanded Al Azhar's censorship authority to include visual and audio artistic works. The same year, President Mubarak stated that the Government would not allow confiscation of books from the market without a court order, a position supported by the then-Mufti of the Republic, who is now the Grand Imam of Al Azhar. There were no court-ordered confiscations during the year. An appeal to the Court of Cassation by author Ala'a Hamed still is pending. Hamed previously was convicted and sentenced to 1 year in prison and a fine of $58.82 (200 Egyptian Pounds) for the pornographic content of his book, "The Bed." In a related decision issued in July, the Higher Administrative Court upheld a lower court ruling dismissing Hamed from his government job in the Ministry of Finance. In January state security forces seized several books on religion written by Khalil Abd Al Karim, also known as the "Red Sheikh." The books, "Qureish from Tribe to State" and "The Situation at the time of the Prophet's Companions" (a trilogy) were condemned in a May 1996 report by the Al Azhar Islamic Research Center. In May state security forces seized two books written by Hamada Imam. The titles of the books are "The Role of the Saudi Family in the Establishment of Israel" and "The Lost Pride in the Arab Desert." State security prosecutors are investigating these two instances of seizure. The Ministry of Interior regularly confiscates leaflets and other works by Muslim fundamentalists. It also has the authority, which it exercises sporadically, to stop specific issues of foreign-published newspapers from entering the country on the grounds of protecting public order (see also Section 1.f.). The Ministry of Defense may ban works about sensitive security issues. The Department of Censorship in the Ministry of Information has the authority to censor or halt distribution of publications printed in the free trade zone under a foreign license. During the year the Ministry censored 10 articles of the English-language weekly, the Middle East Times. Some of the articles contained allegations of human rights violations. The Government continues to refuse to grant a visa to the weekly's publisher, Thomas Cromwell, but cited reasons unrelated to his position as a journalist for the action. The Ministry also prohibited distribution of more than 10 editions of the English-language weekly, the Cairo Times. The council of Ministers may order the banning of works that it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace. Plays and films must pass Ministry of Culture censorship tests as scripts and as final productions. Many plays and films highly critical of the Government and its policies are not censored. The Ministry of Culture also censors foreign films for viewing in theaters, but it is more lenient when the same films are released in video cassette format. Government censors ensure that foreign films made in Egypt portray the country 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 the country. Still pending before an appeals court is the case against the film, "Birds of Darkness." The plaintiffs charge that it is insulting to lawyers. Two related cases against the movie were dropped in 1997. The Ministry of Information owns and operates all domestic television and radio productions. In the past, it has censored artistic works that criticized the Government or dealt with social problems from a nongovernmental perspective. Moderate Muslims and secularist writers are still subject to legal action by Islamic extremists. Cairo University professor Nasr Abu Zeid and his wife continue to live abroad following the 1996 Court of Cassation ruling that affirmed lower court judgments that Abu Zeid is an apostate because of his controversial interpretation of Koranic teachings. However, the Supreme Constitutional Court agreed in May to review the constitutionality of the 1996 ruling. In May the American University of Cairo withdrew from its curriculum and library copies of a biography of the Prophet Muhammed written in 1967 by the French scholar Maxime Rodinson. The University took this action following public protests, including complaints by the Minister of Higher Education, that the book insults Islam. The Government does not directly restrict academic freedom at universities. However, some university professors claim that the Government tightened its control over universities in 1994 by a law authorizing university presidents to appoint the deans of the various faculties. Under the previous law, faculty deans were elected by their peers. The Government has justified the measure as a means to combat Islamist influence on campus.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Government continues to maintain substantial restrictions on freedom of assembly. Under a 1923 law, citizens must obtain approval from the Ministry of Interior before holding public meetings, rallies, and protest marches. The Interior Ministry selectively obstructs meetings scheduled to be held on private property and university campuses (also see Section 4). The Government continues to maintain substantial restrictions on freedom of association. Under Law 32 of 1964, the Ministry of Social Affairs has extensive authority over associations and private foundations, including the right to license and dissolve them, confiscate their properties, appoint members to their boards, and intercede in other administrative matters. Licenses may be revoked if such organizations engage in political or religious activities. The law authorizes the Ministry to "merge two or more associations to achieve a similar function," a provision that may be used to merge an undesirable organization out of existence. During the year, Minister of Social Affairs Mervat Al Tellawy spearheaded an effort to overhaul the law by seeking input from community activists throughout the country. Since 1985 the Government has refused to license the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) on grounds that they are political organizations. Nevertheless, in general both continue to operate openly (see Section 4). Under 1993 legislation on professional syndicates, an association must elect its governing board by at least 50 percent of its general membership. Failing a quorum, a second election must be held in which at least 30 percent of the membership votes for the board. If such a quorum is impossible, the judiciary may appoint a caretaker board until new elections can be set. The law was adopted to prevent well-organized minorities, specifically Islamists, from capturing or retaining the leadership of professional syndicates. Members of these syndicates have reported that Islamists have used irregular electoral techniques such as physically blocking polling places and limiting or changing the location of polling sites.