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Country in Focus: Egypt

 

Population GDP/Capita USD Capital City 2018 XpA Scores
98,424,000 2,549 Cairo Freedom of Expression: 0.08
ICCPR ratified 1982 Egypt has been an XpA Decliner over the 2013-2018 and 2008-2018 timeframes. Civic Space: 0.11

Constitution of Egypt 2014

CHAPTER THREE, ARTICLE 65

All individuals have the right to express their opinion through speech, writing, imagery, or any other means of expression and publication.

Digital: 0.13
Media: 0.09
Protection: 0.08
Transparency: 0.10

 

In the hopeful aftermath of the Arab Spring, the XpA score for Egypt increased but then dropped within a few years, and has stayed resolutely near the bottom of the global table since 2013, its score not again breaking 0.10.

 

Figure 36:

The authorities have employed and leveraged the country’s state of emergency and perceived national security threat against dissenters of all descriptions. Security forces have escalated intimidation, disappearance, violence, and arrests against political opponents, journalists, activists, and others who have voiced criticism of the government.

Authorities have placed hundreds of people and entities on the country’s terrorism list without any semblance of due process.[1] The use of emergency and national security judicial processes is a key tool for the security forces, especially given that there are no appeal processes – even where the death penalty is given.[2] A new raft of legislation incorporated this strategy into law in 2018.

The country’s economic issues and harsh austerity policies brought people onto the streets throughout the year, but security forces quickly crushed these protests.

Security forces continue unaccountable and unchecked

The Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency is a violent and repressive organisation, which is often responsible for disappearances and attacks on protests. It acts without public oversight, and seemingly no judicial oversight either; very few officers have been investigated – and even fewer prosecuted – for abuses, even when there has been evidence of torture.[3]

In July, a new law allowed the President to shield chosen senior leaders of the armed forces from prosecution for any action committed between 3 July 2013 and 10 January 2016. Crucially, that timeframe covers the dispersal of sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and al-Nahda Square, when the security forces and army killed up to 1,000 people in a single day.[4]

Dissenters disappeared and jailed

Egypt remains one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world. Around 35 journalists and communicators are behind bars.[5] There were 1,530 cases of enforced disappearance between July 2013 and August 2018, and 230 between August 2017 and August 2018.[6]

Bloggers were increasingly targeted in 2018. Security forces arrested and detained blogger and rights defender, Wael Abbas, on 23 May, keeping him in an undisclosed location for almost 36 hours before taking him to prosecutors. Abbas had been documenting police abuse and government corruption for over a decade.[7] Prosecutors claimed he was part of the ‘media wing of the Muslim Brotherhood’. Several other journalists and activists were indicted in this case, including some who are actually critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.[8]

Authorities continued to harass journalists covering Egypt’s military operation in North Sinai. In May, a military court sentenced journalist Ismail el-Iskandarani to ten years imprisonment for his work on the issue.[9]

Mass trials held in Cairo

More than 700 defendants faced a political mass trial in Cairo, for which the prosecution requested the maximum penalty – death by hanging – on 3 March 2018.[10]

Among those on trial was Mahmoud Abu Zeid (aka Shawkan), a photographer arrested in 2013 while covering security forces’ use of force in breaking up demonstrations in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. He was in pre-trial detention for five years; the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for his release.[11]

Crackdown on opposition in the lead-up to the election

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced his bid for re-election in January 2018, and the environment for dissent tightened immediately.[12] In the March 2019 elections, el-Sisi was re-elected with 97% of the vote, having spent 2018 stifling expression rights across the country. He immediately extended ‘state of emergency’ status.

Presidential candidate General Sami Hafez Anan was arrested and subjected to enforced disappearance on 20 January.[13] Abdelmonim Aboulfotoh, founder of the Misr Al-Qawia political party, was arrested in February in relation to media interviews he had given.[14]

In subsequent months, four journalists were detained for interviewing opposition candidates, being critical of el-Sisi, or having links to opposition groups.[15]

In January, the authorities intensified the crackdown on dissent they had started in the run-up to the presidential elections in December 2017, arbitrarily arresting at least 113 people solely for peacefully expressing critical opinions. The crackdown targeted a broad range of independent voices, including political and media critics and satirists.[16] Bloggers were arrested and charged with offences from ‘publishing lies’ to ‘advocating atheism’,[17] while foreign journalists were vilified and supporters called for their expulsion from the country.[18]

Noose tightens on online freedoms with raft of restrictive laws

A raft of new laws appeared in 2018, which restricted expression from numerous new angles, and some well-established angles – some of the laws simply gave legal basis to the Egyptian authorities’ existing censorship practices.

