Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and unicameral legislature. Domestic and international observers concluded the presidential election that took place in 2014 was administered professionally and in line with the country’s laws, while also expressing serious concerns that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression constrained broad political participation. Domestic and international observers also concluded that government authorities professionally administered the parliamentary elections that took place October through December 2015 in accordance with the country’s laws, 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.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems were excessive use of force by security forces, deficiencies in due process, and the suppression of civil liberties. Excessive use of force included unlawful killings and torture. Due process problems included the excessive use of preventative custody and pretrial detention, the use of military courts to try civilians, trials involving hundreds of defendants in which authorities did not present evidence on an individual basis, and arrests conducted without warrants or judicial orders. Civil liberties problems included societal and government restrictions on freedoms of expression and the media, as well as on the freedoms of assembly and association in statute and practice.

Other human rights problems included disappearances; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; a judiciary that in some cases appeared to arrive at outcomes not supported by publicly available evidence or that appeared to reflect political motivations; reports of political prisoners and detainees; restrictions on academic freedom; impunity for security forces; harassment of some civil society organizations; limits on religious freedom; official corruption; limits on civil society organizations; violence, harassment, and societal discrimination against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); child abuse; discrimination against persons with disabilities; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against religious minorities; discrimination and arrests based on sexual orientation; discrimination against HIV-positive persons; and worker abuse, including child labor.

The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including schools, places of worship, and public transportation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press but includes a clause stating, “it may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. 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 the Muslim Brotherhood, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” The president stated in a September speech that lying was a form of terrorism. Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On February 20, a Bulaq Abu el-Ela appellate misdemeanor court sentenced author Ahmed Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January, but prosecutors appealed the decision. Numerous writers and intellectuals decried the verdict, describing it as part of a larger government campaign against free expression. On December 18, a court suspended the implementation of Naji’s sentence pending the appeal of his sentence. Naji’s next hearing was scheduled for January 1, 2017.

In May authorities arrested the five members of the satirical group Street Children after it released a video criticizing supporters of the president and the increasing number of arrests. Band members were reportedly under investigation on charges of attempting to topple the regime, publishing offensive videos, and inciting citizens against authorities. In May authorities released one band member on bail and released the remaining four members in September pending investigations.

Press and Media Freedoms: 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 term for the governmental Higher Press Council, which had the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets, expired in January. 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) sometimes criticized the government, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 25 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges at year’s end. Authorities detained him in November 2015 on arrival at Hurgada airport. On November 20, a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on the Sinai.

On May 1, authorities raided the press syndicate headquarters and arrested two journalists, Mahmoud el-Sakka and Amr Badr, according to members of the syndicate. Both journalists worked for an opposition news site, Bawabet Yanayer. The Interior Ministry claimed it had not raided the headquarters, and the journalists had willingly surrendered to authorities. Authorities referred el-Sakka and Badr to trial on charges of spreading false news and possession of firearms and Molotov cocktails. On August 27, a court ordered Badr’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. On September 29, a court ordered el-Sakka’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. The journalists’ arrests followed arrests of dozens of others on April 25, in connection with protests against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the government determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fell under Saudi sovereignty. According to a local rights group, authorities released most of those detained that day after a short incarceration.

On November 19, a court sentenced Yehia Kalash, president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy, two syndicate board members, to two years in prison for harboring fugitives (el-Sakka and Badr) inside the syndicate’s headquarters and spreading false news in connection with the May 1 raid on the syndicate headquarters. The three were sentenced in absentia; they appealed the verdict, and the hearing was scheduled for January 14, 2017.

On August 27, according to media reports, an administrative court referred Azza al-Henawy, an anchor for state-owned al-Qahera TV, to trial on charges including insulting the president. Al-Henawy had criticized the president and made allegations of corruption during a March television broadcast.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued statements condemning articles critical of the country in international publications, sometimes citing the authors by name.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state and nonstate 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.

On May 23, authorities denied French news correspondent Remy Pigaglio entry into the country when he arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. Pigaglio claimed officials at first prevented him from contacting the French ambassador in Egypt and, and after detaining him for more than 24 hours, deported him.