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, however, the Government places clear restrictions on this right. Most Egyptians are Muslim, but at least 10 percent of the population, approximately 6 million persons, belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. There are other small Christian denominations, as well as a Jewish community numbering fewer than 50 persons. For the most part, members of the non-Muslim minority worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists abroad. Under the Constitution, Islam is the official state religion and primary source of legislation. Accordingly, religious practices that conflict with Islamic law are prohibited. However, in most matters of family law, Christians are subject to church law. While neither the Constitution nor the Civil and Penal Codes prohibit proselytizing, Christians have been arrested on charges of violating Article 98f of the Penal Code, which prohibits citizens from ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife. There were no reports of such arrests during the year. Some Christians have complained that the Government and security forces are lax in protecting Christian lives and property (see Section 5). The EOHR and other groups reported that police in the mainly Coptic village of Al Kush in Sohag governorate detained and tortured a large number of citizens, including the relatives of suspects, women, and children, during the investigation in August and September of a double murder of two Copts. It is unclear whether religion was a factor in the officers' actions. There are credible reports that in the course of the interrogations the police disparaged the religion of the detainees. However, most local Christian leaders and human rights activists say the incident was not a case of religious persecution or discrimination. They characterize it as an example of systemic police brutality. However, confusion and suspicion about police motives remain (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). There are no legal restrictions on the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. However, Muslims may face legal problems if they convert to another faith. In the past, authorities have charged a few Muslim converts to Christianity under article 98f of the Penal Code. In February the Government lifted travel restrictions that had been imposed on four former Muslims who had converted to Christianity and consequently been charged with violating Article 98f. Following their arrest in 1990, the men were detained for 10 months until President Mubarak ordered their release in 1991. However, at the time of their release the Government did not remove their names from an immigration "lookout list" that prohibits Egyptians involved in criminal proceedings from traveling abroad without government permission. The issue lay dormant until recently when the men began traveling. In two separate incidents, one in late December 1997 and the other in February, two of the converts were arrested at the airport and briefly detained. Following these incidents, the Government removed the names of all four converts from the lookout list. In other cases involving conversion from Islam to Christianity, authorities have charged converts with violating laws prohibiting the falsification of documents. In such instances, converts, who fear government harassment if they officially register the change from Islam to Christianity, have altered their identification cards and other official identity documents themselves to reflect their new religious affiliation. There were no confirmed reports of individuals detained or charged during the year under these laws. In 1997 human rights activist Mamdouh Naklah filed suit seeking removal of the religious affiliation category from identification cards. The court referred the case to the State Commissioner's Office, which has not yet issued an opinion. An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain what is now a presidential decree to build a place of worship. In addition, Interior Ministry regulations issued in 1934 specify a set of 10 conditions that the Government must consider prior to issuance of a presidential decree permitting construction of a church. These conditions include the location of the proposed site, the religious composition of the surrounding community, and the proximity of other churches. The Ottoman Decree also requires the President to approve permits for the repair of church facilities. In response to strong criticism of the decree, President Mubarak in January delegated to governors the authority to approve permits for the repair of church facilities. Despite this action, the approval process for church construction and repair remains time-consuming and insufficiently responsive to the wishes of the Christian community. Although President Mubarak has approved all requests for permits presented to him (reportedly a total of more than 230 during his 16-year tenure), Christians maintain that the Interior Ministry delays--in some instances indefinitely--submission to the President