Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right.
Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. Nonetheless, the government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to political protests in other countries, such as Mohamad Ramadan who remained in pretrial detention after his December 2018 arrest for “inciting social unrest” by posting a photo on Facebook of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France.
The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.
Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 138 violations of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. One example cited by The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) is the June 25 arrest of several political figures after they met to form a new political alliance (Alliance of Hope) to run in 2020 parliamentary elections. On August 6, the Cairo Criminal Court upheld a freeze on the assets of 83 defendants in the case (no. 930/2019). On September 3, board members of the Journalists’ Syndicate, journalists, and families of the detainees submitted three official complaints to NCHR claiming that the detainees were experiencing poor detention conditions and medical negligence. The next hearing on the renewal of the detention of the defendants was scheduled for January 8, 2020.
On September 24, authorities arrested Hazem Hosni and Hassan Nafaa, both political science professors at Cairo University who were outspoken critics of President Sisi. Hosny was also a spokesman for the 2018 presidential campaign of Sami Anan (see section 3). According to media, Nafaa’s arrest came minutes after a local channel aired a leaked conversation between Nafaa and an al-Jazeera producer in which Nafaa demanded LE 16,500 ($1,000) for conducting an interview with al-Jazeera. On December 17, the State Security Prosecutor ordered the renewal of Hosni and Nafaa’s detention for 15 days pending investigations on charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news.
In a November 19 report, HRW claimed it had documented 28 cases from 2016 to 2019 in which authorities harassed or threatened one or more family members of journalists, media workers, and political and human rights activists who have criticized the government and now live abroad.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. Independent media reported that entities wholly or partially owned by the intelligence services assumed control of several independent media companies throughout the year. The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.
The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.
The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers as media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee of 50,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) ($3,030), and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) broad discretion to block their content. According to media reports, the SCMR fined the weekly newspaper al-Mashhad LE 50,000 ($3,030) in March and blocked its website for six months for allegedly publishing sexually explicit material. Al-Mashhad claimed it did not publish illicit material and that the censorship was due to its reports claiming that a police station in Cairo extorted business owners to fund food to be given to voters in the April referendum. According to media reports, the SCMR also prevented al-Mashhad from sending 30 journalists to report from polling stations during the referendum.
As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 26 imprisoned journalists in the country.
On June 23, the al-Tahrir news agency stated it was shutting down operations after authorities blocked its website on May 9. According to a June 25 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the SCMR issued a bylaw in March stating that websites in violation of Egypt’s media laws would be blocked.
On November 24, unidentified security officials raided the office of news site Mada Masr, seized documents and electronic equipment, and detained three staff members. Detained staff members were taken to a police station before being released several hours later. On November 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that Mada Masr was investigated because it was operating without a permit. No additional information was available on the status of the investigation as of December 16.
On May 21, a court ordered the release of al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein, who had been held for 880 days in pretrial detention for allegedly disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities to defame the state’s reputation. Before processing his release, authorities rearrested Hussein, who remained in pretrial detention awaiting formal charges.
Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.
According to media reports, on February 20, authorities detained David Kirkpatrick, a New York Times reporter, in the Cairo International Airport and prevented him from entering the country. Kirkpatrick was the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times from 2011 to 2015 and is the author of a book on Egypt, Into the Hands of the Soldiers.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The SOE empowered the president to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses.
According to media reports, authorities blocked 34,000 websites prior to the April referendum, including sites gathering signatures to oppose the amendments. On June 23, AFTE reported that authorities censored three issues of the leftist Al Tagammaa Party’s weekly Al Ahly newspaper that discussed presidential pardons, corruption, and a planned government cabinet reshuffle. The AFTE report noted the government had previously censored Al-Dostour, Al-Mesryoon, Sawt Al Ummah, Al-Sabah, and Al-Bawaba newspapers.
Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the MB, due to the overall anti-MB and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.
On March 22, the Musicians’ Syndicate banned famous singer Sherine Abdel Wahab from performing and summoned her for questioning for “insulting Egypt.” The syndicate lifted the ban in early June after she publicly apologized.
Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported several cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.
