Major manoeuvres against independent trade unions: Although the 2015 report of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association requests that "the draft labour law be adopted as a matter of priority, giving clear legislative protection to the numerous newly formed independent trade unions and ensuring full respect for freedom of association rights", the attacks against these organisations have since been stepped up.

At the end of 2015, the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers' Services (CTUWS) denounced a renewed attempt to muzzle independent trade unions. In an official document, the Presidency recommended that his ministers hold monthly meetings with ETUF representatives, in the presence of the media, to highlight the government's supposed resolve to defend workers' rights.

As part of the surge to quash trade unionism, on 1 March, a government directive gave all state institutions instructions not to recognise independent trade unions nor to deal with them, and to invalidate any seals appearing on their documents. These organisations are also fighting for their survival in the courts. A critical verdict is awaited in 2016 in the court case pitting an official trade union against an independent union in the finance sector.

Finally, at political level, during a cabinet reshuffle on March 2016, the post of Manpower Minister was given to Mohamed Saafan, who was formerly vice-president of the ETUF and who has never concealed his hostility towards independent trade unions. The appointment of a leading figure from the official trade union centre marks the return of a long tradition that had been left behind for five years.

On 8 April, the ILO, through its director-general, Guy Ryder, expressed its grave concern over the threats against human and trade union rights in a country that has ratified Conventions 87 and 98. A few days earlier, the ILO Workers' Group had already issued a declaration in this respect. It denounced the "systematic attacks" led by the Labour Ministry against independent trade unions. The ETUF reacted by describing these criticisms as "unwarranted interference in Egyptian affairs".

Murder of Giulio Regeni: On 3 February, the body of this young Italian PhD student, who was researching the independent trade union movement in Egypt, was found in a ditch on the outskirts of Cairo. He had disappeared on 25 January, the anniversary of the "Egyptian revolution". He has just published an article on the Nena News site on strike action in Egypt and the search for trade union unity. His murder sparked international outrage. In a protest letter, the ITUC underlined, "It is clear from the intensification of measures hostile to freedom and the freedoms of trade unions in particular, that Giulio was considered a threat to the Egyptian government." At the end of March, the authorities announced that police had shot down five men identified as the perpetrators of the crime, but, for many, the murder bears the hallmark of the Egyptian security services. According to human rights organisations, hundreds of Egyptians were the victims of forced disappearances during the last few months of 2015 alone. In the best of cases, they reappear days or weeks later. Many, however, do not have this good fortune and are left to rot or die in high security prisons.

Doctors' union activist imprisoned: On 14 January 2016, in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of the "25 January revolution", Dr Taher Mokhtar, a member of the Egyptian doctors' union, and two of his friends were arrested in their home in Cairo for possession of subversive documents. They were, in fact, leaflets denouncing the health conditions in prisons, an issue the trade unionist had been actively working on at the request of his organisation. On 2 March, despite an international campaign, the three men were detained for a further 45 days.

It should be noted that the trade union had defied the ban on demonstrations, on 12 February, when several thousand doctors gathered in front of their union head office to protest against police violence and, more particularly, the assault by two police officers on two doctors in a hospital.

Public sector unionists threatened and virtually muzzled: On 10 August, in Cairo, thousands of workers challenged the authorities and the very harsh restrictions on freedom of assembly by gathering in front of the headquarters of Egypt's Press Syndicate, historically a focal point of social protest as, by definition, it implies that the protests it hosts will be given press coverage. The demonstrators, public sector workers (finance, social insurance, railways, etc.) affiliated to independent trade unions were protesting against the new Civil Service Law that came into force in late July without any labour consultation and that, as many feared, was set to push down wage levels. The new law also places the six to seven million public sector workers in a weaker position relative to their employers. A ban was imposed on a similar demonstration planned for 17 August. September 5 was therefore set as the new date for the public protest against this law.

The context surrounding the 5 September protest speaks volumes about the state of freedom of expression and assembly in Egypt in 2015. The organisers were denied authorisation to carry out their action on Tahrir Square or in front of the offices of the Press Syndicate. They were forced to fall back on Fustat Park, one of only two locations authorised by Cairo's governor, both quite isolated, difficult to access and well out of public view. According to eyewitnesses, busloads of protestors, some of whom came from the provinces, were blocked and turned away by the police. At the location itself, security forces denied access to demonstrators under the pretext that maintenance works were underway. This was later denied. After negotiating for an hour, they were finally granted access through a secondary entrance. In the days leading up to the protest, countless attempts were made by the authorities, the official trade union centre and pro-government media to intimidate the organisers and anyone planning to take part in the demonstration.

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