of their requests. They also maintain that security forces have blocked them from utilizing permits that have been issued. During the 1990's, the Government increased the number of building permits issued to Christian communities to an average of more than 20 per year, compared with an average of 5 permits issued annually in the 1980's. During the year, the government approved a total of 30 permits for church-related construction, including 3 permits for the construction of new churches; 10 permits for the construction of additional church facilities; and 17 permits for churches previously constructed without authorization. The Government reported that Governors issued a total of 207 permits for Church-related repair during the year; this total represents a significant increase in approvals. However, the Government was unable to provide a breakdown by governorate. Unofficial reports from the governorates vary. In January 1996, human rights activist Mamdouh Naklah filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the Ottoman decree. In December an administrative court referred Naklah's case to a state body of legal experts. This decision was considered a setback, as the body is not required to issue an opinion expeditiously and its opinions are not binding. As a result of these restrictions, some communities use private buildings and apartments for religious services. In June state security forces shut down a church in the Cairo suburb of Ma'adi. The building had been used for several years for worship by the Coptic Orthodox community, although the community never had received a response to its request for a permit. In mid-October the Government permitted the church to reopen. In 1952, the government seized approximately 1,500 acres of land from the Coptic Orthodox church and transferred title to the Ministry of Awqaf, which is responsible for administering religious trusts. In 1996 Awqaf Minister Hamdy Zaqzouq established a committee to address the issue. Based on the committee's recommendations, approximately 500 acres have been returned to the church over the past 2 years. The committee continues to study the return of the remaining disputed property. The Government continued its efforts to extend legal controls to all mosques, which by law must be licensed. The Government appoints and pays the salaries of the imams officiating in mosques, and proposes themes for and monitors sermons. Of the country's approximately 70,000 mosques, nearly half remain unlicensed and operate outside the control of government authorities. In an effort to combat Islamic extremists, the Government has announced its intention to bring all unauthorized mosques under its control by 2000.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens and foreigners are free to travel within Egypt except in certain military areas. Males who have not completed compulsory military service may not travel abroad or emigrate, although this restriction may be deferred or bypassed. Unmarried women under the age of 21 must have permission from their fathers to obtain passports and travel; married women require the same permission from their husbands. Citizens who leave the country have the right to return. In February the Government lifted travel restrictions on four Muslim converts to Christianity. The Government imposed the restrictions in 1990 following the arrest of the men (see Section 2.c.). The Constitution provides for the grant of political asylum and prohibits the extradition of political refugees. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. Egypt grants first asylum for humanitarian reasons or in the event of internal turmoil in neighboring countries. The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Asylum seekers generally are screened by UNHCR representatives, whose recommendations regarding settlement are forwarded to the ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs for final determination. Refugees accepted by the Government are permitted to live and work in Egypt but cannot acquire citizenship, except in rare cases. During the year, the Government accepted more than 6,500 refugees, including more than 2,500 Somalis and 2,789 Sudanese, for temporary resettlement. Although there is no pattern of abuse of refugees, the Government temporarily detained during random security sweeps some refugees who earlier had been accorded protection status. Following intervention by the UNHCR, the refugees were released.
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 controls the licensing of new political parties, newspapers, and private organizations to such an extent that, as a practical matter, citizens do not have a meaningful ability to change their government. In 1993 President Hosni Mubarak was elected unopposed to a third 6-year term by the People's Assembly. In October of that year, his reelection was approved by 96 percent of the voters in a national referendum. Under the Constitution, the electorate is not presented with a choice among competing presidential candidates. Two opposition parties urged the public to boycott the referendum, and two other parties urged the public to vote against the President. The other opposition parties endorsed the President's candidacy. More than 100 losing candidates in the fall 1995 legislative elections filed complaints in the administrative courts, alleging ballot-rigging and other irregularities. The courts agreed with most of these claims. Although the judiciary has the authority to determine whether or not irregularities took place, it does not have the authority to remove an elected member of the People's Assembly, a right that the Assembly claims solely for itself, citing the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. The Assembly has not called for any new by-elections in response to the courts' judgment, nor is it expected to do so. The People's Assembly debates government proposals, and members exercise their