On January 29, atheist video blogger Sherif Gaber launched a crowdfunding page called “Help Me Escape Egypt” to aid him in purchasing another nationality. On March 29, he posted on Twitter that there were two warrants for his arrest for treason and receiving funding from unknown sources. Gaber was arrested for denigration of Islam-related charges in 2018, 2015, and 2013. As of December 16, the government had not detained him.
National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.
The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. In March 2018 authorities established hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.
Judges may issue restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.
Authorities have held blogger Islam al-Refai, known as Khorm, who ran a satirical Twitter account with 75,000 followers, in pretrial detention since 2017, according to his attorney. NGOs continued to claim that authorities used counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts unjustly to prosecute journalists, activists, lawyers, political party members, university professors, and critics for their peaceful criticism.
The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.
Despite legal protections, the government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.
The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period.
The cybercrime law of August 2018 states, “the relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government had not issued implementing regulations for the law as of September.
There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications. On March 5, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology denied reports that the government monitored social media sites. On March 14, there were reports that authorities blocked Facebook and other social media platforms.
The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.
The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity.
There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest LGBTI individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
A local news site reported in April that the government blocked its website and 500 more in Egypt. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared intended to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations. On April 15, NetBlocks.org reported that the government blocked 34,000 internet domains to stop an online campaign to gather signatures to oppose the April constitutional referendum. On May 22, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech reported the government blocked 26,175 websites to block the Batel “Void” Campaign launched on April 8 to petition against the April referendum. After September 20 street protests (see section 2.b.), internet users throughout the country reported difficulty accessing Facebook Messenger and the news websites of the BBC, al-Jazeera, and al-Hurra. A spokesperson for the Supreme Council for Media Regulation said the BBC and other news websites may have been blocked because of their “inaccurate” coverage of the protests.
In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In September 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review was pending at year’s end. Defense lawyers claimed it could take years to examine the case.
There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks. A March 6 report from AI documented a wave of digital attacks that likely originated from government-backed bodies, starting from early January and involving multiple attempts to gain access to the email accounts of prominent Egyptian human rights defenders, media, and civil society organization staff.
In October, The New York Times reported that a series of cyberattacks targeting journalists, opposition politicians, and human rights activists, in which attackers installed software on the targets’ phones that enabled them to read the victims’ files and emails and track their locations, was traced to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and that geographic coordinates embedded in one of the applications used to track the targeted individuals corresponded to the headquarters of the General Intelligence Service.
There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. Faculty members needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad for any reason.
On August 14, the Middle East Studies Association Committee on Academic Freedom requested the government to lift the travel ban on University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem. Authorities arrested Salem in May 2018 while he was conducting political science dissertation research on the Egyptian judiciary and released him in December 2018 with a travel ban and probation pending trial.
According to a local human rights organization, authorities released Helwan University science professor Yehia al-Qazzaz from prison on May 23, following his 2018 arrest based on a complaint filed against him by the university’s dean of the faculty of sciences for comments al-Qazzaz made on Facebook critical of President Sisi. According to the organization, after al-Qazzaz’s release, the president of Helwan University continued to harass al-Qazzaz with investigations over his 2018 political comments and by referring him to university disciplinary procedures for being absent from work while he was in prison.
There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree issued in June 2018 declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement added to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Ministry of Interior and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.
On May 26, after remaining in pretrial detention since his arrest in February 2018, authorities released film editor Ahmed Tarek on probationary measures pending trial. According to his lawyer, authorities held Tarek incommunicado at National State Sector headquarters three days. Tarek faced charges of spreading false news and joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law. The charges stemmed from his work on a documentary, Minus 1,095 Days, which sought to rebut claims in a state-produced film highlighting President Sisi’s accomplishments called 1,095 Days.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. In 2017 a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging the 1914 law, arguing that it was passed by an incompetent body and repealed in 1929. The court was expected to issue a ruling in the case on January 4, 2020. In 2017 the government imposed an exclusion zone of 2,600 feet (790 meters) around vital governmental institutions in which protests are prohibited.
There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some cases using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.
In September local NGOs reported police arrested more than 4,000 individuals after small protests erupted in several cities over accusations of corruption against President Sisi. Many of the individuals detained reportedly had no connection to the protests and happened simply to be in the vicinity of the protests. Police and prosecutors subsequently released more than 2,500 of those detained. Local human rights organizations claimed that, in some instances, detainees were tortured or subjected to other abuses.