In June security officers took British-Lebanese journalist Lilian Daoud from her Cairo home by security officers immediately following the end of her employment contract with ONTV. Authorities briefly detained and then deported her, according to media reports. On her television show, The Full Picture, Daoud had hosted protesters and youth leaders as well as government officials. The program had expressed views critical of the government.

In September 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court began a trial of 48 defendants accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members and charged with participating in the 2014 protest in Ain Shams during which journalist Mayada Ashraf was shot and killed while covering the clashes between protesters and police. The next hearing was scheduled for February 13, 2017.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. On February 3, art-house cinema Zawya stated that the country’s Censorship Authority refused to authorize the screening of three short films as part of Zawya’s Short Film Festival. Zawya’s director speculated to media that in the case of two of the three films, authorities objected to the content of the films, which included sexual content and discussions of atheism.

In August government officials confiscated copies of an issue of privately owned Sout Alomma newspaper, which included an article about the health of the president’s mother and articles critical of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

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, primarily targeting Christians but also Muslims.

On January 26, al-Khalifa Misdemeanor Court convicted writer Fatima Naoot in her absence and sentenced her to three years in prison and a fine of LE 20,000 ($1,100) for denigrating Islam by describing the Islamic ritual of sacrificing sheep during Eid al-Adha as a “massacre,” in a 2014 Facebook post. On March 31, the Sayeda Zeinab Appellate Misdemeanor Court confirmed the sentence. After Naoot appealed the decision, on October 20, the same court ordered her release pending investigations. On November 24, an appeals court reduced her sentence to a six months suspended.

On February 25, Bani Mazar Juvenile Misdemeanor Court sentenced four Christian high school students to five years’ imprisonment for denigrating Islam after the students appeared in video pretending to perform a Muslim prayer. The same court sentenced the students’ teacher, Gad Youssef Younan, who reportedly filmed the video, to three years in prison for denigrating Islam in December 2015.

Authorities released Mohamed Hegazy, also known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, from prison in July after spending more than two years in detention based on accusations that he had denigrated Islam in a symposium in 2009. A court ordered his release in June; however, over a period of several weeks, prison authorities claimed to have lost the court order and moved him to another prison without informing his attorney, according to media reports. During this time Hegazy recorded a video from prison in which he stated that he was reverting to Islam from Christianity; authorities released him shortly thereafter. Boulous unsuccessfully sued the Ministry of Interior in 2009 to recognize his conversion from Islam to Christianity, testing the constitutional right of freedom of religion.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security. Judges may issue and have issued 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. For example, on April 30, a court issued such an order in the case of protesters arrested during demonstrations against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the bilateral agreement determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news” contradicting official Ministry of Defense statements. The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists.

An amendment to the police authority law, approved by parliament on August 9, bars police from providing information related to their work to media without permission from the Interior Ministry. An international NGO argued the amendment illustrated the government’s continuing effort to undermine transparency.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not generally restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, albeit with some exceptions. 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. Law enforcement agencies occasionally 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 of time and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor occasionally 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 between suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum time period.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in northern Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. This tactic disrupted operations of government facilities and banks. The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, which can allow security forces to obtain information about activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, during demonstrations and included widespread criticism of the government and security forces.

In July, Internet Live Stats estimated internet penetration to be 33 percent. A local civil society organization estimated 57 percent of families had internet access at home and four million persons used Twitter. A digital consulting company stated 28 million persons used Facebook.

There were reports that authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On January 13, police arrested three administrators of Facebook pages that allegedly promoted antigovernment protests scheduled for the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to media reports. Two of the three were Muslim Brotherhood members, according to state-owned media.

In April international media reported that in December 2015 Facebook terminated its Free Basics Service, which provided mobile phone users with free access to a limited suite of internet services, because the company would not allow the government to circumvent the service’s security to conduct surveillance. The government previously stated that it had only granted the mobile carrier Etisalat a temporary permit to offer the service for two months.

On December 19, Open Whisper Systems claimed that Egyptian authorities were blocking access to its encrypted messaging application Signal.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom. In October, Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. In February media reported that in December 2015, Cairo University revoked permission for one of its professors, Kholoud Saber, to pursue her doctoral degree abroad. Saber told media the decision came from an office connected to the Interior Ministry. Separately, Cairo University President Gaber Nassar told media that security forces did not intervene in the university’s academic affairs. Days after publication of the news reports, Cairo University reversed its decision to revoke Saber’s permission to study abroad.