authority to call cabinet ministers to explain policy. The executive initiates almost all legislation. Nevertheless, the Assembly maintains the authority to challenge or restrain the executive in the areas of economic and social policy, but it may not modify the budget except with the Government's approval. The Assembly exercises limited influence in the areas of security and foreign policy, and retains little oversight of the Interior Ministry's use of Emergency Law powers. Many executive branch initiatives and policies are carried out by regulation through ministerial decree without legislative oversight. The military budget is prepared by the executive and not debated publicly. Roll-call votes in the assembly are rare. Votes generally are reported in aggregate terms of yeas and nays, and thus constituents have no independent method of checking a member's voting record. The Shura council, the upper chamber of Parliament, has 264 members. Two-thirds of the members are elected popularly and one-third are appointed by the President. One half of the Shura seats are up for reelection or reappointment every 3 years. In June the NDP won all 88 seats up for election. One Coptic Christian, from Alexandria, won a seat. The President made 47 appointments (including an additional 3 over the 44 open seats to replace deceased members). Those appointed included nine women, eight Coptic Christians, and two members of opposition parties. There are 13 recognized opposition parties. The law empowers the Government to bring felony charges against those who form a party without a license. New parties must be approved by the Parties Committee, a semiofficial body that includes a substantial majority of members from the ruling NDP and some members from among the independent and opposition parties. Decisions of the Parties Committee may be appealed to the civil courts. The Committee refused the applications of two parties during the year. One of the rejected parties, the Egyptian Wasat Party, is appealing this decision. Eight parties whose applications previously have been denied are contesting the decisions. During the year, the court rejected an additional seven appeals that had been pending. According to the law, which prohibits political parties based on religion, the Muslim Brotherhood is an illegal political organization. Muslim Brothers are publicly known and openly speak their views, although they do not explicitly identify themselves as members of the organization. They remain subject to government pressure (see Section 1.d.). Some have served in the Assembly as independents or as members of other recognized parties. Women and minorities are underrepresented in government and politics. The Constitution reserves 10 Assembly seats for presidential appointees, which the President traditionally has used to assure representation for women and Coptic Christians. Five women but no Copts were elected in 1995; of the 10 presidential appointments, 6 were Copts and 4 were women. The ruling NDP nominated no Coptic candidates in the 1995 parliamentary elections. Two women and 2 Copts serve among the 32 ministers in the Cabinet.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government refuses to license local human rights groups as private entities under Law 32 of 1964 (see Section 2.b.). Since 1986 the Government has refused to license the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights on grounds that it is a political organization and duplicates the activities of an existing, although moribund, human rights group (see Section 2.b.). The EOHR has appealed the denial in the courts, and continues to conduct activities openly, pending a final judicial determination of its status. In December a state security prosecutor called in EOHR Secretary General Hafez Abu Se'da and EOHR attorney Mustafa Zidane for questioning about the preparation of the September 28 EOHR report critical of police conduct during a murder investigation in the village of al-Kush in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag during August and September (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). On December 1, abu Se'da was charged with violating 2 articles of the Penal Code. One is a felony involving the acceptance of foreign funds with the intent to harm national interests and the other is a misdemeanor involving publishing false information with the intent to harm public security. Abu Se'da was detained for 6 days and released after paying bail in the amount of $147 (500 Egyptian Pounds). The same charges were levied against Zidane, the author of the EOHR report on Sohag, on December 9. He was not detained but was required to post bail in the amount of $59 (200 Egyptian pounds)(see Section 1.d.). The Arab Organization for Human Rights, the EOHR's parent organization, has a longstanding request for registration as a foreign organization with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry has not approved the request thus far, stating that the issue is dependent on the outcome of efforts within the League of Arab States to establish a human rights body. Despite their nonrecognition, the EOHR and other groups sometimes obtain the cooperation of government officials. The Government allows EOHR field workers to visit prisons in their capacity as legal counsel, to call on some government officials, and to receive funding from foreign human rights organizations. However, many local and international human rights activists have concluded that government restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) have inhibited significantly reporting on human rights abuses. There were no reports during the year that the Government banned meetings of human rights groups, although the Government on occasion makes the holding of such meetings difficult. For example, some human rights organizations have found requests for conference space turned down for "security reasons" or reservations later canceled for "maintenance reasons." Other human rights organizations, such as the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid, are registered with the Government as corporations under commercial or civil law, thus avoiding the obstacles posed by Law 32 (see Section 2.b.). The Cairo-based Arab Program for Human Rights Activists reported that police surrounded the organization's offices on October 15 while a police official interrogated an office assistant. Human Rights groups characterized this incident as provocative action. In 1995 the Ministry of Justice issued a nonbinding advisory ruling stating that such organizations properly should be considered nongovernmental organizations as defined by Law 32 and registered accordingly, or face punitive action. However, the Government did not close down any group during the year.