The cumulative number of persons arrested under the protest law was not publicly available. On May 13, authorities arrested political activist Haytham Mohamadeen, who police had surveilled since his October 2018 release following five months in pretrial detention. On May 14, authorities arrested political activist Mostafa Maher, the brother of political activist Ahmed Maher, who co-founded the April 6 movement. On December 25, Mostafa Maher received a release order that was immediately appealed by the prosecutor. Both remained in pretrial detention pending charges of “colluding with a terrorist group.”
On April 22, the final day of voting for the referendum, authorities arrested Ahmed Badawi, an engineer and member of the liberal Dostour Party, after he raised a sign saying “No to the constitutional changes” outside a polling station in Cairo. According to local media, authorities arrested four members of the Dostour Party in February after they reportedly voiced objection to the proposed constitutional amendments.
According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences and some through presidential pardons. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.”
Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.
On March 29, authorities conditionally released prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, whom a court convicted of participating in a protest in 2013. The conditions of a Court of Cassation sentence in 2017 require Abdel Fattah to report to the Dokki police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day for the next five years, but he may report at 7:30 p.m. during Ramadan. Abdel Fattah was appealing the nightly sentence and requesting that he be allowed to fulfill its terms from home. On September 29, police detained Abdel Fattah as he prepared to leave after spending the night in the police station and charged him with belonging to a terrorist organization, funding a terrorist group, spreading false news to undermine national security, and using social media to commit a publishing offense. Local NGOs reported he was tortured or subjected to other abuses while in custody in Tora Prison. As of year’s end, Abdel Fattah, along with his attorney Mohamed Elbakr, remained in detention on charges of “joining a banned group” and “spreading false news.”
Since their release from prison in 2017 after completing three-year sentences for violating the protest law, activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel remained on probation with terms requiring them to reside in the local police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day. In May authorities rearrested Maher and released him a few days later on charges of beating a citizen and damaging his car outside a police station. Authorities also rearrested Adel in another case. On December 16, an administrative court ruled that the order to compel Adel to spend every night inside a police station as part of his probation was invalid. The court ruled that Adel could spend the daily probationary period from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. inside his home, according to a lawyer.
On May 21, authorities arrested several high school boys who protested in front of the Ministry of Education building regarding the repeated failures of new electronic systems in their schools; they were released the following day.
The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.
President Sisi signed a new NGO law on August 19. The law replaced a 2017 law which local and international NGOs stated could make it impossible for them to operate independently; the 2017 law was never implemented. According to International Center for Not-Profit Law (ICNL), the new law includes noteworthy improvements from the 2017 law in several respects, such as by eliminating individual prison sentences for violations and by removing the previous formal oversight role for security and intelligence authorities over foreign funding and foreign organizations. However, ICNL also assessed that the new law preserves the former law’s overall restrictive regulatory approach and continues to impose significant barriers to civil society activity.
Pending the promulgation of implementing regulations for the new law, the Ministry of Social Solidarity continued to apply the previous NGO law on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding. Rights groups reported fewer incidents of security services ordering cancellation of planned training programs or other events. On February 2, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional several articles of the previous NGO law, which gives the minister of social solidarity the right to dissolve NGOs.
The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”
On October 16, a local NGO announced that authorities arrested lawyer Amr Emam after he announced on October 14 that he intended to go on a hunger strike and begin a sit-in to protest the arrests and alleged abuse of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and his attorney Mohamed Elbakr. As of year’s end, Emam remained in detention pending investigations in case no. 488 of 2019 on charges of “colluding with a terrorist organization,” “publishing fake news,” and “misusing social media to spread false information.”
On May 2, Cairo Criminal Court renewed the pretrial detention of Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared. Authorities arrested him in 2017 at the Cairo International Airport and initially held him incommunicado. Hegazy was traveling to Geneva to participate in the WGEID. The charges against him included “communicating with a foreign body to harm the Egyptian national interest.” On May 20, the WGEID stated that it “remains concerned” that the measures against Hegazy “constitute acts of reprisals against him for cooperating with the Working Group.” On October 15, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered Hegazy’s release. On November 5, Hegazy appeared in front of the State Security Prosecution accused in a new case of “belonging to a terrorist group” and “funding a terrorist group.” On November 20, UN human rights rapporteurs criticized Hegazy’s continued detention.