In August, Egypt’s President approved the Cybercrime Law, providing for online censorship, deals with data privacy, hacking, fraud, and messages that authorities fear are spreading ‘terrorist and extremist ideologies’. The authorities can now legally block access to any website it deems a threat to national security or the national economy.[19] Sites that can circumvent censorship, such as Tor browsers or virtual private networks, have since been blocked.[20]

The new law allows for mass surveillance, requiring internet service providers to store customer usage data for 180 days, including data that enables identification of the user, calls made, websites visited, and apps used. Various national security agencies will have access to this data.[21]

The Media Regulation Law, passed a month later (October), places any social media account with a following of more than 5,000 under government regulation. The new law also requires online newspapers to apply for permission through a length and prohibitively expensive process – one that seems impossible to navigate for independent or small outlets, or online outlets already banned.

The law also gives the Supreme Council for Media Regulation the power to block or suspend personal accounts if it is decided that they are ‘publishing fake news’.[22] In March, Egypt’s public prosecutor even set up a hotline for citizens to report the publication of ‘fake news and rumours’.[23] At least two journalists went into hiding after being accused of ‘fake news’ dissemination.[24]

Internet blocking is common; around 500 sites are blocked in the country, including news sites and human rights groups.[25]

While the government tightly controls state media, companies with close links to the intelligence services have taken over a number of privately owned television stations and newspapers.[26]

Authorities deem sexual harassment ‘Fake News’

In a disturbing new trend, Egypt’s new ‘fake news’ law was wielded against women reporting sexual harassment in 2018. In May, Lebanese tourist Mona el-Mazbouh was sexually harassed in Egypt, and posted a video on Facebook. The Egyptian Attorney General ordered her immediate referral to an expedited criminal trial for insulting the Egyptian people on social media. El-Mazbouh was sentenced to eight years in prison and a fine for publishing a video with indecent content, defaming religion, insulting the Egyptian people, and insulting the President. In July, the sentence was appealed and reduced to a one-year suspended sentence, and she was released.[27]

Activist Amal Fathy was later given a two-year suspended sentence and a fine for posting a video discussing the issue of sexual harassment.[28] She was accused of ‘joining a terrorist group, using a website with the purpose of promoting ideas and beliefs advocating the commission of terrorist acts, intentionally disseminating false news and rumours likely to disturb public security, and harming the public interest’, and charged with ‘disseminating false information’ in November.[29]

Lawyers under attack

In March, human rights lawyers Ezzat Ghoniem and Azzoz Mahgoub, who had been supporting the families of the forcibly disappeared, were detained on trumped-up charges. When a court ordered their release in September, the security forces forcibly disappeared them. At the end of 2018, their locations remained unknown.

In May, labour and human rights lawyer Haytham Mohamadeen was arrested and accused of participating in a protest against the metro price rises, though he was not present at the event. He was released on 30 October on probation, under which he had to spend 12 hours every week detained in a police station.

In October, 31 HRDs and lawyers were arrested and held incommunicado for three weeks. On 21 November, Hoda Abdelmoniem appeared at the Public Prosecution Office for questioning, but was subsequently returned to incommunicado detention at an undisclosed location.[30]

LGBTQ+ community continues to be restricted and attacked

In February, nine men were arrested and detained for ‘habitual debauchery’ under the Law on the Combating of Prostitution. In April, police arrested and detained two men for ‘public indecency’.[31]

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[2] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Intensifying Crackdown Under Counterterrorism Guise, 15 July 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/15/egypt-intensifying-crackdown-under-counterterrorism-guise

[3] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[4] Amnesty International, Egypt 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt/report-egypt/

[5] Reporters without Borders, After Journalists, Egypt Arrests Bloggers, 9 May 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/after-journalists-egypt-arrests-bloggers

[6] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[7] IFEX, ‘How “national security” rhetoric and laws are being used to shut down Egypt’s civic space’, 14 December 2018, available at https://ifex.org/how-national-security-rhetoric-and-laws-are-being-used-to-shut-down-egypts-civic-space/