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equality of the sexes and equal treatment of non-Muslims, but aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women and Christians. Women Domestic violence against women is a significant problem and is reflected in press accounts of specific incidents. According to a study conducted in 1995, one of every three women who have ever been married has been beaten at least once during marriage. Among those who have been beaten, less than half ever have sought help. Marital rape is not illegal. In general, neighbors and extended family members intervene to limit incidents of domestic violence. Abuse within the family rarely is discussed publicly, due to the value attached to privacy in this traditional society. Several NGO's have begun offering counseling, legal aid, and other services to women who are victims of domestic violence. Rape is known to occur, but reliable statistics are not available. When "honor killings" (a man murdering a female relative for her perceived lack of chastity) occur, perpetrators generally receive lighter punishments than those convicted in other cases of murder. The law provides for equality of the sexes, but aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women. By law, unmarried women under the age of 21 must have permission from their fathers to obtain passports and to travel; married women of any age require the same permission from their husbands (see Section 2.d.). Only males can confer citizenship. In rare cases, this means that children who are born to Egyptian mothers and stateless fathers are themselves stateless. A woman's testimony is equal to that of a man's in the courts. There is no legal prohibition against a woman serving as a judge, although in practice no women serve as judges. Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally correspond to an individual's religion. A 1979 liberalization of the Family Status Law strengthening a Muslim woman's rights to divorce and child custody was repealed in 1985 after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that use of a presidential decree to implement the law was unjustified. 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 face strong social pressure to provide for all family members who need assistance. However, this assistance is not always provided. Women have employment opportunities in government, medicine, law, academia, the arts, and, to a lesser degree, business. Labor laws guarantee men and women equal rates of pay for equal work in the public sector. According to government figures, women constitute 17 percent of private business owners and occupy 25 percent of the managerial positions in the four major national banks. Social pressure against women pursuing a career is strong, and some women's rights advocates say that a resurgent Islamic fundamentalist trend limits further gains. Women's rights advocates also point to other discriminatory traditional or cultural attitudes and practices such as female genital mutilation and the traditional male relative's role in enforcing chastity and chaste sexual conduct. A number of active women's rights groups work in diverse areas, including reforming the Personal Status Code, educating women on their legal rights, combating FGM, and rewriting the marriage contract. Children The Government remains committed to the protection of children's welfare within the limits of its budgetary resources. Many of the resources for children's welfare are provided by international donors, especially in the field of child immunization. Child labor is widespread, despite the Government's commitment to eradicate it (see Section 6.d.). The Government provides public education, which is compulsory for the first 8 academic years (typically until the age of 15). In education the Government treats boys and girls equally at all levels of education. The Government enacted a new Child Law in 1996. The law provides for more privileges, protection, and care for children in general. Six of the law's 144 articles set advantageous rules for working children (see Section 6.d.). Other provisions include: A requirement for employers to set up or contract with a child care center if they employ more than 100 women; the right of rehabilitation for disabled children; a prohibition on sentencing defendants between the ages of 16 and 18 to capital punishment, hard labor for life, or temporary hard labor; and a prohibition on placing defendants under the age of 15 in preventive custody, although the prosecution may order that they be lodged in an "observation house" and be summoned upon request. The Government remains committed to eradicating the practice of female genital mutilation, which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. Despite strong government and community efforts to eradicate FGM, government and private sources agree that it is common. Traditional and family pressures remain strong; a study conducted in 1995 places the percentage of women who have ever been married who have undergone FGM at 97 percent. FGM generally is performed on girls