Following the December 2018 acquittal of 41 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission, a court acquitted the remaining two defendants in May.
The MB, the MB-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the MB was listed as a designated terrorist organization.
Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. The Cairo Criminal Court postponed until February 15, 2020, a motion to lift the travel bans imposed on eight defendants in the case, including Nazra for Feminist Studies founder Mozn Hassan, accused of receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with her NGO.
A court case brought by el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation) challenging a 2016 closure order remained pending an expert report ordered by the court. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work investigating torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. The organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.
In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai, stating it was to protect their safety, although it began organizing some supervised visits for journalists to North Sinai in July.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”
Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.
Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, , and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country.
The government-imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, including individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case. A September 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”
Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country as a result of a travel ban (see section 1.c. regarding her arrest).
Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: From April to June, 413 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) were reported to UNHCR and CARE International, which provided SGBV prevention activities and counseling to 1,750 refugee and asylum seekers.
Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.
According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.
Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.
Compared with previous years, fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country illegally, intending to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities they faced more difficulties, including higher chances of detention or deportation.
Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.
According to UNHCR as of June 30, asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. The number of African refugees increased during the year, according to UNHCR, particularly those from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
Since 2013 the government has applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR high commissioner’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.
Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following parliament’s passage and enforcement of a law that dramatically increased patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.
UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed the majority of detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently did not do so for detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese (who may have had a basis for asylum claims). Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.
The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. According to UNHCR, refugees can fully access public-health services, although many did not have the resources to do so, and prices were often higher for refugees due to discrimination. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.
Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care. As of March 19, UNHCR reported 10 protests and two suicides committed by refugees in response to the lack of adequate services. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services. The Ministry of Education estimated that 35,000 school-age Syrian children (approximately 90 percent) enrolled successfully in the public-school system.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.
Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in March 2018 resulting in the re-election of President Sisi with 92 percent of the vote. President Sisi’s sole opponent, Moussa Moustapha Moussa, received 3 percent of the vote, less than the number of spoiled ballots. Moussa registered his candidacy on January 29, the last possible day to register, and until the day before he registered his candidacy, he was a member of a campaign supporting President Sisi for a second term. Prior to the elections, authorities arrested some potential candidates for allegedly violating military prohibitions for public office and reportedly pressured others against running in the elections; some candidates remained in detention as do journalists arrested based on their coverage of the elections. Authorities were still holding chief editor of the now-blocked Masr al-Arabiya news site Adel Sabri, satirist Shady Abu Zeid, and former Constitution Party leader Shady al-Ghazaly Harb in pretrial detention. Authorities arrested them with other bloggers, researchers, and students between February 4 and May 23, 2018, in cases no. 621/2018 and 441/2018 on charges including spreading false news and joining a banned group. According to Front Line Defenders, authorities arrested Sabri in April 2018 after Masr al-Arabiya published a translation of a New York Times article that claimed authorities gave bribes to citizens to vote during the presidential elections. According to local media, authorities arrested Harb in May 2018 after he made statements about the presidential elections. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process.
International news media alleged that, in some instances, voters were paid to vote. The Supreme Media Regulatory Council fined some news outlets publishing critical coverage of the presidential election and also referred several journalists to the Journalists Syndicate for investigation (see section 2.a.).
Parliamentary elections were held in 2015. Domestic and international observers concluded that government authorities professionally administered these elections, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.
In April a national referendum approved constitutional amendments extending President Sisi’s current term from four years to six years (ending in 2024) and allowing the president to run for a third six-year term in 2024. The amendments expand the role of the armed forces to include “safeguarding the constitution and democracy” and the role of the president to include appointing the heads of judicial bodies and chairing the Supreme Council for Judicial Bodies and Entities. They also limit the State Council’s authority to review laws. The amendments also add a second chamber (Senate) to the parliament and allow the president to appoint one or more vice presidents.