[8] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Intensifying Crackdown Under Counterterrorism Guise, 15 July 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/15/egypt-intensifying-crackdown-under-counterterrorism-guise

[9] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Intensifying Crackdown Under Counterterrorism Guise, 15 July 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/15/egypt-intensifying-crackdown-under-counterterrorism-guise

[10] IFEX, ‘Egyptian prosecutors seek death sentence for photographer Shawkan’, 8 March 2018, available at https://ifex.org/egypt/2018/03/08/death-sentence-shawkan/

[11] Reporters without Borders, Shawkan Still in Prison Three Months After Completing Five-Year Term, 15 November 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/shawkan-still-prison-three-months-after-completing-five-year-term

[12] Afte, ‘Forces of Evil’: How the Authorities Targeted Journalists During the Presidential Elections, 29 April 2018, available at https://afteegypt.org/en/media_freedom-2/2018/04/29/15102-afteegypt.html

[13] Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt: Human Rights Organizations Condemn Brazen Assault and Likely Kidnapping or Assassination Attempt of Judge Hisham Genena, 28 January 2018, available at https://www.cihrs.org/?p=20902&lang=en

[14] Amnesty International, Egypt 2019, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt/report-egypt/

[15] Committee to Protect Journalists, Censorship Tightens in Egypt as el-Sisi Prepares for Re-Election Bid, 12 March 2018, available at https://cpj.org/blog/2018/03/censorship-tightens-in-egypt-as-el-sisi-prepares-f.php

[16] Amnesty International, Egypt 2019, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt/report-egypt/

[17] Reporters without Borders, After Journalists, Egypt Arrests Bloggers, 9 May 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/after-journalists-egypt-arrests-bloggers

[18] Patrick Galey, ‘Beware foreign spies, Egypt warns, in ridiculous but dangerous ads’, The Guardian, 12 June 2018, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/12/beware-foreign-spies-egypt-warns-ads

[19] IFEX, ‘How “national security” rhetoric and laws are being used to shut down Egypt’s civic space’, 14 December 2018, available at https://ifex.org/how-national-security-rhetoric-and-laws-are-being-used-to-shut-down-egypts-civic-space/

[20] Afte, Blocked Websites List, n.d., available at https://afteegypt.org/en/blocked-websites-list

[21] ARTICLE 19, Egypt: NGOs Call for Full Repeal of ‘Cybercrime’ Law and Reform of Dangerous Law Regulating Media, 6 September 2018, available https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/egypt-ngos-call-for-full-repeal-of-cybercrime-law-and-reform-of-dangerous-law-regulating-media/

[22] Reports without Borders, Egypt: New Media Law Aims to Silence Independent Online Media, RSF Says, 3 November 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/egypt-new-media-law-aims-silence-independent-online-media-rsf-says

[23] Egyptian Streets, Egyptian Authorities Urge Citizens to Report on ‘Fake News and Rumors’ Through a Hotline, 14 March 2018, available at https://egyptianstreets.com/2018/03/14/egyptian-authorities-urge-citizens-to-report-on-fake-news-and-rumors-through-a-hotline/

[24] Committee to Protect Journalists, Censorship Tightens in Egypt as el-Sisi Prepares for Re-Election Bid, 12 March 2018, available at https://cpj.org/blog/2018/03/censorship-tightens-in-egypt-as-el-sisi-prepares-f.php

[25] Afte, Closing Windows: Censorship of the Internet in Egypt, 19 February 2018, available at https://afteegypt.org/en/digital_freedoms-2/2018/02/19/14655-afteegypt.html

[26] Reporters without Borders, Egyptian Intelligence Services Extend Control Over Media, 5 September 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/egyptian-intelligence-services-extend-control-over-media

[27] Amnesty International, Egypt 2019, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt/report-egypt/

[28] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018; see also Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Activists Arrested in Dawn Raids, 31 May 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/31/egypt-activists-arrested-dawn-raids

[29] Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt: Release Amal Fathy, Victim of the State’s Widening Prosecution to Silence Human Rights Defenders, 11 August 2018, available athttps://cihrs.org/egypt-release-amal-fathy-victim-of-the-states-widening-prosecution-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/?lang=en

[30] Amnesty International, Egypt 2019, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt/report-egypt/

[31] Amnesty International, Egypt 2019, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/egypt/report-egypt/

 

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