There was censorship of 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 January 20, authorities cancelled a scheduled concert by the band Elawela Balady, according to an announcement by the group, which is widely associated with the January 25 Revolution. A local human rights group described the move as an attempt by authorities to silence voices connected to the revolution.

Independent film center, Cimatheque, associated with Khaled Abdalla from the prominent revolutionary documentary The Square and the sister production company Zero Productions, remained closed since October 2015 and received regular visits from authorities. In February authorities allowed Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, which was closed by authorities in December 2015, to reopen under what its director told press were new legal restrictions; he alleged that some restrictions amounted to state control of its work. Townhouse’s affiliated Rawabet Theater, which was also raided in December 2015, also reopened. The Merit Publishing House, which authorities raided in December 2015, remained open. Authorities quickly released the Merit employee detained in December 2015.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” Authorities implemented a 2013 demonstrations law that includes an expansive list of prohibited activities and gives the minister of interior the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law was not in keeping with international standards regarding freedom of assembly. There were protests throughout the year that varied widely in size, and some occurred without government interference. In other cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, even in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

Research center Daftar Ahwal reported at least 37,059 cases of individuals being stopped, arrested, or charged under the protest law between November 2013 and September. Of these, authorities charged 15,491 individuals under the protest law resulting in 6,382 convictions and 5,083 acquittals.

In January security forces arrested more than 150 individuals in connection with protests on the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to media reports.

In February 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in prison on charges of breaking the demonstrations law related to his participation in a protest in front of the Shura Council in 2013. The ruling was subject to appeal to the Court of Cassation, which at year’s end had not ruled whether it would accept the appeal.

Authorities arrested at least 382 persons in the days leading to April 25 protests against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia that determined Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty, according to an international rights organization. Authorities convicted many of these under the protest law; however, upon appeal authorities overturned many of the convictions or reduced sentences. For example, on May 24, a Dokki and Agouza court sentenced 111 individuals to five years’ imprisonment in connection with the protests. The following day, the Dokki Misdemeanor Court cancelled the prison sentences but upheld fines of LE 100,000 ($5,500) for 86 of the defendants and refused their request to pay the fines in installments.

Thousands of persons remained imprisoned whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful); however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities 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.

Demonstrations on university campuses decreased throughout the country as compared with the previous academic year, but security forces continued to disperse them forcefully, according to a local rights group. In April student mobilization increased with students protesting the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia that determined Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty. According to the same local rights group, authorities arrested 84 students and expelled 47 students during the 2015-16 academic year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the 2013 constitutional declaration provide for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right. The law on associations affects all nongovernmental civil society associations, the overwhelming majority of which were domestic welfare, educational, and environmental foundations. The Ministry of Social Solidarity applied the law in a highly restrictive manner on international and domestic organizations receiving international funding, denying government approval of programs that domestic and international organizations sought to implement or granting governmental approval after lengthy delays (which in some cases amounted to effective denials). Rights groups reported several incidents of security services ordering the cancellation of planned training programs or other events. Over the course of one week in May, the Ministry of Social Solidarity closed 75 NGOs in Beheira Governorate, according to a ministry statement. The ministry alleged all of the 75 had Muslim Brotherhood connections and claimed the governorate was “free” of any NGOs receiving foreign funding as a result of the closures.

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.” Violators may be sentenced to life in prison, or the death penalty in the case of public officials and for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.” The broad language raised concern among civil society that the article could be used to prosecute NGOs receiving or requesting international funding.

At year’s end the conviction of 27 mostly foreign NGO workers sentenced in 2013 for operating unlicensed organizations and receiving foreign funding without government permission stood. Appeals for some defendants were pending at year’s end; defendants had not yet filed appeals in the remainder of cases.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the Muslim Brotherhood was a legally designated terrorist organization.

Authorities reopened investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011, and on December 7, human rights attorney Azza Soliman was arrested in connection with the case. She was subsequently released on bail pending investigations. On December 14, a Cairo criminal court ordered asset freezes against Soliman and the law firm she headed, Lawyers for Justice and Peace. Separately in the case, on September 17, a Cairo criminal court ordered asset freezes against five individuals–including Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; and Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)–and three organizations, including CIHRS, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Egyptian Center for the Right to Education. The court denied a request to freeze the assets of six others including family members of those whose accounts were ordered frozen and support staff of the NGOs. On June 15, a Cairo criminal court ordered asset freezes against the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and its director, Ahmed Samieh. Freeze orders are subject to appeal after three months. Asset freeze cases were also pending against women’s rights organization Nazra for Feminist Studies and its executive director Mozn Hassan at year’s end. The next hearing was scheduled for January 11, 2017.

In February el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation), which documents torture and other forms of abuse and provides counseling for torture and rape victims, received administrative closure orders from three governmental bodies. The organization asserted the letters were politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work on torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. At year’s end authorities had neither rescinded nor enforced the orders, and the organization continued to operate but had suspended its clinical activities

On February 29, a misdemeanor court sentenced Amr Ali, coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, a political advocacy group, to three years’ imprisonment for inciting protests and attempting to topple the government. On July 30, an appeals court reduced his sentence to two years.

In March student union leaders called for a general assembly meeting to discuss the future of the Egyptian Student Union–the largest countrywide student union–after the December 2015 decision by the Ministry of Higher Education to nullify the results of the union’s November 2015 elections. As of December no such assembly had taken place.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, 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 authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced significant societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to a local civil society organization, 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 racist verbal abuse, beatings, and torture during detention.

While reports of abuse by Sinai-based facilitators and captors of illegal migrants continued to decline, a shift in human trafficking activities to mainland Egypt has accompanied this decline as a result of the security situation in Sinai and Libya.

Although the government did not cooperate consistently with UNHCR and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to asylum seekers and other persons of concern, it allowed UNHCR access to registered refugees in detention.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, and civil society activists from entering the Sinai Peninsula, stating it was to protect their safety; however, some persons avoiding government detection did enter the Sinai, particularly irregular migrants attempting to reach the Israeli border and the western border zone.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.”

Men who have not completed compulsory military service, however, may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service. Married Bahais and their children faced difficulties obtaining national identification cards because the government did not recognize Bahai marriages as legitimate. Some Bahai men of draft age were unable to establish they either had fulfilled or were exempt from military service and, therefore, were unable to obtain passports. Police officials reportedly forced unmarried young women, sometimes including those in their 30s, to present their father’s written permission to obtain a passport and to travel abroad, although the law does not require such permission.

Authorities required citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, and Turkey. 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 increasingly imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists. In March, Mada Masr reported there had been 554 cases of politically motivated banned entry and exit imposed by authorities in airports since 2011. In February local and human rights groups said that authorities intended to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. Several local and international human rights organizations reported a string of exit bans issued against human rights defenders and human rights activists.

Individuals connected with NGOs facing investigation as part of the reopened NGO foreign funding case faced travel bans. On June 27, authorities prevented women’s rights activist Mozn Hassan from departing the country and informed her that the prosecutor general had issued an order banning her from travel at the request of one of the case’s investigative judges. On July 15, authorities prevented human rights lawyer and member of the NCHR, Nasser Amin, from departing the country and told him that authorities had subjected him to a travel ban. According to statements by Amin’s lawyer, the travel ban was part of the reopened NGO foreign-funding case.

In January 2015 authorities prevented democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah from departing the country and informed her that authorities had issued a travel ban in her name. She filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, but the court dismissed the suit. Separately, in 2015 authorities confiscated the passport of human rights defender Mohamed Lotfy and prevented him from traveling to Berlin to deliver a statement before the German parliament on the eve of President Sisi’s state visit to Germany in June 2015. Abdel Fattah and Lotfy continued to be unable to depart the country.

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 Morsy-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and alleged they faced government threats of prosecution.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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, nor does it register or provide any assistance to Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of September there were approximately 192,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in the country, coming mainly from Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Iraq. The number of Syrian nationals newly registered as refugees increased since 2015. Observers attributed the increase to a new level of socioeconomic desperation among Syrians who had prolonged their stay in Egypt while depleting their assets, as well as an increase in new arrivals by way of Sudan, which remained the only country to which Syrians could travel without visas. As of August UNHCR reported 114,911 registered Syrian refugees in the country. The number of African refugees significantly increased during the year according to UNHCR, particularly among Ethiopian, Eritrean, and South Sudanese populations.

In 2012 and 2013 under the Morsy administration, the government accorded Syrians visa-free entry. Starting in mid-2013, the government 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. UNHCR reported cases of prolonged separation of Syrian families in Egypt and family members in Syria, Libya, or the Gulf countries. The government rarely granted family reunification visas.

Since the regulations took effect in 2013, UNHCR stated authorities detained and deported dozens of Syrians who arrived in the country without a visa or with forged documents, usually to the transit countries from which they arrived, or to Turkey or Lebanon. According to UNHCR, the number of Syrians using forged documents to travel to the country increased during the year. Stricter visa restrictions imposed by Jordan and Turkey also resulted in the return of some Syrians to Egypt, where they remained in prolonged detention.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and of detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly remained numerous, after a dramatic increase in 2013. Syrians represented the largest portion of this group, which also included Sudanese, South Sudanese, Eritreans, Somalis, Ethiopians, and other Africans. UNHCR observed increased African irregular departures from the country, particularly Sudanese, Eritrean, and Ethiopian nationals. Irregular migrants continued to travel steadily through the land route from Sudan (Wedi Halfa/Abu Simbel). There were 4,913 reported deaths of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean during the year, an increase from 3,600 reported for 2015.

UNHCR access to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers was unscheduled and intermittent. According to UNHCR, authorities allowed access but only by request. 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 denied UNHCR access to unregistered asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities, and UNHCR officials faced difficulties accessing prisoners to determine their status. The government subjected detained migrants, many of whom were Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, and Somali (and may have had a basis for asylum claims), to prolonged administrative detention for unauthorized entry or residence. Detained migrants–as unregistered asylum seekers–did not have access to UNHCR. Authorities often held them in jails, military camps, and regular prisons with convicted criminals.

Approximately three thousand Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, representing a significant decrease from 2015, which rights groups believed was a result of able-bodied men and teenage boys departing by sea to Europe as irregular migrants. The majority reportedly lived in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. Despite UNHCR’s mandate for Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, the government denied UNHCR permission to provide services, reportedly in part due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Similar to 2014 authorities detained a few Palestinian refugees from Syria but promptly released them. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Cairo provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Refoulement: According to human rights advocates, migrants detained while attempting to enter the country irregularly were typically given two options: return to their country of origin or indefinite administrative detention. Because the government denied UNHCR access to unregistered detained migrants and asylum seekers, the number of potential asylum seekers returned to their countries was unknown. Authorities frequently encouraged those detained to choose to return to their countries of origin to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. Authorities also deported children to their countries of origin without their parents or an adult caregiver. In 2014 authorities deported children recognized as refugees by UNHCR to their country of origin without their mother or an adult caregiver. In September members of the humanitarian assistance community noted that the government did not deport every irregular migrant caught either crossing the country or trying to depart by sea but that this inconsistent approach was largely due to the government’s severe budgetary constraints.

UNHCR stated the Syrian embassy implemented a restrictive policy regarding the renewal of expired passports of Syrian nationals in detention, regardless of the grounds for arrest. In such cases the Syrian embassy issued a travel document valid only for return to Syria; therefore, the absence of a valid national passport for Syrian refugees in detention resulted in either prolonged detention or forced repatriation. According to UNHCR reports, the Syrian embassy renewed passports on an individual basis in a few cases for released detainees. Syrian authorities generally refused to renew passports for persons who had registered with UNHCR.

Fewer Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country in an illegal manner with the intention to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced either detention or deportation.

Employment: There is no law granting 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, continued to face limited access to housing, public education, public health services, and other social services. The Interior Ministry restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in the Sinai but provided the International Organization for Migration (IOM) access to some detention centers. UNHCR provided refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. IOM provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Some public schools enrolled Syrian refugee children, but universal access for refugee education was nonexistent largely due to concerns about overcrowded public schools and a lack of resources. Instead, refugee children 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 of the 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. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services; however, due to lack of availability, the low quality of Egyptian public education, and cases of severe harassment of Syrian children, many Syrian children remained outside the formal education system.

STATELESS PERSONS

Most of the 22 stateless persons known to UNHCR 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. An unknown number of the approximately 50,000 to 100,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal suffrage. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in several rounds October through December 2015. Domestic and international observers concluded that authorities administered parliamentary elections professionally and in accordance with the laws. Observers expressed concern about restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding elections.

Domestic and international observers concluded authorities administered the 2014 presidential election professionally and in line with the law, but they expressed serious concerns regarding constraints on the freedoms of expression and association and limits on freedom of the press leading up to the election, which “prevented free political participation and severely compromised the broader electoral environment.”

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 five thousand members from 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 Muslim Brotherhood, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party and the Building and Development Party, although those parties boycotted the 2015 parliamentary elections, citing a “negative political environment.” The Islamist al-Noor Party participated, winning 11 seats. In September, citing lack of jurisdiction, a court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a private individual demanding the dissolution of the al-Noor Party, among other parties alleged to have formed on a religious basis.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Social and cultural barriers, however, continued to limit 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 elections, a substantial increase compared with the 2012 parliament, which included 11 women, 13 Christians, and no persons with disabilities. 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. In December 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, half of his appointments must be women, according to the law. Parliament included 89 women and 38 Christians.

Women led four cabinet ministries; not all cabinet members hold portfolios. No women or members of religious minorities were among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. No women were on the Supreme Constitutional Court. Legal experts said 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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not consistently enforce the law. There were allegations members of the government, as well as the previous Mubarak and Morsy governments, engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Court cases still pending at year’s end were inconclusive regarding the accusations of impunity. The existing government pursued corruption cases against senior officials.

Corruption: The Central Agency for Auditing and Accounting (CAA) was the government’s anticorruption body and submitted reports to the president and the prime minister that were not available to the public. The auditing and accounting agency stationed monitors at state-owned companies to report corrupt practices. The Administrative Control Authority, another independent body, had jurisdiction over state administrative bodies, state-owned enterprises, public associations and institutions, private companies undertaking public work, and organizations to which the state contributes in any form.

On March 28, the president dismissed the head of the CAA, Hehsam Geneina. In December 2015 Geneina publicly claimed that corruption in public and government circles led to the squandering and misappropriation of more than LE 600 billion ($33 million). In January a government fact-finding committee alleged that Geneina deliberately exaggerated figures about corruption for political purposes. Geneina told media that the allegations against him were politically motivated. On July 28, a Cairo court convicted Geneina of spreading false information, sentencing him to a one-year suspended prison term and a fine of LE 20,000 ($1,100). A court rejected Geneina’s appeal on December 22 but suspended the implementation of his sentence for three years.

On January 9, the Court of Cassation rejected an appeal of a May 2015 Cairo criminal court conviction of former president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, Alaa Mubarak and Gamal Mubarak, on corruption charges, sentencing all three to three years’ imprisonment. They were also fined collectively LE 21.2 million ($1.17 million) and ordered to repay LE 125 million ($6.9 million) in stolen funds. In October 2015 the court ordered the release of Alaa Mubarak and Gamal Mubarak from prison upon completion of their sentences. No further appeals are possible.

On March 12, the government announced it had reached a reconciliation agreement with businessman Hussein Salem. Salem had lived in Spain since 2011, following sentencing in his absence to 15 years in prison on corruption charges related to the sale of natural gas and 10 years in prison on corruption charges related to the sale of electricity. According to Salem’s lawyer’s comments to media, the agreement included the transfer of 78 percent of the assets held by Salem, his children, and his grandchildren to the government.

On April 11, a Cairo court sentenced former agriculture minister Salah Eddin Helal to 10 years in prison and a fine of LE one million ($55,100). The court convicted Salah and other ministry officials of accepting bribes to help businessmen illegally acquire state land. Salah appealed the decision, and court proceedings continued at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials. A 2013 conflict-of-interest law forbids government officials from maintaining any pecuniary interest in matters over which they exercise authority.

Public Access to Information: There is no legal framework stipulating how citizens can access government information. The government generally was not responsive to requests for documents regarding government activities and did not provide reasons for its lack of responsiveness.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future