Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1998 Egypt
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Source: U.S. State Department.