between the ages of 7 and 10, with equal prevalence among Muslims and Christians. The Court of Cassation issued a decision in 1997 that upheld the legality of the decree banning FGM issued in 1996 by the Minister of Health and Population Planning. In addition to enforcing the decree, the Government supports a range of efforts to educate the public. A discussion of FGM and its dangers has been added to the curriculum of the school system. The Government broadcasts television programs condemning the practice. Government ministers are outspoken in advising citizens to cease the practice, and senior religious leaders also support efforts to stop it. The Sheikh of Al Azhar, the most senior Islamic figure in the country, and the leader of the Coptic Christian community, Pope Shenouda, have stated repeatedly that FGM is not required by religious doctrine. However, illiteracy impedes some women from distinguishing between the deep-rooted tradition of FGM and religious practices. A number of NGO's also work actively to educate the public about the health hazards of the practice. People With Disabilities There are approximately 5.7 million disabled persons, of whom 1.5 million are severely disabled. The Government makes serious efforts to address their rights. 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 public schools. By law, all businesses must designate 5 percent of their jobs for the disabled, who are exempt from normal literacy requirements. Although there is no legislation mandating access to public accommodations and transportation, the disabled may ride government-owned mass transit buses without charge, are given priority in obtaining telephones, and receive reductions on customs duties for private vehicles. Religious Minorities The Constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on religion. For the most part these constitutional protections are upheld by the Government. However, discrimination against Christians still exists. The approximately 6 million Coptic Christians are the objects of occasional violent assaults by the Islamic Group and other terrorists. During the year, extremists were responsible for killing eight Christians in the Minya governorate, where about 30 to 40 percent of the inhabitants are Christian. Some Christians have alleged that the Government is lax in protecting Christian lives and property. Security forces arrest extremists who perpetrate violence against Christians, but some members of the Christian community do not believe that the Government is sufficiently vigorous in its efforts to prevent attacks. They also maintain that the Government does little to correct nonviolent forms of discrimination, including its own. There were reports of forced conversions of Coptic children to Islam, but even human rights groups find it extremely difficult to determine the actual degree of compulsion used, as most cases involve a Coptic girl who converts to Islam when she marries a Muslim boy. According to the Government, the girl in such cases must meet with her family, with her priest, and with the head of her church before she is allowed to convert. However, there are credible reports of government harassment of Christian families that attempt to regain custody of their daughters, and of the failure of the authorities to uphold the law that states that a marriage of a girl under the age of 16 is prohibited and between the ages of 16 and 21 is illegal without the approval and presence of her guardian. Government discriminatory practices include: Suspected statistical underrepresentation of the size of the Christian population; omission of the Coptic Era of Egyptian history in the school curriculum; failure to admit Christians into schools of Arabic studies to become Arabic teachers, as the curriculum involves study of the Koran; negligible media coverage of Christian subjects; job discrimination in the public sector--the police, the armed forces, and other government agencies; and reported discrimination against Christians in staff appointments at universities. There are no Coptic governors and no Copts in the upper ranks of the military or police. Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian press is found in both the government press and in the nonofficial press of the opposition parties. The Government has condemned anti-Semitism and advised journalists and cartoonists to avoid anti-Semitism. There have been no anti-Semitic incidents in recent years directed at the tiny Jewish community.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers may join trade unions but are not required to do so. A union local, or workers' committee, may be formed if 50 employees express a desire to organize. Most union members, about 27 per cent 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 trade unions, all required to belong to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the sole legally recognized labor federation. The International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts repeatedly has emphasized that a law requiring all trade unions to belong to a single federation infringes on the freedom of association. 