Multiple domestic and international organizations and press reported interference by the government in the referendum process: arrests of independent and partisan individuals who opposed the constitutional amendments publicly on social media accounts; distribution of food packages and cash as incentives to vote yes; a large presence of banners and media promoting the amendments and a lack of opposition banners and media; a government ban on websites opposing the amendments, including those gathering “no vote” signatures; the lack in some polling stations of a list of the proposed amendments; progovernment supporters to mobilize near and in polling stations; and allowing out-of-district voters to vote in all polling stations, which allowed for the possibility of casting multiple votes.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states, “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed on the basis of religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the MB, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party and the Building and Development Party. Separate military courts sentenced former chief of staff of the armed forces Sami Anan to six years in prison for violating military discipline by announcing his intention to run for president in 2018 and to four years in prison for forgery. On December 22, Anan was released from detention by military prosecution order.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or, members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions. Voters elected a record number of 75 women, 36 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities to parliament during the 2015 parliamentary elections, a substantial increase compared with the 2012 parliament. The House of Representatives law outlines the criteria for the electoral lists, which provides that the House of Representatives must include at least 56 women, 24 Christians, and nine persons with disabilities. The April constitutional amendments introduced a 25 percent quota in the House of Representatives for women and a requirement to better represent workers, farmers, youth, Christians, Egyptians abroad, and individuals with disabilities. In 2015 the president appointed 28 additional members of parliament, including 14 women and two Christians. The House of Representatives law grants the president the authority to appoint House of Representatives members, not to surpass 5 percent of the total number of elected members. If the president opts to use this authority, one-half of his appointments must be women, according to the law. Parliament included 89 women and 38 Christians.
Eight women led cabinet ministries. There were two Christians among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Coptic woman, governor of Damietta, making her the country’s second female governor. No women were on the Supreme Constitutional Court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.
On November 6, member of parliament Ahmed Tantawi told press that parliament has referred him to an ethics committee for posting a video criticizing President Sisi.
Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative. On April 16, the local development minister said the government had established human rights units in 25 governorates and planned to establish units in Cairo and North Sinai as well. Government officials publicly asserted they shared the civil society organizations’ goals, but they rarely cooperated with or responded to the organizations’ inquiries, according to local NGOs. Some units were in the formative stage, staffed by personnel from the governor’s complaints office who receive basic human rights training. The cabinet established a committee on human rights chaired by the minister of foreign affairs to prepare UN reports and respond to human rights allegations raised against the country. Domestic civil society organizations criticized the government’s consultations with civil society as insufficient.
Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media frequently depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as societal harassment.
Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.). On October 31, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information released a statement saying that security forces vandalized the car of a lawyer working for the organization and that several days prior security forces had physically beaten the organization’s director and stolen his car.
Well-established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate amid increasing pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) diminished the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations often reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.
The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations (see section 2.b.).
Major international human rights organizations, such as HRW and AI, have not had offices in the country since closing them in 2014 due to “concerns about the deteriorating security and political environment in the country.”
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In October 2018 the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing visited the country, the first rapporteur to visit since 2010. In a December 2018 statement, the rapporteur claimed that individuals she met during her trip faced retaliation in the form of forced evictions, housing demolitions, arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and other reprisals.
Nine other UN special rapporteurs had pending visit requests; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it was committed to facilitating their visits by the end of 2019. Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees. The Interior Ministry provided some international organizations informal access to some detention centers where authorities detained asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants to provide humanitarian assistance (see section 2.d.).
Following backlash from domestic and international human rights organizations, the United Nations postponed plans for an international conference on torture in Cairo in September.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The quasi-governmental NCHR monitored government abuses of human rights submitted in the form of citizen complaints to the government. The NCHR continues to function with its existing membership, even though under the law the terms of existing NCHR members ended in 2016. A number of well-known human rights activists served on the organization’s board, although some observers alleged the board’s effectiveness was sometimes limited because it lacked sufficient resources and the government rarely acted on its findings. The council at times challenged and criticized government policies and practices, calling for steps to improve its human rights record. In early October the NCHR criticized police procedures during the September arrests of citizens, including not informing arrestees of the charges against them and forcing citizens to display the contents of their mobile phones. In response the Interior Ministry stated that all arrests were legal. The NCHR also held a conference in September to discuss the NGO law and Egypt’s preparations for the Universal Periodic Review with local human rights organizations, and in October to discuss torture.