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. ETUF officials have close relations with the NDP, and some are members of the People's Assembly or the Shura Council. They speak vigorously on behalf of worker concerns, but public confrontations between the ETUF and the Government are rare. Disputes more often are resolved by consensus behind closed doors. The labor laws do not provide adequately statutory authorization for the rights to strike and to engage in collective bargaining. Even though the right to strike is not provided, strikes occur. The Government considers strikes a form of public disturbance and therefore illegal. An increasing number of strikes took place in the public sector and at privatized companies during the year, mainly over issues of wage cuts and dismissals.. In July a strike by workers at the Misr-Helwan Textile Company, a public sector company located in Cairo, led to the closure of the factory for 1 month. The workers contested the disbursement of incentives. Also in July, workers at a transport and engineering company in Alexandria participated in a strike to protest inadequate bonuses and allowances. Minister of Public Enterprise Atef Ebeid reportedly assisted in the peaceful resolution of these strikes. During July and August, workers at the Janaclese Beverage Company in Buheira governorate staged two strikes. The company, formerly part of the public sector, is undergoing privatization and the workers feared that they would be fired. In September workers at the Egypt-Edco Maritime Transport Company, a public sector company located in Alexandria, staged a strike over the disbursement of incentives and early retirement bonuses. Workers at the Siklam dairy products company in Alexandria struck in September to protest the management's approach to implementing privatization of the company. Also in September, workers at the ship repair and building company in Alexandria, a public-sector company, struck because they did not receive overtime pay. More than 800 workers at the thermal industries company in Helwan, a public-sector company, struck in November following the announcement of the liquidation of the Helwan site. Following the strike, the company's management agreed not to close the site. Workers at a public sector spinning company located in the delta struck in November following imposition of harsh disciplinary measures, including suspension of the factory's union. A public sector cotton ginning company in Minya faced a strike in November after management failed to distribute promised bonuses. Workers at a private sector company in the Sixth of October city struck in protest after management fired some employees. More than 750 workers at the Middle East Paper Company, a public sector company located in Cairo, struck in November and December after management announced a halt to bonus and incentive pay. Police surrounded the factory during each incident. Approximately 2,000 workers from the al-Mahalla Carpet Factory in Cairo struck in November following news that the public sector company would be liquidated and sold. Some unions within the ETUF are affiliated with international trade union organizations. Others are in the process of becoming affiliated.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Under the 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. Firms in the private sector generally do not adhere to such government-mandated standards. Although they are required to observe some government practices, such as the minimum wage, social security insurance, and official holidays, they often do not adhere to government practice in non-binding matters, including award of the annual Labor Day bonus. Labor law and practice are the same in Egypt's six export processing zones (EPZ's) as in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Article 13 of the Constitution prohibits forced labor. However, the Criminal Code authorizes sentences of hard labor for some crimes. Although the law does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded labor by children, such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.d.).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
Under the Child Law approved in 1996 (see Section 5), the minimum age for employment is 14 in nonagricultural work. Provincial governors, with the approval of the Minister of Education, can authorize seasonal work for children between the ages of 12 and 14, provided that duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. Preemployment training for children under the age of 12 is prohibited. It is prohibited for children to work for more than 6 hours a day. One or more breaks totaling at least one hour must be included. Children are not to work overtime, during their weekly day off, between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., or for more than 4 hours continuously. Education is compulsory for the first 8 academic years (typically until the age of 15). Statistical information on the number of working children is difficult to obtain and often out of date. A comprehensive study prepared by the Government's statistical agency in 1988 indicated that 1.309 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 years are employed. Government studies also indicate that the concentration of working children is higher in rural than urban areas. Nearly 78 percent of children work on farms. However, children also work as apprentices in repair and craft shops, in heavier industries such as brick making and textiles, and as workers in leather and carpet-making factories. While local trade unions report that the Ministry of Labor adequately enforces the labor laws in state-owned enterprises, enforcement in the private sector, especially in family-owned enterprises, is lax. Many of these children are abused and overworked by their employers, and the restrictions in the new Child Law have not improved conditions due to lax enforcement on the part of the Government. Although the law does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded labor by children, such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
For government and public-sector employees, the minimum wage is approximately $31 (about 106 Egyptian Pounds) a month for a 6-day, 42-hour workweek. Base pay is supplemented by a complex system of fringe benefits and bonuses that may double or triple a worker's take-home pay. The average worker and family could not survive on a worker's base pay at the minimum wage rate. The minimum wage also is binding legally 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 inspections are uneven. The law prohibits employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions, and workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment.