Violations overshadow reform pledges.. The annual report on the state of freedom of expression in Egypt 2022

Date : Monday, 1 May, 2023
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Prepared by: The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression’s (AFTE) Monitoring and Documentation Unit

 

Content

Methodology

Introduction

Part One: The national dialogue… an obstructed birth

Part Two: Patterns of violation of the right to freedom of expression

First: Digital rights

Second: Freedom of the press and media

Third: Academic freedom and student rights

Fourth: Freedom of creativity

Fifth: Right to peaceful assembly

Conclusion and recommendations

 

Methodology

This report reviews and analyzes the general policies of the Egyptian authorities and their various agencies towards the right to freedom of expression in its various forms in 2022. It also highlights the key patterns of violations in the various fields of freedom of expression, mainly including freedom of the press and media, freedom of creativity and artistic expression, academic freedom, student rights and digital rights, in addition to the right to demonstration and peaceful assembly during 2022. In this regard, the report relied on the databases of AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit, the cases undertaken by AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit during 2022, testimonies of non-AFTE lawyers who worked on other cases, in addition to testimonies of victims of violations documented by AFTE. The report provides an analysis of the patterns of violations that occurred during the year through intensive follow-up and research scrutiny. It notes new patterns of violation in each file of freedom of expression, compared to the traditional patterns that AFTE documented in recent years.

 

Introduction

A tangible change in the political discourse of the Egyptian authorities can be seen since mid-2021, particularly after the widespread international criticism that the Egyptian government faced against the backdrop of the joint statement issued by 31 countries on the sidelines of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2021.[1]

The statement urged the Egyptian government to guarantee space for civil society, lift restrictions on media and digital platforms, stop blocking independent news websites, and release all imprisoned journalists. It also urged the government to guarantee the freedom of human rights defenders to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, or any other form of reprisal. That included lifting travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders.

Since then, the Egyptian authorities have rushed to improve their image with regard to the human rights situation, particularly at the international level, with the aim of alleviating the international pressures they have been exposed to, and maximizing the opportunities for foreign loans, which have increased significantly in recent years.

In September 2021, the Permanent Committee for Human Rights – a governmental committee headed by the foreign minister and formed by a decision of the President of the Republic in September 2019 – launched the national human rights strategy, during a conference attended and sponsored by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who announced that the year 2022 would be the “year of civil society”.

In October 2021, the president suspended the emergency law, thus ending the state of emergency in the country for the first time since 2017. The government promoted the move as an important step towards fulfilling the requirements of the national human rights strategy. The strategy was good despite the criticisms it faced regarding the way it was approved and its lack of important human rights issues.

The year 2021 ended with expectations that the government would continue exerting efforts to improve the human rights situation in Egypt. Indeed, on 26 April 2022, President Sisi launched his call for a political dialogue that brings together all opposition factions, without exclusion or discrimination, with the aim of reaching a consensus on the priorities of national action during the next stage. The president also decided to reactivate the presidential pardon committee, after adding two members to it. The committee’s jurisdiction was expanded to include prisoners of conscience and imprisoned debtors.

The presidential pardon committee has made great efforts over the past seven months, which resulted in the release of nearly 1,000 prisoners of conscience and the pardoning of 12 defendants in political cases.

By the end of 2022, AFTE believes that the change in the Egyptian government policy was just empty rhetoric, as the Egyptian authorities had no real will to change the reality of human rights, create a real political breakthrough, or open the public sphere in the country. This was reflected in the overall policies and practices adopted by the Egyptian authorities regarding human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression.

Despite the efforts the presidential pardon committee has made since it was reactivated seven months ago, its steps have been very slow and its decisions have been selective. More than one security apparatus controlled the decision-making regarding the prisoners who should be released. Meanwhile, the committee’s role was limited to preparing lists of the prisoners to be released, after receiving requests from citizens and human rights organizations. This delay in sorting out the issue of prisoners of conscience was the most prominent reason for the hesitation and retreat of the civil democratic movement from openness to participation in the national dialogue, which we will discuss later in detail.

On the contrary, security and judicial practices continued to persecute opinion-makers, journalists, and creative people, crack political opponents down, and harass citizens, especially in everything related to a movement in both the traditional and virtual public spheres.

These practices have led to an increase in the number of detainees in opinion cases, which AFTE estimates has greatly exceeded the number of those released or pardoned by the President of the Republic.

Fifteen months after the launch of the national human rights strategy, the Egyptian authorities have not honoured the pledges they made in the strategy. At the level of policies, the parliament has not yet discussed the Right to Access Information Act or the Personal Status Law, nor has it approved the amendments related to pretrial detention in the Criminal Procedures Law. At the level of practice, nothing has changed at all, as the same security mentality has continued to prevail instead of political interventions and dialogue.

The cesarean delivery of the national dialogue is still faltering, trapped in preparatory procedures. The authorities did not deal seriously with the guarantees announced by the Civil Democratic Movement – the most prominent opposition political entity that represents the opposition in the national dialogue – as a necessity to participate in the dialogue. On the other hand, the Egyptian government approved a number of public policies, unilaterally and authoritarianly, without waiting for the national dialogue, in what seemed like emptying the national dialogue of any real and serious content. These included the approval of amendments to the Unified Tax Procedures Law, the discussion of the Labor Law in parliament with a view to approving it, as well as other financial, banking and economic policies that were approved.

 

Part One: The national dialogue… an obstructed birth

After President Sisi called for political dialogue in April, talks were held between the sponsor of the dialogue (represented by the president’s office) and leaders of the civil democratic movement. The talks resulted in the formation of the board of trustees of the national dialogue as a body entrusted with organizing and preparing the course and events of the dialogue sessions. The former head of the Journalists Syndicate and head of the State Information Service, Diaa Rashwan, was selected as the general coordinator of the board of trustees.

The board of trustees held 18 sessions over six months, during which it focused on the organization of its work, such as approving its regulations and the code of conduct for the dialogue sessions. The board also focused on the selection of the general rapporteurs and their assistants in the dialogue committees, which were agreed to be 19 in number. These committees included five committees under the political axis, six under the social axis, and eight under the economic axis, with each committee having a variety of topics to be discussed. The number of these topics reached 83, and the number of rapporteurs and assistants reached 44.

The pace of the board’s work was very slow. The year 2022 ended without setting a schedule for the national dialogue sessions. The board was preoccupied with reaching an internal consensus among its members over the proportional representation of each party within each axis and each committee. It can also be said that the board is merely a body in charge of organizing the procedures of the national dialogue, while the political decision related to the dialogue’s progress depends on the executive bodies concerned with communication with the political forces. The Civil Democratic Movement welcomed the president’s call for national dialogue and interacted with it positively. It participated in the presidential pardon committee. It also participated in preparing and organizing the national dialogue, by agreeing to form a board of trustees, nominating candidates from each party as well as independents to attend the national dialogue sessions, and approving the names of the general rapporteurs and assistants for the axes and the general and sub-committees. However, the Movement called on the authorities to set a number of guarantees that it believes reflect the government’s seriousness and good intention towards the calls for opening the public sphere. These guarantees mainly included sorting out the issue of prisoners of conscience. As we mentioned earlier, the considerable delay in sorting this issue out led the Civil Democratic Movement to doubt the seriousness of the authorities’ call for national dialogue.

The guarantees also included asking the government to stop approving public policies and referring draft laws to the parliament for approval, pending the outcomes of the national dialogue that may reflect new approaches aiming to improve the economic, social and political conditions in the country.

However, the authorities completely ignored this, and rather endorsed a number of public policies and important decisions in several areas, especially in the economic field, over the past six months. All of these policies and decisions were approved unilaterally, without conducting any societal dialogue with stakeholders or political forces and without waiting for the national dialogue, in what many observers considered a deliberate attempt to empty the national dialogue of any real content.

There are no real indications so far that the authorities are serious in launching a real national dialogue that would result in political openness that would help reshape the political life after the apparent failure of the current government at various levels. Rather, the Egyptian authorities continued their practices that violate human rights, tightened their security grip on the public sphere, and continued to approve public policies without waiting for the national dialogue, as we explained earlier.

 

Part Two: Patterns of violation of the right to freedom of expression

First: Digital rights

Introduction (Self-censorship):

Governments have difficulty blocking or banning various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and others. This is due to the fact that these platforms are connected to global economic and business networks. Consequently, the cost of blocking them completely becomes very high – economically and politically – for governments.

The Egyptian authorities have taken in recent years a set of measures, including laws and practices, against a large number of social media users.

Those users do not necessarily represent a political risk, as the security agencies may target entertainment content. In other words, the government aims to prevent individuals in general from expressing their ideas, whether they are political opponents or creators of entertainment, social, or even educational content. Everyone is subjected to oppression, arbitrariness, and prosecution regardless of the type of content they provide, as shown by the violations documented by AFTE in 2022.

Through these measures, the government seeks to restrict the space of expression that these platforms provide to users. It also aims to curb the role of these platforms in influencing politics and decision-making in the country. It also seeks to limit the circulation of information outside the framework of the official narrative, so that the government, with its various apparatuses, becomes the main and only source of all events taking place in Egypt. It can be said that these measures created a state of mounting fear and caution that strengthened all forms of censorship of the cyberspace.

In this regard, the legislative authorities issued a number of laws that would restrict and control the use of the internet. These include the Anti-Cybercrime Law No. 175 of 2018[2] which stipulates imprisonment and fines for relative moral crimes, the elements of which are difficult to know. These crimes include infringing on the Egyptian family values and outraging public modesty. Law No. 180 of 2018[3] regulating the press and media gives the judicial and security authorities and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) the power to block websites and social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers for security considerations or in case of spreading false news or disdaining divine religions and beliefs. The authorities also amended some provisions of Law No. 10 of 1972[4] regarding the non-disciplinary dismissal of public servants.

In May 2022, the Chamber of Travel and Tourism Companies and Agencies issued a decision to ban workers in the tourism sector from publishing any negative incidents affecting tourists. It also warned against publishing any videos on social media that feature inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours that some tourists face during their visits to Egypt, so as not to cause those who watch these videos to wrongly get a negative impression that these behaviours are usual and acceptable in Egypt, something which “damages the country’s tourist reputation”. These decisions came after two tourist guides were arrested for publishing a video showing some boys harassing female foreign tourists at Giza Pyramids.[5]

Thus, the chamber violated the citizens’ right to express their opinions and circulate information online. This is indeed in line with the policies adopted by the security services, which seek to eliminate any source of information and nationalize all spaces of expression.

These laws aim to place more restrictions on the use of the internet, targeting everyone who opposes the government’s policies, whether directly and intentionally or indirectly and often unintentionally. They also aim to control the content provided on social media.

In addition to laws and decisions, the practices of the security services represent an important factor in restricting the use of social media in Egypt. In this context, the appointment of Hamada al-Sawy as a public prosecutor in September 2019 was a pivotal shift in the way the security services deal with the cyberspace in general and social media in particular. Al-Sawy has been active in targeting social media users. He launched a campaign against users who provide content that the Public Prosecution deems offending the public morals. Thus, the Public Prosecution gave itself the authority of guardianship over the values of society.[6]

These measures have restricted social media platforms and created a state of censorship at different levels. Although the term “censorship” is associated with government and security agencies, the reality reveals several levels of censorship of the content posted on social media. These levels start with the admins then the users who can report content that they deem offensive or that they do not want to exist for specific reasons. They also include the censorship practiced by external governmental or non-governmental parties for various political, security, economic and societal purposes, and finally the self-censorship for fear of repression.[7]

So, the authorities continued to restrict the spaces of expression on social media in 2022.

AFTE documented 101 violations of digital rights in 2022, compared to 70 in 2021, up 44% year-on-year. This indicates more restrictions on the right of individuals to express their opinions and use the internet. It also indicates escalating and continuous measures and practices undertaken by the authorities to restrict the content creation industry and the circulation of information online.

Security violations and blocking of websites were the most common practices related to digital rights in 2022. AFTE documented 76 arrests in 2022, making up 76% of the cases documented this year, compared to 35 arrests in 2021.

This indicates an increase in the activity of the security services in pursuing and monitoring social media users, thus placing further restrictions on cyberspace. These incidents included arrests due to anti-government activism, such as posting content on Facebook, YouTube, or TikTok, or joining a Facebook group calling for demonstrations. The security authorities also used the weapon of blocking websites through the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR), making up 12% of the violations. In 2022, some 12 various websites were blocked under the pretext of spreading false news, inciting violence, hatred, discrimination and racism, defaming, insulting and slandering individuals, or disdaining heavenly religions and beliefs. Moreover, some websites – some of which operated from outside Egypt – were blocked for being established and managed without obtaining a license from the SCMR, in accordance with Law No. 180 of 2018.

The security services topped the list of violators of digital rights in 2022, as AFTE documented at least 76 violations committed by them, or 76% of the total violations. The SCMR came second with 14 violations, followed by judicial bodies with 8 violations, the Medical Syndicate with two violations, and finally the Chamber of Travel and Tourism Companies and Agencies with one violation.

 

 

 

 

 

TikTok reoccupies the public sphere

The concept of the public sphere refers to “the abstract space through which citizens and different social groups discuss various public issues and concerns”. So, the public sphere is supposed to have open discussions of all public issues, through which rational, logical argumentation can be employed to ensure the achievement of public interests. Thus, the public sphere – with both its traditional and virtual parts – embodies freedom of expression, dialogue and discussion, affirms the right to freely participate in political decision-making, and encourages the marginalized citizens to engage in public discussions on various issues and topics.[8]

Although the public sphere is one of the most important determinants of democracy, it has been subjected to continuous reduction and curtailment in Egypt since 2013. The Egyptian authorities controlled all attempts to exploit or participate in the public sphere through laws and practices. Among the laws that restricted the public sphere are the law on banning peaceful assembly and protests[9], the law on protecting public facilities[10], and the regulations for amateur photography[11]. These laws and many others aim to tighten the authorities’ grip on the public sphere so that it becomes owned and completely controlled by the state.

Some social media platforms have been active in recent years, especially TikTok, which in 2020 changed the authorities’ prevailing perception of the physical and electronic public sphere. TikTok reoccupied the public sphere by reshaping the relationship between citizens and the public sphere. It is a video-sharing app that lets users create and share short clips that do not exceed 15 seconds. It then promotes the content to other users. TikTok videos can be anything. The app is so popular among teenagers.

The app connects the public space with the cyberspace. It contains videos filmed in public places, such as challenges between users. These include dancing in the streets, standing in front of police stations, acting scenes, and various activities in the street. This contradicts the security authorities’ view of the streets and the citizens’ presence there. TikTok does not only change the prevailing perception of the Egyptian street, but also challenges the prevailing values imposed by society and sponsored by the state. With its spread among teenagers and the ease of creating content on it, the app helps spread values and ideas different from those prevailing in society. Thus, the authorities realize that TikTok undermines and threatens their actual and moral authority.

With the security services realizing the threat that TikTok poses to their control over the Egyptian street, the targeting of TikTok users has evolved. The authorities used to target dancers and TikTok girls under the pretext of protecting the morals and values of the Egyptian society, but they now target any content that might weaken – directly or indirectly – the security services’ control or criticize the government policies, especially in light of the poor economic and political conditions in the country. Violations against TikTokers amounted to 22, or 22% of the total digital violations reported in 2022. The violations are not limited to content that criticizes the government and its policies or the practices of the security services. About 77% of the violations against TikTok users were arrests over acting scenes, followed by arrests over satirical content, and then arrests over content that criticizes the practices of the security services.

The violations documented by AFTE show that the security services are the key player in this regard. This indicates that the security services are aware of the threat that TikTok poses to their control over the public sphere. The security services are always striving to instill fear and anxiety among other users and send a message to the effect that not everyone has the right to publish whatever content they want and they do not have the right to express their opinions, even in a sarcastic way, and that restrictions on content are set and controlled by the security services.

 

The “Batman of Helwan” incident is the most famous case that shows how TikTok reshapes the relationship between individuals and the public sphere, and how the security services realize the seriousness of this. In July 2022, the police arrested four people, all under the age of 20, namely Karim Mohamed Refaat Mohamed Aziz, Anas Mahmoud Mustafa Zahran, Mazen Reda Mohamed Aziz, and Islam Nagdy Mohamed Aziz. This came after the four called for an event called “Batman of Helwan”. The call started on TikTok and then spread widely on other social media platforms in early July 2022, with many users sharing the invitation to the event. They called on the invitees to wear a disguise of the famous movie character Batman and gather in front of the Helwan metro station in Cairo on 13 August 2022 in order to compete and win the title of real Batman.

The security services saw the event as a security and political threat, for fear of mass gatherings and the citizens’ control of the street, which the authorities had been fighting, especially as the event coincided with the anniversary of the 2013 deadly dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in. The defendants appeared before the State Security Prosecution in Case No. 440 of 2022.[12]

The security services also arrested two soldiers, Abdullah Mohamed Ibrahim Ebada, 22, and Hisham Abdel-Hamid Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, 21, after one of their friends filmed them inside their service vehicle without their knowledge and posted the video on TikTok. They were arrested at their military service headquarters in Matrouh on 23 June 2022. The two were subjected to enforced disappearance for ten days, during which they were detained at a National Security office. They appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 3 July 2022 in Case No. 440 of 2022, facing charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. This incident represented a challenge to the security and political symbols of the security services and reshaped the relationship between citizens and those symbols.[13]

 

Patterns of violations

The Egyptian authorities continued to crack down on social media users in 2022. Social media in Egypt are the last spaces available for citizens to express their ideas and opinions. Users are prosecuted for sharing various political, social, economic, entertainment and satirical content. The violations documented by AFTE varied as follows:

TikTok

  • Continued targeting of female TikTokers (judicial rulings against TikTok girls):

AFTE documented three court rulings against female TikTokers, which included imprisonment, upholding a prison sentence, and rejecting an appeal against a previous ruling. The defendants faced charges of human trafficking, infringing on the Egyptian family values, and inciting immorality and debauchery.

In April 2022, the Cairo Criminal Court (Circuit 15 South Cairo) sentenced Haneen Hossam to three years in prison and ordered her to pay a fine of 200,000 pounds, in connection with Case No. 4917 of 2020 (Al-Sahel Felonies), registered under No. 2106 of 2020 (North Cairo Full Court).

On 13 May 2022, the Juvenile Misdemeanour Court of Appeal upheld a two-year prison sentence against Nancy Ayman Sobhy, known as “Moka Hegazy”. On 24 February, the Giza Juvenile Misdemeanour Court sentenced Hegazy to one year in prison on charge of practicing prostitution with men without discrimination in return for money, and two years in prison for offering herself in a public manner that contained temptation to practice debauchery.

On 19 June 2022, the Cairo Criminal Court rejected an appeal filed by Mawaddah Fathi Rashad, known as “Mawaddah al-Adham”, against the ruling issued on 20 June 2021 that sentenced her to 6 years in prison and ordered her to pay a fine of 200,000 pounds on charges of human trafficking, infringing on the principles of Egyptian family, participating with others in luring and exploiting girls through live broadcasts, receiving bank transfers from the TikTok platform administration, and posting videos that incite immorality.[14]

The security campaign against these girls began on 21 April 2020. It targeted more than 19 girls and their assistants.

A police force arrested Haneen Hossam for publishing a video calling for the use of Likee app in exchange for money. The Public Prosecution charged her with infringing on family principles and values, human trafficking, using girls in work violating the principles and values ​​of society to obtain money. She was remanded in custody in Case No. 4971 of 2020 (Misdemeanour, Al-Sahel). On 11 June 2021, the Public Prosecution referred Hossam, Adham and three others, namely Mohamed Abdel-Hamid Zaki, Mohamed Alaa El-Din Ahmed, and Ahmed Sameh Attia, to the Cairo Economic Misdemeanour Court. The prosecution accused Zaki and Ahmed of helping the girls to publish immoral videos. On 27 July, the Cairo Economic Misdemeanour Court sentenced the five to two years in prison and fined them 300,000 Egyptian pounds each.[15]

 

  • Arrest over publishing a variety of entertaining social content:

The security services arrested TikTokers for posting various content, including music videos, acting scenes, and satirical clips. On 28 June 2022, the police arrested Al-Amir Fahim Ahmed, a 20-year-old student at the Faculty of Commerce, for posting a video on TikTok in which he performed a political song called “Theaters and cinemas”. Ahmed appeared before the prosecution for the first time on 6 July 2022, after he forcedly disappeared for more than a week. The prosecution interrogated him in Case No. 440 of 2022, on charges of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and using a social media account for the purpose of committing a crime. He was released on 24 October 2022.[16]

On 21 June 2022, the police arrested Ashraf Ashry, Ahmed Ashry, Mohamed Samy Qutb, Hosny Mahmoud Othman, Osama Kamal, and Mohamed Ragab Abdel-Majeed in Alexandria for their participation in a TikTok video that garnered more than 6 million views. The video simulates a scene from the TV series “Rahim” starring Egyptian actor Yasser Galal, who played the role of President Sisi in the TV series Al-Ikhtiyar 3 (The Choice 3). The defendants were subjected to enforced disappearance for more than 3 weeks before they appeared before the State Security Prosecution on 7 July 2022 in connection with Case No. 440 of 2022. The prosecution charged them with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, and remanded them in custody at Abu Zaabal prison.[17]

 

  • Arrest over content critical of the security services:

The security services arrested Mohamed Sherif Abdel-Aleem for posting a video on TikTok showing a non-commissioned police officer assaulting a person in the street in the Sayeda Zeinab district. On 30 October 2022, the State Security Prosecution remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation on charges of spreading false news, in Case No. 1635 of 2022 (State Security).[18]

On 12 July, the police arrested Mohamed Ali Kamel Ali, a 31-year-old baker, in front of his house in Minya. He was taken to the National Security office in Minya and interrogated for posting a video on TikTok entitled: “Trade of accusations between a non-commissioned police officer and the chief of Al-Omraniya police station.” Ali remained in detention at the National Security headquarters, until he appeared before the State Security Prosecution on 18 July 2022 in Case No. 440 of 2022. The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.[19]

 

  • Arrest over calls for assembly:

The aforementioned “Batman of Helwan” incident is the most important in this section.

 

Facebook and other platforms:

  • Arrest over opposition activities:

The security services continue to pursue any opposition activities on various platforms, especially Facebook. These activities may include a post, tweet, or video opposing or criticizing the government policies.

In this context, Osama Rizk Rizk Amer, a 40-year-old teacher and YouTuber was arrested from his home in Damietta in September 2022 and was taken to the State Security headquarters. This came after he posted a video on his educational channel “Agyal Al-Andalus” (Andalusia generations), in which he criticized the collection of donations for private and public schools. Amer was detained at the State Security office in Damietta for 18 days until he was brought before the State Security Prosecution on 3 October 2022. The prosecution charged him with joining and financing a terrorist group, and remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 1654 of 2022 (State Security).[20]

Security forces arrested activist Aya Kamal and her father from their home in Alexandria on 2 July 2022. The father was released later, but Aya was taken to the National Security headquarters in Abis in Alexandria, where she was subjected to illegal interrogation that extended for 12 hours over some of her Facebook posts. She appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 5 July 2022 in connection with Case No. 93 of 2022. The prosecution charged her with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. It faced her with photocopies of posts from her Facebook page.[21]

It was not the first time for Aya to be arrested. She was arrested for the first time in 2013 in connection with a case known in local media as “the 7am girls”, in which she was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but the Court of Appeal acquitted her later. She was arrested again in March 2020 in connection with Case No. 558 of 2020 (State Security), on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. She was held in pretrial detention for more than a year until she was released for health reasons.

In the same context, security forces arrested political activist Sherif al-Ruby at the entrance of a hotel in Ahmed Helmy area in Cairo on 15 September 2022. The next day, he was transferred to the State Security building in Abbasiya neighbourhood over posts from his Facebook page in which he talked about a forcibly disappeared person, the conditions inside prisons, and the suffering of released prisoners of conscience. Al-Ruby remained in detention until he was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 17 September. The prosecution remanded him in custody for 15 days on charges of joining a banned group, spreading false news and misusing social media, in connection with Case No. 1634 of 2022. Al-Ruby was among the activists who were released on 30 May 2022 under a presidential pardon.[22]

A police force arrested lawyer Nabil Abu Sheikha from his home in Shebin al-Qanater, Qalyubia Governorate, on 11 April 2022 over Facebook posts in which he criticized and mocked the performance of Egyptian actor Yasser Galal, who played the role of President Sisi in the third season of the TV series Al-Ikhtiyar (The Choice). Abu Sheikha was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution the next day in connection with Case No. 93 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution), facing charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.[23]

Security forces also arrested Ahmed Mohamed Moussa Abdel-Khaleq from his home in Giza on 19 March 2022 for publishing some posts on Facebook about the price hikes and the deteriorating living conditions. Abdel-Khaleq appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution for the first time on 3 April 2022 in connection with Case No. 330 of 2022 (State Security), facing charges of joining a terrorist group, inciting a terrorist act, and spreading false news.[24]

Al-Husseini Farghali Othman Nafadi was arrested on 5 April 2022, while he was sitting inside a café in Al-Salam neighbourhood in Cairo, after he posted videos on YouTube tackling the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. On 7 April 2022, the Supreme State Security Prosecution investigated Nafadi in connection with Case No. 330 of 2022, on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.[25]

On 7 May 2022, the police arrested two tourist guides for publishing a video showing some boys harassing female foreign tourists at Giza Pyramids. One of the arrested guides filmed the incident and shared it on a WhatsApp group, then the other shared it on Facebook. Both were arrested under the pretext of harming the country’s tourist reputation. Following this incident, the Chamber of Travel and Tourism Companies and Agencies issued a decision to refer any worker in the tourism sector to investigation and legal accountability if they film and publish any negative incidents affecting tourists. It also warned against publishing any videos on social media that feature inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours that some tourists face during their visits, so as not to cause those who watch these videos to wrongly get a negative impression that these behaviours are usual and acceptable in Egypt, something which “damages the country’s tourist reputation”, according to the Chamber.[26]

The security services continued to track the citizens’ activities on social media. The police arrested member of the Constitution Party Haitham Al-Banna from his home in Al-Manial neighbourhood in Cairo on 30 January 2022 over tweets related to the anniversary of the January 2011 revolution. Al-Banna did not appear before any investigation body for nine days until he appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution in the Fifth Settlement, in connection with Case No. 41 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. He was remanded in custody for 15 days[27], but was released later on 24 April 2022.[28]

On 8 January 2022, a police force arrested accountant Ihab Saeed Ahmed Saafan from his home in Sharqia Governorate. Saafan was subjected to enforced disappearance for about three weeks, during which he was illegally interrogated about his activities on Facebook and Twitter. He was subjected to beating and electric shocks at the National Security office in Zagazig. Saafan appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 31 January 2022, in connection with Case No. 41 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). He faced charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. Saafan denied the accusations, stressing his support for President Sisi and that he had no political activity.[29]

The aforementioned violations indicate that the tracking by the security services of the activities of citizens on social media is not limited to posts and tweets that oppose the state policies or the practices of the security services, but it also includes citizens who do not have any political or opposition activities. Sarcastic posts, posts about living conditions and prices, and educational posts are also targeted. The security services also target content that supports the state policies, which is considered a random and irrational level of prosecution. Basically, the security services aim to spread terror and fear among internet users and limit any available space for exchanging information and expressing opinions.

 

  • Arrest over joining a Facebook group:

The security services also targeted users for joining Facebook groups. On 25 September 2022, security forces arrested Abdel-Salam Abdel-Ghani Abdel-Salam, a 55-year-old engineer, from his house in the 6th of October City. The forces searched the house and then took Abdel-Salam to the National Security office in the city where he was interrogated for joining the Facebook group “Haqqina” (Our right), a group that called for demonstrations on 11 November to coincide with the Cop27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. He was asked about the group’s posts and members. He remained under enforced disappearance for more than two weeks, until 10 October 2022, when he was brought before the State Security Prosecution in Case No. 1691 of 2022 (State Security). The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and joining a Facebook group calling for demonstrations. It remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation.

On 24 October 2022, security forces arrested Gaber Mahmoud Mahmoud Badawy, a 48-year-old waiter in a café, from his home in Sidi Gaber, Alexandria for a post on a Facebook group called “11/11 Revolution – Climate Summit” in which he called for demonstrations on 11 November. He was investigated on 7 November 2022 over joining and posting to the group. On 28 November 2022, the State Security Prosecution decided to renew Badawy’s detention for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 1977 of 2022 (State Security). The prosecution charged him with joining and financing a terrorist group, spreading false news, participating in a criminal agreement aiming to commit a terrorist act, and inciting a terrorist act.[30]

 

  • Arrest over a religious debate:

Security forces arrested Hisham Ahmed Fouad in November 2022, days after he had a religious debate with Sheikh Ahmed Karima, a professor of Islamic law at Al-Azhar University, on a YouTube channel called “Free Thought” on 31 October 2022. After the debate, Karima appeared in a video clip calling on lawyers to file lawsuits against the YouTube channel and its owner, and against Fouad as well. On 6 November, Fouad posted a video on Facebook saying that he was in danger and would not continue to post. On 7 November, the YouTube channel’s owner, Bassem Sam, said in a video that the National Security police had summoned Fouad. All content and videos on Fouad’s YouTube channel were deleted. In December 2022, Sam appeared in a video on his YouTube channel and stated that Fouad had been released after being arrested and subjected to enforced disappearance for about a month. Sam also noted that State Security prosecutors had interrogated Fouad and asked him not to appear again on YouTube or social media and to delete his channel. Fouad, also known as Hisham Al-Masry, has a YouTube channel through which he publishes his anti-religious ideas. The channel has more than 18,000 followers.[31]

 

Continued blocking of websites:

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation continued to use its policy against freedom of expression and freedom of information. It continued to block apps and websites under the pretext that their content does not comply with the state policy. The SCMR claims that these websites spread false news and incite violence and racism. It uses a loose set of arguments that cannot be inferred. In addition, it does not reveal the blocked websites.

On 19 April 2022, the SCMR issued a decision to block 12 websites, social media accounts, YouTube channels, and electronic apps, without revealing their names. It cited several reasons for its decision, including spreading false news, inciting violence or hatred, insulting and slandering individuals, and disdaining religions.[32]

On 7 April 2022, the SCMR decided to close the Facebook and Instagram accounts of actor Mahmoud Al-Mahdi (the ex-husband of actress Menna Arafa) for violating media codes and standards, after he published posts deemed offensive to art and artists, according to a SCMR statement. This came against the backdrop of a complaint submitted by head of the Actors Syndicate Ashraf Zaki to the SCMR against Al-Mahdi, accusing him of slandering, defaming, and insulting a number of actors and actresses, including Elham Shaheen.[33]

 

Second: Freedom of the press and media

The Egyptian authorities continued to place restrictions on freedom of the press and media in 2022. Despite the release of a number of imprisoned journalists among few hundreds released through the presidential pardon committee, the government still adopts a security approach towards the press and media. The various state agencies continued to violate freedom of the press and media, using the same methods that have been in place over the past nine years, mainly including arrests, blocking independent news websites, and filing complaints against journalists. An unprecedented incident took place in 2022, as the state-owned Channel One TV submitted a complaint to the Facebook administration against a media material published by a former head of a political party on Facebook, which led to the deletion of the Facebook page on which the material was published, before the channel later withdrew its complaint.

The security services did not only clamp down on journalists in 2022, but also targeted citizens who published videos about their torture inside a police station in Cairo, after the British newspaper The Guardian published a report on the content of those videos. Instead of launching a serious judicial investigation into the videos, all those who appeared in the clips were presented to the Supreme State Security Prosecution on charges of spreading false news and were remanded in custody. They later received prison sentences up to 15 years, which indicated increasing targeting of the press by targeting the sources.

AFTE documented 47 incidents that contained at least 63 violations against the press and media community in 2022. These included 23 arrests, 9 of which were reported in the press, followed by 8 judicial decisions issued against journalists. In two of these cases, journalists were jailed in cases related to publication, despite the fact that Article 71 of the constitution states that “no custodial sanction shall be imposed for crimes committed by way of publication or the public nature thereof”.

 

 

 

 

Key patterns of media freedom violations in 2022:

 

First: Arrests and detention

The arrest of journalists over their work is one of the most prominent and common violations against freedom of the press. The Egyptian authorities use pretrial detention as a tool to punish any journalist who deviates from the official narrative or criticizes the government policies. Egypt is one of the top countries that makes journalism a dangerous business. In 2022, AFTE documented the arrest of at least 14 journalists and nine citizens after The Guardian published a report on videos showing some of them being tortured at the Al-Salam police station. The most prominent arrests came as follows:

  • The arrest of Maspero journalists Safaa Al- Korbigi and Hala Fahmy:

Security forces arrested journalist Safaa Al-Korbigi[34] on 20 April from her home in the Mokattam neighbourhood in Cairo for her participation in protests against the National Media Authority (NMA) through videos that she published on Facebook. The next day, she was brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution in connection with Case No. 441 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). She faced charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

In the same context, a police force arrested TV presenter Hala Fahmy[35], who appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 24 April, facing charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news, in connection with Case No. 441 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). Fahmy was targeted over several posts and videos criticizing some government policies. Before her arrest, she was also active in the protest movement against the conditions inside the state television (Maspero).

AFTE documented the incidents that Maspero witnessed in 2022 and the resulting violations of the basic rights of Maspero journalists and staff in a report titled “Punishment first.. A report on the security and administrative violations of the rights of Maspero staff”.

On 15 May, a police force arrested journalist Mohamed Fawzy Mosaad[36] from his home in Haram district. He appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution for the first time on 29 May, in connection with Case No. 440 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). He faced charges of spreading false news, joining a terrorist group, and misusing social media. According to his lawyer, the State Security Prosecution faced Mosaad with several posts from his Facebook page, including a post criticizing the non-release of all imprisoned journalists. Mosaad was later released on 7 February 2023 under a presidential pardon.

  • Arrest of journalists for publishing a video about suspicious activities in the vicinity of security kiosks affiliated to the Ministry of Interior:

On 21 May, security forces arrested Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper’s correspondent in Ismailia Hany Abdel Rahman[37] and Al-Wafd newspaper’s reporter Mohamed Gomaa, hours after they posted a video on Facebook in which they talked about illegal activities, such as taking narcotics, in the vicinity of the kiosks of the “Aman” company affiliated to the Ministry of Interior on the ring road in Ismailia Governorate. During their detention, the Ministry of Interior published on its Facebook page a video containing what it called “confessions by the two journalists about their fabrication of videos in return for money”. According to the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, the Supreme State Security Prosecution charged the journalists with “joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media”. The prosecution remanded them in custody for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 1436 of 2022 (Supreme State Security). The two journalists were released on 3 August.

  • Arrest of journalist Ahmed Fayez: A police force arrested Fayez from his home on 10 November. He was charged with “joining a terrorist group, using a social media account to promote the commission of a terrorist crime, financing a terrorist crime, participating in a criminal agreement intended to commit a terrorist crime, inciting a terrorist crime, and spreading false news”. He was remanded in custody pending investigation into Case No. 2070 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). Fayez had said in a Facebook post: “I knew from my source that our brother who is on a hunger strike inside the prison was put on intravenous drips against his will to keep him alive,” in an apparent reference to the imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who was on hunger strike at that time. Fayez was detained at Badr Prison 1. He was later released on 16 March 2023.
  • Arrest of journalist Magdy El-Gendy[38]: A police force arrested El-Gendy on 18 June 2022 over a Facebook post in which he said that a woman in Ismailia had been drugged with a pin while she was riding in a taxi. He remained forcibly disappeared at a National Security office in Ismailia Governorate. Telegrams were sent to the Public Prosecutor and the Minister of Interior and a complaint was sent to the Journalists Syndicate. El-Gendy appeared before the prosecution for the first time on 4 July, when he was interrogated about the aforementioned story. He was charged with joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, spreading false news, and misusing social media, in Case No. 440 of 2022 (Supreme State Security). He was held at Abu Zaabal prison until he was released on 22 September 2022, with the guarantee of place of residence.

 

Second: Continued targeting of the independent press

The Egyptian authorities continue to target independent news websites that still operate from inside Egypt, mainly by blocking these websites or prosecuting their journalists. In 2022, AFTE documented the summoning by the judicial authorities of four journalists working for the independent website Mada Masr, namely Lina Atallah, Rana Mamdouh, Bisan Kassab, and Sarah Seif El-Din, for investigation on charges of “spreading false news intended to disturb the public peace and cause damage to the public interest, slandering and defaming the Nation’s Future Party MPs, and using social media to harass the party members”. Meanwhile, the prosecution charged the editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, Lina Atallah, of operating a website without a license. The four journalists were released later on bail of 20,000 pounds for Atallah and 5,000 pounds for each of the three others, according to their lawyer.

The investigation came after MPs and members of the Nation’s Future Party, which has a parliamentary majority, filed hundreds of complaints against Mada Masr journalists, against the background of the website’s publication of a news story on 31 August that quoted sources within the party as saying that state oversight agencies had implicated senior members of the party in “grave financial violations” that could result in their removal from their positions.

Nation’s Future Party members levelled charges at Mada Masr journalists since their names were recorded as contributors to the 31 August edition of the website’s news bulletin. However, none of the aforementioned journalists contributed to the report contained in the same bulletin edition. Mada Masr learned that at least one of the four journalists had been summoned for interrogation before the Luxor prosecution based on a complaint filed there. The filing of the complaint in Luxor indicated that other complaints had likely been filed elsewhere, an old tactic aimed at increasing pressure and obliging the subjects of the complaints to appear before different prosecutors. The defense team submitted a request to the Public Prosecution to limit the investigation into all complaints to one place only.

The Egyptian authorities blocked three URL links[39] of the Al-Manassa website within approximately 72 hours, starting from 14 July 2022. They blocked the Al-Manassa website on the evening of 14 July. First, they blocked the IP address of the hosting company responsible for the website’s domain. An alternative address was then blocked in the morning of 16 July, only three hours after it was launched. A third address was repeatedly blocked, bringing the total number of times the access to the website has been blocked to 15.

The blocking came after Al-Manassa revamped its website with a new design and new features, coinciding with the publication of opinion articles by a number of journalists and politicians, including Hafez al-Mirazi, Lilian Daoud and Ahmed al-Tantawy. On the day the website was blocked, it published an article by Tantawy about the absence of oversight mechanisms to hold the President of the Republic accountable. It also published a number of reports, including one documenting the reinstating of a policeman convicted of torturing citizen Magdy Makin to death to his work in a police station. The report said the policeman had forged official documents to conceal his crime. The policeman was released under a presidential pardon. The authorities have blocked at least 129 news websites so far, something which exacerbates the violation of the right to media freedom and the right of citizens to know, access information and use the internet, all of which are protected by Articles 57, 65, 68, and 71 of the Egyptian constitution.

In the same context, the editorial board of the “Darag” website revealed that the site was blocked in Egypt on 23 November 2022 without prior notice. It added in a statement[40] that “no Egyptian body has contacted us to clarify what we have published, and we are awaiting for a clarification of the reasons for the move”.

Diana Maklad, the editor-in-chief of “Darag”, said knew about the blocking of the website from colleagues who were unable to access it on 25-26 November. She told AFTE that the website was completely blocked in Egypt only.

Maklad said she believes that the site was blocked because of its reporting on the human rights situation in Egypt, including reports on Alaa Abdel Fattah’s hunger strike, the Cop27 climate summit, the journalists’ strike, and a report on the electronic armies on social media that was published before the blocking. She noted that the website also reported on rights issues in other countries, not just Egypt. “We think it is because of the material we published before the blocking, as we have not received any official response,” she said.

On 12 May 2022, the staff of Al-Manassa website were surprised by the deletion of a video interview with former MP and head of the Karama Party Ahmed al-Tantawy from the website’s Facebook page[41]. This came after the state-run Channel One TV claimed the ownership of a 24-second clip of the interview that contained part of President Sisi’s speech during the Egyptian family’s breakfast party. This violated the law and the prevailing media norms related to the president’s speeches. The website filed three complaints against Channel One to the Presidency of the Republic, the National Media Authority and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation. Later, Channel One retracted its complaint against the website, and – accordingly – the block on the interview was lifted, but the website was completely blocked afterward. This incident was the first of its kind, as the Egyptian television has never been used to restrict the work of news and independent websites. In this regard, AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit has released a paper titled “Q&A: Interview with politician Ahmed al-Tantawy removed from Facebook after a report from Channel One TV”.[42]

 

Third: Strict prison sentences for journalists

The continuous crackdown on journalists did not stop at arrests and pretrial detention for years in publication cases only, but also reached the point of issuing strict prison sentences against some of them.

On 28 June 2022, the Cairo Criminal Court (First Circuit – Terrorism) sentenced journalist Alia Nasr El-Din Hassan Awad to 15 years in prison in connection with Case No. 4459 of 2014 (Helwan Felonies), registered under No. 321 of 2014 (South Cairo Full Court), known in local media as the “Helwan Brigades” case. Awad was charged with joining a terrorist group, promoting its purposes, and publishing a video of the “Helwan Brigades”.[43]

Meanwhile, the Emergency Supreme State Security Criminal Court sentenced Al Jazeera Mubasher reporter Ahmed Taha al-Qady[44] in absentia to 15 years in prison, on charges of spreading false news that would harm the country’s national interests, in connection with Case No. 1059 of 2021 (Fifth Settlement Emergency State Security Criminal), registered under No. 707 of 2021 (New Cairo Full Court), in which head of the Strong Egypt Party Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and his deputy Mohamed al-Qassas are involved.

 

Fourth: Gag order, banning all media outlets from reporting on certain cases

The circulation of information and news about cases examined by courts is essential for the public to know how the course of justice proceeds. It is part of the right to knowledge, and this can be done by the media, or by citizens through social media or other means of communication. Gag order can be defined as a decision that bans all parties concerned with a certain case, including the press, the prosecution, judges and lawyers, from reporting on the case in any print, audio, or visual media outlet. The ban shall be applied as per the Egyptian law or through a decision issued by the investigation authority, the Public Prosecution’s office, or the court that examines the case. The constitution highlighted this right in Article 68, which says: “Information, data, statistics and official documents are owned by the people. Disclosure thereof from various sources is a right guaranteed by the state to all citizens. The state shall provide and make them available to citizens with transparency. The law shall organize rules for obtaining them, rules of availability and confidentiality, rules for depositing and preserving them, and lodging complaints against refusals to grant access thereto. The law shall specify penalties for withholding information or deliberately providing false information.” However, gag orders were issued for three public opinion cases in 2022, in two of which two judicial staff members were indicted.[45]

The Cairo Court of Appeal issued a gag order[46] in the “Zamalek apartment antiquities” case, in which former councillor Ahmed Abdel-Fattah and his wife were tried on charges of trafficking in antiquities. The prosecution released Abdel-Fattah later, but put him and his wife on the travel ban list.

The Giza Criminal Court, headed by judge Bilal Mohamed Abdel-Baqy, also issued a gag order[47] in the case of the murder of TV presenter Shaima Gamal, in which Ayman Haggag (a judge at the State Council) and Hussein Al-Gharabli, were accused of premeditated murder. The decision was sent to the Cairo Court of Appeal headed by judge Mohamed Hussein Abdel Tawab, who notified the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, the National Press Authority and the National Media Authority of the gag order.

The Mansoura Criminal Court also issued a gag order in the case of the murder of university student Naira Ashraf, who was killed in front of the Mansoura University.

 

Fifth: Media councils increase restrictions on media freedom

The media councils continued to impose more restrictions on media freedom under loose claims and accusations that fall under freedom of expression. AFTE documented two decisions[48] by the Media Syndicate and the National Media Authority against two TV presenters. The first decision, taken by the Media Syndicate, was to suspend the presenter of “The Match” show on Sada Al-Balad TV, Hany Hathout and prevent him from appearing on Egyptian screens pending investigation, according to the syndicate’s statement No. 5 of 2022. The statement said Hathout breached the media code of honour and did not regularize his status with the syndicate. The statement also mentioned that the syndicate’s media observatory had documented professional violations and a breach of the media code of honour and the code of professional conduct as well. This came after Hathout criticized the head of Zamalek Club, Mortada Mansour, in response to the latter’s attack on him. On 24 February 2022, head of the Media Syndicate Tariq Saada issued decision No. 7 of 2022 to suspend Hathout for two weeks, starting 25 February 2022. Hathout was interrogated at the syndicate’s headquarters and admitted that he breached Paragraph 5 of the media code of honour which stipulates respect for the etiquette of media dialogue and avoidance of personal arguments and disagreements. Hathout also violated Article 9 of the code of professional conduct which stipulates the obligation not to engage in media quarrels and not to use publication spaces or display times to raise personal disputes, disagreements or private interests.

The second decision was issued by the National Media Authority on 8 February 2022 to suspend the presenter of the “Good Morning Egypt” show on Channel One, Hossam Haddad, from work and refer him to investigation over his remarks about the participation of Al-Ahly football club in the FIFA Club World Cup. During an episode of his show, Haddad said Al-Ahly did not represent Egypt in that tournament, but rather represented itself. He wondered whether the Zamalek fans should encourage Al-Ahly football team, then he said they should not. The National Media Authority considered Haddad’s remarks as fuelling football hooliganism.

In another context, the National Media Authority suspended eight journalists in the regional channels sector after they demonstrated in their workplaces in solidarity with their colleagues who were dismissed and in protest against the poor conditions of the regional channels. Four employees from Channel Eight, namely Tarek Dawy Mahmoud, Sahar Mohamed Mokhtar, Sami Ahmed Mohamed, and director Siham Abdel Hamid, were suspended from work under precautionary terms for a period of three months until the investigations are completed, paid only half of their salaries. Another four from Channel Six – presenter Talal Seif, director Ibrahim Abu Zina, producer Nani Hussein, and Abeer Abdel Aziz – were suspended for the same reasons. The term of their suspension was extended by three months without written proof, according to TV presenter Nani Abdel Latif.

 

Third: Academic freedom and student rights

University administrations, on the one hand, and security services, on the other, continued to nationalize the public sphere within universities and besiege ideas and activities in 2022. They targeted faculty members, researchers abroad, and students for many reasons, including expressing opinions, opposing government policies, belonging to opposition groups, tackling thorny issues in their research papers that are not favored by the security authorities, deviating from the prevailing university norms and values, and participating in student activities.

These practices led to a decline in the role of universities in building educated personalities and cadres who participate in and care about public affairs. They also affected the universities’ role in shaping the state’s vision and decision-making, as well as their role as scientific research institutions.

AFTE documented seven cases of violation of student rights, and nine of academic freedom in 2022. University administrations topped the list of violators, with four violations against four faculty members in different universities, and three against students.

This year also witnessed the continuation of the detention of assistant professor of political science at the Alexandria University’s Faculty of Economic and Political Studies Ahmed Al-Tohamy, in Case No. 649 of 2020 (Emergency State Security Prosecution). Tohamy has been held in detention since 2020.

New patterns of violation emerged in 2022. These included the university administrations’ interference in the private lives of students, monitoring their accounts on social media, and punishing them for expressing their opinions. Two universities dismissed two students over social media posts.

 

Students’ Union elections… a recurring scenario

Since 2013, the Egyptian authorities have imposed severe restrictions on freedom of student activities at universities and colleges. Most of the Students’ Union elections ended up with pro-government lists winning the majority of seats by acclamation.

Preparations for the Students’ Union elections started in November 2022. Doors opened for candidacy and submission of election forms on 24 November. The results were announced in December.

The elections were officially held in accordance with the regulations drawn up in 2017, which set conditions for candidacy. These conditions stated that candidates should have documented activity in the university, college, or institute, except for first-year students. They also stipulated that candidates should not have previously been subjected to disciplinary, or received a criminal, dishonorable or dishonest penalty, unless they have been rehabilitated. They further stated that candidates must not belong to any terrorist organization, entity or group established in contravention of the law.[49]

These conditions reflect arbitrariness and restrictions on the students’ right to candidacy. They give more room for university administrations to use their power to exclude opposition and independent students from the elections. They also give the university the authority to accuse students of belonging to a terrorist group. This resulted in the exclusion of those who the security authorities did not want to run the elections. This also weakened the student movement in universities. As a result of the 2017 regulations in general and the candidacy conditions in particular, the Students’ Union elections have become just formal elections that do not represent the students or their rights, nor do they help the students to participate in public debates or decision-making.

The results of the 2022 Students’ Union elections reflected a state of vacuum within universities, as student groups no longer engage in political activity. There is no longer any student activity that allows for the preparation of students willing and able to run for positions within the students’ unions. The pro-government “Students for Egypt” list dominated university and college unions. A secret vote was held in early December 2022 to elect the heads of Students’ Unions and their deputies in 46 public and private universities. Also, a vote was held to elect the heads of Students’ Unions and their deputies in 445 faculties in various universities. The “Students for Egypt” list won the vast majority of seats. Amr Mostafa, the general coordinator of the Students for Egypt list at the university level, said the list won 98% of seats in various faculties.[50]

There was no enough media coverage of the elections, with most newspapers having published the final results only, without details about the various stages of the elections[51]. The absence of in-depth media coverage of the elections led to the inability to analyze and monitor the features and developments of the electoral process.

 

  • Researchers abroad detained and banned from travelling

The Egyptian authorities continued to crack down on researchers coming from abroad, either by issuing court rulings against them or by banning them from travelling.

On 4 July 2022, the Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court issued a ruling in Case No. 774 of 2021 (Emergency State Security Misdemeanour), which is registered under No. 877 of 2021 (Supreme State Security Prosecution), to sentence master’s researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy to three years in prison on charges of spreading false news. This came after the cancellation of a previous ruling issued on 22 June 2021 in the same case that sentenced Santawy to four years in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 500 pounds.

On 29 July, President Sisi issued a decree pardoning seven prisoners of conscience, including Santawy. However, the Cairo airport authorities on 27 August banned Santawy from travelling to Austria to resume his master’s studies. Three officers came to Santawy upon his arrival at the airport and told him that he was banned from travelling without giving any further explanations. The next day, Santawy went to the Passports Department to inquire about his travel ban. An officer told him in a friendly manner that his travel ban came upon instructions from the National Security Agency. When Santawy asked the officer to see the decision, the latter told him that there was no official decision, according to Santawy’s testimony to AFTE.[52]

  • Dismissal from the university for violating university values and contempt of religions

On 12 September 2022, the Disciplinary Appeals Examination Department of the Supreme Administrative Court rejected an appeal submitted by Dr. Mona al-Prince Mohamed Radwan, and upheld the ruling of the Administrative Judiciary Court to dismiss her from the university while allowing her to get the pension or the severance pay.

The court stated that the ruling was issued on the basis of two charges, the first is that Dr. Mona posted several videos on Facebook that showed her dancing, and insisted to post more such videos, thus degrading the prestige of university professors, their message, and their responsibility for spreading values. The second charge, the court said, was that she deviated from the scientific description of the academic curricula and spread destructive ideas that contradict the heavenly beliefs, by challenging the constants of religion during lectures by saying that Satan was subjected to injustice or that he expressed his thoughts and desires freely.[53]

On 15 May 2018, the Suez Canal University issued Decree No. 187 to dismiss al-Prince while allowing her to retain her pension. The investigation with al-Prince lasted 14 months, during which she faced charges of posting dance videos on social media, travelling without permission from the university, blasphemy, and contempt of religions.[54]

The dismissal of al-Prince reflects the moral and societal guardianship imposed on faculty members, which leads to their prosecution and dismissal, and violates their basic rights to express themselves in a way that society, the authorities, and the university see as contrary to what a faculty member should be.

 

Continued administrative violations against opponents

  • Professor banned from representing his department in faculty boards

On 23 October 2022, the Faculty of Science at Helwan University excluded Dr. Yehia al-Qazzaz, a professor in the Department of Biology, from representing the department in the faculty’s board of directors under the pretext that he was being interrogated by the State Security Prosecution. It skipped his due turn in violation of the university regulations, as Article 40 of the Universities Organization Law, which regulates the formation of faculty boards, states: “The board of directors of the faculty or institute affiliated with the university shall be headed by the dean, and its membership shall include vice deans, heads of departments, and a professor from each department, provided that the membership of the department’s professors shall rotate periodically every year based on seniority.”[55]

The university’s violations against Al-Qazzaz started in July 2019, when he was investigated under the pretext of his absence from work. At that time, he submitted evidence that he was held in pretrial detention in Case No. 1305 of 2018. The university also referred him to two disciplinary boards in 2018 and 2020 on charges of joining a terrorist group and insulting the President of the Republic on social media.[56]

 

  • Referral to disciplinary boards for criticizing the administration

On 27 July 2022, the disciplinary board of the teaching staff at the Higher Technological Institute in the 10th of Ramadan City decided to punish Manar Al-Tantawy, an assistant professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department in the institute’s branch in the 6th of October City, with a 15-day deduction from her salary, in the disciplinary lawsuit No. 18 of 2021 filed against her.

In the lawsuit, Al-Tantawy faced charges of insulting the institute and its dean via social media and some anti-government satellite channels, after the institute’s dean refused Al-Tantawy’s return to her official position as a head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, and refused to grant her the professorship degree although she had met all the technical and legal conditions.

The case started when Al-Tantawy asked for her legal right to chair the Mechanical Engineering Department as being the most senior assistant professor at the department. Nevertheless, the institute’s dean rejected her request because she is the wife of the former prisoner of conscience and journalist Hisham Gaafar.[57]

On 31 May 2022, the Cairo University suspended the head of the Radio and Television Department at the Faculty of Mass Communication, Ayman Mansour Nada, for three months for the sixth time in a row, although he was not summoned by any investigation body or a disciplinary board.

Nada was exposed to many violations after he published a number of articles on Facebook in which he criticized the state’s management of the media file. He criticized some prominent TV presenters, including Ahmed Moussa and Amr Adeeb. Nada also published several articles criticizing what he called the corruption of the Cairo University administration represented by its president Mohamed Othman Al-Khosht. In parallel with the judicial and security persecution, the Cairo University suspended Nada for three months on 29 March 2021. The suspension was repeatedly renewed throughout 18 months. The university also deleted Nada’s name from all faculty rolls as well as the theses he supervised, according to him.

The university, moreover, referred Nada to a disciplinary board in September in cases No. 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 of 2021, over articles in which he criticized the Cairo University administration[58]. This prompted him to tender his resignation on 9 June 2022 in protest against the university’s mismanagement and corruption.

In the same context, an Egyptian academy referred two professors to investigation on 17 March 2022. The professors, who requested anonymity, faced charges of using social media to publish statements that cast doubts on state institutions and national projects, accuse the government of failing to handle the current problems and concealing corruption, and accuse the security services of committing crimes of enforced disappearance. This was a clear violation of their right to freedom of expression.[59]

 

Judicial violations:

In addition to the administrative violations, Nada was subjected to judicial violations for his criticism of the Egyptian media.

On 31 March 2022, the Cairo Criminal Court (Circuit 27 South) sentenced Nada to one suspended year in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 20,000 pounds in Case No. 9840 of 2021 (Fifth Settlement Misdemeanour), in which he was charged with insulting member of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) Rania Hashem, and using a Facebook account to commit crimes. The court acquitted Nada of all other charges, which included spreading false news about the Egyptian media and insulting the SCMR and a number of its members. The court also rejected a lawsuit filed by SCMR chief Karam Gabr against Nada.

On 28 April 2022, the Cairo Criminal Court (Circuit 27 South) decided to refer lawsuit No. 16036 of 2021 (First Settlement Misdemeanour), registered under No. 18 of 2021 (Cairo Court of Appeal), filed against Nada, to the Court of Appeal to be examined before another circuit. The court’s decision came due to the fact that the same court had previously issued a verdict against Nada to a suspended one-year prison sentence in another case with similar charges, which is lawsuit No. 9840 of 2021 (Fifth Settlement Misdemeanour).

The Public Prosecution charged Nada with insulting the Egyptian media, insulting Gabr, and using his Facebook account to commit these crimes.

In September 2021, the Public Prosecution remanded Nada in custody in connection with Case No. 23 of 2021 (Cairo Court of Appeal), in which he faced charges of insulting and slandering a number of Cairo University leaders. He was released on 17 November of the same year.[60]

These violations show what academics are exposed to when they express their opinions or oppose existing government policies, even if it is in the field of their academic and scientific specialization. Nada’s resignation reflected the crackdown and abuse he was subjected to.

 

Student rights

AFTE documented seven incidents that contained violations against students over their activity at the university, even after their graduation. These included the issuance of court rulings against students who had leadership roles in student activity and unions, dismissals, the prevention of students from entering the university for their outfit, and finally the continued detention of students and recycling them into new cases.

 

  • Continued targeting of students over their activism

On 29 May 2022, the Emergency Supreme State Security Court (the Third Circuit) issued verdicts against of four former student leaders over their university activism. They are the former head of the Sohag University Students’ Union, Adham Kadry, the former secretary of the Strong Egyptian Students Movement, Amr Ahmed Khattab, the former deputy head of the Tanta University Students’ Union, Moaz Al-Sharqawy, and the former head of the Tanta University Students’ Union, Amr El-Helw, who won the position of deputy head of the Egyptian Students’ Union before it was cancelled by the Minister of Higher Education. The four were tried in Case No. 1059 of 2021 (Fifth Settlement Emergency State Security Felonies), registered under No. 707 of 2021 (New Cairo Full Court), in which head of the Strong Egypt Party Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and his deputy Mohamed al-Qassas are involved.

Kadry, Khattab and El-Helw were sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison, while Al-Sharqawy was sentenced to 10 years in the presence of his lawyer. The court charged the four students with joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, receiving military training, and possessing weapons, ammunition, and publications.

These rulings are final and cannot be appealed, given that they were issued by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court, which is an exceptional court to which defendants are referred while the state of emergency is in place. However, the President of the Republic can annul, commute or ratify the verdicts, or order a retrial.

The rulings against the four students were not the first targeting of them. The Cairo Criminal Court added the four to the terror list in February 2018 upon a request from the Public Prosecutor on the grounds of their involvement in Case No. 440 of 2018 (Emergency Supreme State Security Prosecution). It is worth noting that the decision to add the four students to the terror list has mentioned their leading positions in the students’ unions, although most of them have already graduated. This indicates that the real motive behind the move was the students’ remarkable activism at their universities.

 

  • Students dismissed from university

On 6 August 2022, the dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Benha University decided to dismiss student Mukhtar Walid Rabie for a month for insulting a colleague called Mariam Ibrahim on Twitter.[61]

In another context, the disciplinary board of the Faculty of Medicine at Misr University for Science and Technology decided on 20 August 2022 to dismiss student Mina El-Sayed Atallah Bakhit on charges of contempt of the Islamic religion. Bakhit admitted to that in writing.[62]

These incidents show that the university administrations interfere in students’ private lives and seek moral control and guardianship over them. The university administrations seek to play a role that goes beyond their specialties, trying to consolidate the concept of comprehensive, continuous monitoring. Since 2014, university students have been exposed to restrictions and prosecutions that led to the cancellation of most student activities and the spread of fear among them. Moreover, the university administrations expanded their power to monitor students’ posts on social media to besiege them from every direction and punish them with dismissal and deprivation of education.

 

  • Students banned from entering the university campus because of their clothes:

At the beginning of the new academic year, the presidents of Kafr El-Sheikh and Damietta universities issued decisions banning students who wear shorts or any provocative clothing, such as leggings, from entering the campus. President of Kafr El-Sheikh University Dr. Abdel Razek Desouky said he had also issued instructions to prevent students who wear chains or ripped clothes from entering the campus, considering this as part of the rules for preserving the university campus and maintaining order inside it. Meanwhile, President of Damietta University Dr. El-Sayed Daadour said that he would deny entry to any female student who overuses cosmetics.[63]

These decisions restrict the students’ freedom of expression and personal freedom. Clothing is one of the basics of personal freedom, which the constitution and various human rights charters guarantee to everyone.

 

  • Continued detention of students:

The security services continue to detain students illegally and recycle them into new cases on the grounds of their activities and political affiliations. In this regard, we highlight the case of Omar Al-Hout.

On 26 September 2022, the Zagazig Criminal Court renewed the detention of Omar Mahmoud Al-Hout for 45 days in connection with Case No. 24978 of 2021 (Abo Hammad Misdemeanor).

Al-Hout was arrested from his workplace in 2014 over his student activity at Zagazig University although he had stopped all student and political activities a year and a half before his arrest. Since his arrest, Al-Hout has been listed in six different cases, even after several decisions were issued to release him. The last case he was recycled into was Case No. 24978 of 2021. The period he spent in pretrial detention exceeded eight years.[64]

 

Fourth: Freedom of creativity

The Egyptian authorities continued to crack down on creative people in 2022, as AFTE documented at least 30 violations against freedom of creativity. The Syndicate of Musical Professions came on top of the bodies that targeted creative people, as it continued to target mahraganat singers and rappers, with 9 violations recorded in this regard. The syndicate is determined to impose certain limits on the type of lyrics sung by mahraganat singers and rappers, so that the lyrics do not include “inappropriate” words. The syndicate also banned the singers from lip-synching and obligated them to have at least six musicians in their band during any concert. This contradicts the type of music they provide, and is an interference in their artwork. Although a new head of the syndicate was elected, he followed suit of his predecessor in terms of targeting the mahraganat singers and rappers.

The syndicate was not the only violator of freedom of creativity in 2022, but also the security services did the same, albeit in different ways, including arrests, banning creative non-Egyptians from entering Egypt, and raiding publishing houses for hosting seminars.

 

 

In this part, we will shed light on the major violations against creative people and their impact on freedom of creativity.

 

The key patterns of violation:

Expansion of security violations against creative people:

The security authorities target creative people for works of art that criticize government policies, especially the economic policies, in an attempt to prevent any expression of direct or indirect discontent with government policies. This has been evident in the targeting of amateur creative people for publishing videos on social media, especially on TikTok.

On 31 March 2022, Attia Mohamed Abdel Aziz Rashwan, Antar Fahmy Rashwan Mohamed, and Hamada Mahmoud Sayed Eid, known in local media as “Zorafaa El-Ghalaba” (poor people’s funny band), were summoned to the Manfalut police station in Assiut Governorate after they posted a satirical video in which they imitated the tune of a song presented by actor Akram Hosny during his satirical show “Good evening”, replacing its lyrics with words that mocked the price hikes.

The trio appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 18 and 19 April 2022, in connection with Case No. 440 of 2022 (State Security). The prosecution charged them with joining a terrorist group established in violation of the constitution and the law, and spreading false news. On 7 May 2022, the Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to release them.

On 10 September 2022, security forces arrested fine artist Amir Abdel-Ghani[65] and took him to an unknown location. He remained in enforced disappearance until he appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 19 September. The prosecution ordered his detention for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 1635 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution). The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, misusing social media, and spreading false news. It faced him with nine Facebook posts dating back to 2015 about high prices in general and gasoline in particular, in addition to other posts dating back to 2018 and 2020.

Moreover, film director Hosni Saleh was arrested on charges of spreading false news against the backdrop of a Facebook post in which he said unidentified gunmen attacked the crew of the series “Helm Al-Asmarat” during the filming and stole some filming equipment.

On 1 August 2022, the Egyptian authorities banned Palestinian singer Nai Barghouti from entering Egypt after waiting for eight hours at the Cairo International Airport without giving any reasons. The Egyptian Opera House also postponed two concerts for Barghouti indefinitely.

A force from the Abdeen police station and the Works of Art Investigation police raided the headquarters of the Al-Maraya Company for Culture and Arts in downtown Cairo in September 2022.[66]

The police force spent nearly seven hours searching the premises, during which they checked the company’s licenses and the contracts it signed with authors, as well as a number of computers. After the search was completed, the force seized ten books and a computer belonging to one of the company’s employees and took the company’s manager, Yehya Fikri, to the Abdeen police station, where he was held until he appeared before the Abdeen Prosecution the next morning.

The prosecution charged Fikri with publishing some books with titles different from those stated in the contracts signed with the authors of those books, and issuing the “Maraya” magazine without obtaining a license from the National Media Authority (the magazine had been issued with a standard book number and work was already underway to license the magazine). The prosecution also noted that some books other than those published by the company were loaded in a PDF format on a laptop owned by the company. The investigation report carried the number 5426 (Abdeen Administrative). The prosecution released Fikri under the guarantee of his place of residence in the evening of the same day.

It is likely that the security targeting of the company was due to a seminar it organized in the French consulate building to discuss the book “The Ghost of Spring” by writer and political activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who at the time had been on hunger strike for more than 200 days.

The authorities continued to target creative people, as they summoned poet Amina Abdullah over a literary text published in 2019. On 16 October 2022, the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Prosecution interrogated her over her collection “Daughters of Pain”. This came after a lawyer filed a lawsuit accusing her of contempt of religion and blasphemy. She was later released on a bail of 5,000 pounds in Case No. 80 of 2022 (Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Administrative), registered under No. 37 of 2022.

 

Art-centric syndicates besiege creativity:

AFTE observed a significant increase in the number of violations that art-centric syndicates committed against creative people, with 9 violations against musicians, and one by the Syndicate of Cinema Professions, out of 31 violations documented in 2022.

The Syndicate of Musical Professions, headed by Hani Shaker, suspended mahraganat singer Omar Kamal and referred him to investigation on 15 February over what he said on social media.

Kamal, in a live broadcast on his Facebook page, replied to a comment by a follower who said: “Hani Shaker will punish you”. Kamal replied: “No one can punish me, my dear; no one knows how to punish me. I and my band are working everywhere.” In response, the syndicate issued a statement rejecting “any transgression or insult against an artistic symbol like Hani Shaker who influenced the Egyptian song throughout its history, was a contemporary of legends, and remained a symbol of giving and dedication”. It noted that Shaker had a “fruitful role in preserving the originality and primacy of the Egyptian song”.

The syndicate added that it rejects “the appearance of any Egyptian singer on social media in an inappropriate manner in terms of speaking, movement and utterance of words that have suggestive and immoral connotations that degrade the value of Egyptian artists”. Thus, the syndicate deviated from its role in protecting the rights of singers and not imposing any moral guardianship on them. The incident also indicates that the syndicate and its head seem to have adopted unprofessional policies that reflect a clear and personal hostility towards that type of music.

In the same context, the management of the Zamalek Theatre backtracked on its decision to hold a concert for mahraganat singer “Muslim”, which was scheduled on Friday 11 March. The move came after the undersecretary of the Syndicate of Musical Professions announced that the Syndicate would submit an official report to the police about the Theatre’s violation and might ban the Syndicate members from dealing with the Theatre.

The Theatre management said the Syndicate had asked it to cancel the concert because Muslim did not regularize his status in the syndicate.

 

Changing the syndicate’s head did not stop the crackdown

Although Mustafa Kamel replaced Hani Shaker as a head of the Syndicate of Musical Professions[67], the targeting of mahraganat singers and rappers has not stopped, as Kamel issued several decisions that contained arbitrariness and restrictions. These included a decision that required rappers to have at least six musicians in their band during any concert. Kamel also obliged the mahraganat singers and rappers to make the lyrics of their songs “appropriate and devoid of any inappropriate suggestions”.

Kamel faced objections to these decisions by summoning for investigation and suspension, as he suspended rappers Marwan Pablo and Afroto after they objected to that type of guardianship.

It does not seem that the change of the head of the syndicate will have an impact on its policies towards the types of contemporary art, which worsens the situation of creativity after the government almost took control of the industry.

 

The Book Fair prevents at least one publishing house from participation and terminates the presence of another

The 53rd edition of the Cairo International Book Fair was launched on 26 January 2022. The fair is considered a season for publishing houses and libraries, as they intensify their cultural production in order to take advantage of the state of popularity created by the exhibition. However, the General Book Authority prevented the Asir al-Kutub publishing house from participating in the exhibition, and ended the presence of the River Nile Center for Publishing six days after the start of the exhibition, without giving any reasons.

This came after a media campaign accused Asir al-Kutub of publishing some books and publications authored by Islamists. Officials from the house told the Cairo 24 website[68] that they told the General Book Authority that they had reviewed all the religious heritage publications issued by the house to ensure that they are free of any ideas that support “religious extremism” and removed a large number of those books from its electronic platform. The house issued a statement on 25 November asking the Interior Ministry and the bodies concerned to investigate the accusations levelled against it. The statement, shared by the house director Mohamed Shawky on his Facebook page[69], noted that Asir al-Kutub is an Egyptian publishing house and those in charge of it are loyal to Egypt in the first place. It added that the house is committed to the Egyptian national line and respects the philosophy of the Egyptian government.

Head of the Egyptian Publishers Association Said Abdo told the Raseef 22 website[70] that Asir al-Kutub was prevented from participating in the fair because of the accusations it and its owner levelled against the General Book Authority on Facebook, which resulted in referring the house to the Association’s disciplinary board.

In the same context, the River Nile Center for Publishing issued a statement on Facebook six days after the launch of the book fair announcing the termination of its presence in the fair, based on an oral decision they were informed of by the fair’s management. The statement added that the exhibition management did not hand the center any official memoranda providing a justification for the decision, and the center was not asked to sign any papers or minutes. It noted that no official from the exhibition management contacted the center, and all attempts to understand and clarify that decision failed.

 

The Administrative Judiciary Court upholds the Syndicate of Acting Professions’ decision to write off Khaled Abul-Naga and Amr Waked

On 5 January 2022, the Second Circuit of the Administrative Judiciary Court rejected an appeal submitted by actors Khaled Abul-Naga and Amr Waked against the Syndicate of Acting Professions’ decision to terminate their membership of the syndicate.[71]

The syndicate issued a statement[72] on 27 March 2019 announcing the cancellation of the membership of the two actors over their stances against the current ruling regime. This came shortly after the two actors attended a session in the US Senate which discussed the human rights situation in Egypt. The syndicate accused the two actors of high treason, seeking the help of foreign parties against the public will, and supporting the agenda of conspirators against the security and stability of Egypt, according to the statement.

The syndicate took its decision without conducting any internal investigations, in violation of Law No. 35 of 1978 regarding the establishment of unions and the Federation of Artistic Syndicates, which obligates all administrations of unions to conduct the necessary investigations before imposing any penalty on any of their members.

Article 63 and 64 of the same law obligate the administrative authority to form a committee to undertake the investigation before issuing any penalty against union members. They also obligate the administrative authority to form a five-member disciplinary board, with the union member having the right to choose one of the five members. The law further stipulates that the union member shall be informed of the date of investigation, acknowledging their right to bring a lawyer and witnesses, while guaranteeing the right to appeal the committee’s decisions before an appellate disciplinary board with more experienced members, which has not been implemented.

Moreover, the syndicate’s decision to terminate the actors’ membership came in violation of Article 12 of the same law, which identified the cases of cancelling the membership. The case in question was not one of them. The syndicate levelled serious accusations against the two actors, such as high treason and seeking the help of foreign parties against the public will, just because of the actors’ political views that contradict those of the syndicate’s management.

 

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation imposes guardianship on creative content

The SCMR continues to impose its guardianship on creativity. AFTE documented two decisions by the SCMR, one to ban a TV ad and another to ban an episode of a TV drama. On 3 April 2022, the SCMR banned a TV ad for Dice Sport and Casual Wear, saying in a statement[73] that the ad breached a number of rules set by the Council, specifically Article 4 of the TV drama and ad code, which bans the use of swear words, obscenity, and vulgar language, and Article 16 of the sanction regulations, which states that the use of words that hurt the feelings of the public is a violation that requires penalty on the violator.

The SCMR added that the audience, especially the Doctors Syndicate, were upset at the content of the ad that contradicted the public morals and ethics.

The Medical Syndicate had submitted a complaint to the SCMR demanding the banning of the ad for portraying the Egyptian medical staff and citizens in an inappropriate manner. The ad featured a citizen requesting a medical examination, while a doctor and a nurse mocked his torn underwear, before it advertised Dice’s underwear brand. The ad falls within the framework of freedom of creativity.

On 2 April 2022, the SCMR issued a decision to ban the first episode of the Donia Tania (another world) TV series[74] for not obtaining a permit from the Central Authority for the Censorship of Works of Art (CACWA). The move came after CACWA chief Khaled Abdel Galil filed a complaint, saying the episode was censored, but Al-Nahar channel broadcast it with the deleted scenes.

The SCMR asked all TV channels not to broadcast any unlicensed work of art, saying that it will apply the standards stipulated in the media code as well as its law in case of violation. The episode in question contained a scene where the heroine discovered that her husband was cheating with another woman that appeared to be her sister.

On 7 September 2022, the SCMR issued regulatory rules for streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Shahid. The rules[75] obligate these platforms to abide by the customs and values of the Egyptian state, and stipulate necessary measures in the event of broadcasting content that contradicts the values of society. The number of subscribers to these platforms in Egypt has significantly increased.

 

Fifth: Right to peaceful assembly

For the third time in a row, Egyptian self-exiled businessman Mohamed Ali and a number of Islamists called for demonstrations against President Sisi. The call was unheeded this time, unlike the previous two calls, as no protests were reported anywhere in the country. Security was beefed up in most of the main streets and squares in Cairo and other governorates. The police stopped citizens and searched their mobile phones and accounts on social media, and arrested those who had posts or pictures indicating opposition to the government or its policies. This pattern of violation emerged in September 2019 when Ali made his first call for demonstrations against President Sisi at the time. Sooner, this became a regular practice that usually accompanies any calls for demonstrations, or on the anniversary of major events such as the anniversary of the January 2011 uprising.

Although the call for protests went unheeded, AFTE documented at least 624 arrests, most of which were carried out randomly on the streets. The security services started to target citizens as of the second half of October 2022. The arrested citizens continued to appear before the State Security Prosecution until the end of the year. Arrests were mainly carried out in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, and Qalyubia.

The Supreme State Security Prosecution charged the arrested citizens with joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, spreading false news, participating in a terrorist crime, and using social media for the purpose of spreading false news, in cases No. 1893 of 2022, 1691 of 2022, 1977 of 2022, and 2070 of 2022 (Supreme State Security Prosecution).

The Supreme State Security Prosecution did not clarify the name of the terrorist group mentioned in the accusations, nor did it specify the false news that was spread. It did not provide any piece of evidence for the accusations, but rather relied solely on the investigations conducted by the National Security Agency, something which indicates the complicity of the Supreme State Security Prosecution with the security services to imprison those arrested for expressing their opinions.

Egypt restricts the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly, through Law No. 107 of 2013, known as the “Protest Law”, which was approved by former President Adly Mansour in November 2013. Parties and human rights organizations rejected the law at the time on the grounds that it completely restricted the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly. Since then, the Egyptian authorities – in accordance with the law – have used force to break up demonstrations and rallies. The law allows the authorities to prosecute those who call for and participate in demonstrations. It aims to legalize the violation of the right to peaceful assembly rather than to regulate it. Security services had earlier rejected requests by political parties to stage demonstrations in accordance with the law.

 

Conclusion and recommendations

Almost a year after President Sisi called for dialogue with political and societal forces with the aim of carrying out political and legal reforms, AFTE believes that this call has been emptied of its content by not taking serious steps to sort out the issue of prisoners of conscience, open the public sphere, allow citizens to express their views freely, and stop targeting citizens for expressing their opinions.

AFTE stresses that all the steps taken by the Egyptian authorities in 2021 and 2022 are not enough to reflect their seriousness in holding a dialogue that would help address the deteriorating human rights and political situation in Egypt. AFTE also believes that any call for political dialogue will be meaningless unless it is reflected in the real practices of the authorities.

Therefore, AFTE recommends the following:

  • The presidential pardon committee should announce the criteria of its work.
  • The security services should stop targeting citizens for expressing their opinions, in whatever form they may be.
  • The President of the Republic should pardon all those who have been sentenced by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court for expressing their opinions.
  • The Egyptian authorities should stop blocking and restricting independent news websites.
  • The Public Prosecutor should immediately order the release of all those held in pretrial detention in opinion cases, and stop prosecuting them.
  • All court rulings against female content makers should be revoked and the crackdown on social media users for political or ethical reasons should be stopped.
  • The decisions taken by the Syndicate of Musical Professions to suspend a number of mahraganat singers should be revoked.
  • The authorities should lift all existing blockages on websites, which reached 559 in number, including at least 130 news websites that have been blocked since May 2017.

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[1] More than 30 countries condemn the violation of freedoms in Egypt before the United Nations Human Rights Council, France-24 in Arabic, published on 12 March 2021, last visited on 10 February 2022, http://bit.ly/3aawItm

[2] Law No. 175 of 2018 on combatting information technology crimes, The Official Gazette, Issue 32 bis, 14 August 2018, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.cc.gov.eg/legislation_single?id=386006

[3] Law Regulating the Press and Media and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation No. 180 of 2018, The Official Gazette, Issue 34 bis, 27 August 2018, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/31481

[4] Amendment of some provisions of the law on non-disciplinary dismissal of public servants and the Civil Service Law by Law No. 135 of 2021, The Official Gazette, Issue 29 bis, 28 July 2021, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/73132

[5] Ramy Hussein, “WhatsApp number to receive videos of harassing tourists,” Al-Dustour, 25 May 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.dostor.org/4093126

[6] The Annual Report on the State of Expression in Egypt in 2021, AFTE, 22 February 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/monitoring-reports/2022/02/22/29120-afteegypt.html

[7] Global Controversy: Mechanisms and Rules for Monitoring Social Media, The Future Center for Research and Advanced Studies, 23 February 2017, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://futureuae.com/ar/Mainpage/Item/2515

[8] Amany Al-Mahdi, “The Public Sphere from Reality to the Virtual World: Standards of Formation and Obstacles,” the Arab Democratic Center, March 2018, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://democraticac.de/?p=53184#_ftn15

[9] Law No. 107 of 2013 Regulating the Right to Public Meetings, Rallies, and Peaceful Demonstrations, The Official Gazette, Issue 47 bis, 24 November 2013, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/6547

[10] “Securing and protecting public and vital facilities, and the jurisdiction of the military judiciary over crimes committed in them,” The Official Gazette, Issue 43 bis, 27 October 2014, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/6563

[11] Fatima Al-Sorougy, “Everything you need to know about the rules for personal photography in public places,” Al-Ahram, 8 August 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/3632582.aspx

[12] Alaa Omran, “Batman of Helwan arrested.. four people arrested for calling for the 13 August battle,” Masrawy, 6 July 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3wQG1JS

[13] “Citizens detained for posting videos on TikTok,” the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, July 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3Yj7rno

[14] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit

[15] “A Continued Isolation… The Annual Report on The State of Freedom of Expression in Egypt in 2020,” AFTE, February 2021, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/monitoring-reports/2021/02/24/21038-afteegypt.html

[16] “No progress.. The third quarterly report on the state of freedom of expression in Egypt,” AFTE, Ibid

[17] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit

[18] “A citizen detained for publishing a video of a police officer assaulting a citizen,” Egyptian Commission for Human Rights on Facebook, 30 October 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3HsoiO3

[19] Egyptian Front for Human Rights, July 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3HNomJx

[20] Egyptian Front for Human Rights, October 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3X2JnEd

[21] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit

[22] “Aya Kamal arrested for the third time,” The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, July 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3jraX0m

[23] “Joint Statement: Sherif Al-Ruby Detained for the Fourth Time,” AFTE, 20 September 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/advocacy/2022/09/20/32287-afteegypt.html

[24] “Lawyer Nabil Abu Sheikha detained for mocking Al-Ikhtiyar TV series,” The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, April 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3HvIP46

[25] “The Criminal Court renews the detention of Ahmed Moussa Abdel-Khaleq,” AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit, September 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/legal-updates-2/legal-news/2022/06/05/30941-afteegypt.html

[26] Mostafa Attia, “After arresting the children: The photographer and publisher of the video of harassing female tourists at Giza Pyramids arrested,” Al-Shorouk, 7 May 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3DA7Bij

[27] “Haitham al-Banna detained for writing on Twitter,” Egyptian Front for Human Rights, February 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3Jw96ly

[28] Shaimaa Ammar, “Political activist Haitham al-Banna released upon a decision of the Public Prosecution,” Al-Shorouk Gate, 24 April 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3HOkacw

[29] The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, February 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3JwfCIT

[30] “The State Security Prosecution renews the detention of Gaber Mahmoud Badawy,” AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit, 16 November 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/legal-updates-2/2022/11/16/32764-afteegypt.html

[31] “Hisham Al-Masry released,” Free Thought YouTube channel, 3 December 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CehPDpbVGo; Hisham Al-Masry's last message, https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=1299389750820840; “Hisham Al-Masry: Did Al-Azhar order the arrest of an atheist activist after a debate with a famous preacher?”, Raseef 22, 16 November 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3XXBv8u

[32] “12 websites blocked for contempt of religion,” the Supreme Council for Media Regulation’s Facebook page, 19 April 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.facebook.com/scmediaeg/posts/292084659753953

[33] “The call for dialogue does not stop the oppression,” AFTE, 11 August 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/2022/08/11/31910-afteegypt.html; Sarah Nematallah, “SCMR shuts the accounts of Mahmoud Al-Mahdi, Menna Arafa’s husband, for this reason,” Al-Ahram, 4 May 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/3504081.aspx

[34] Testimony from her lawyer online

[35] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit

[36] Testimony from his lawyer online

[37] AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit, “No progress” | The third quarterly report on the state of freedom of expression in Egypt (1 July – 30 September 2022), 15 November 2022, last visited on 25 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/2022/11/15/32735 afteegypt.html

[38] Testimony from his lawyer online

[39] AFTE, 28 civil society organizations condemn the continued blocking of Al-Manassa website and call on the Egyptian authorities to lift the blocking of dozens of news websites, published on 14 September 2022, last visited on 10 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/advocacy/2022/08/02 /31748-afteegypt.html

[40] Darag website, “Darag” website blocked in Egypt without reason, 23 November 2022, last visited on 8 January 2023, https://daraj.media/100727/

[41] AFTE, 28 civil society organizations condemn the continued blocking of Al-Manassa website and call on the Egyptian authorities to lift the blocking of dozens of news websites, published on 14 September 2022, last visited on 10 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/advocacy/2022/08/02 /31748-afteegypt.html

[42] Q&A: Interview with politician Ahmed al-Tantawy removed from Facebook after a report from Channel One TV, AFTE, 7 July 2022, last visited on 14 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/en/advocacy-en/2022/07/07/31391-afteegypt.html

[43] Testimony from her lawyer over the phone

[44] Al-Jazeera Mubasher reporter sentenced to 15 years in prison and added to terror list, Cairo 24, 25 May 2022, last visited on 14 January 2023, https://www.cairo24.com/1588063

[45] Jihan Fady, AFTE, We have something to hide!.. A paper on publication ban in cases involving accused officials in Egypt, 8 April 2021, last visited on 8 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/research-papers/2021/04/08/21462-afteegypt.html

[46] AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit, First Quarterly Report on the Status of Freedom of Expression in Egypt, 28 April 2022, last visited on 13 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/monitoring-reports/2022/04/28/30272-afteegypt.html#_ftnref6

[47] Saber Al-Mahallawy, Masrawy, Gag order in the case of the murder of TV presenter Shaima Gamal, 24 June 2022, last visited on 25 January 2023, https://bit.ly/3iG5hzg

[48] AFTE’s Monitoring and Documentation Unit, First Quarterly Report on the Status of Freedom of Expression in Egypt, 28 April 2022, last visited on 13 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/monitoring-reports/2022/04/28/30272-afteegypt.html#_ftnref6

[49] Universities Organization Law, Official Gazette, Issue 46 bis, 22 November 2017, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://manshurat.org/node/22653

[50] Mahmoud Saad, “Students’ Union elections over.. "Students for Egypt" achieves overwhelming victory, Al-Ahram, 8 December 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/3871594.aspx

[51] Op. cit.; “In names.. Results of the Students’ Union elections announced in several universities in governorates,” Masrawy, 8 December 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3JEX8G6; Mahmoud Zeidan, “Hagar Ashraf elected head… Students for Egypt achieves overwhelming victory in Kafr El-Sheikh University Students’ Union elections,” Sada El-Balad, 8 December 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.elbalad.news/5559586; Rafiq Mohamed Nasef, “In names, get acquainted with the heads of students’ unions after the election results were announced,” Al-Watan, 9 December 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://www.elwatannews.com/news/details/6368823?t=push

[52] Testimony from researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy, July 2022

[53] “No progress.. The third quarterly report on the state of freedom of expression in Egypt,” AFTE, Ibid

[54] Mahmoud Nagy, “Contempt of religions… a pretext to suppress academic freedom,” AFTE, December 2020, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/research-papers/2020/12/30/20594-afteegypt.html

[55] “Article 40 of the Universities Organization Law,” General Organization for Government Printing Offices, 2006, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3WZNEsa

[56] “A new episode of the persecution of Dr. Yahya Al-Qazzaz,” Darb, 23 October 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/40jcN3W

[57] “The disciplinary board of the Higher Technological Institute punishes Manar Al-Tantawy for requesting to head the Engineering Department,” AFTE, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/legal-updates-2/legal-news/2021/08/02/24279-afteegypt.html

[58] Testimony from Ayman Mansour Nada to AFTE, June 2022

[59] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit

[60] Testimony from Ayman Mansour Nada to AFTE, June 2022

[61] “Banha University dismisses a Faculty of Medicine student for a month,” Tadwein on Facebook, 18 August 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3HlKM3b

[62] Safy Radwan, “Misr University for Science and Technology dismisses a Faculty of Medicine student permanently,” Mirsal 24, 3 September 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3YiVAWF

[63] Mahmoud Hamed, “Two universities ban shorts, leggings, and make-up,” Al-Manassa Facebook page, 24 September 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3wKHSA9

[64] “The Zagazig Criminal Court renews Omar Al-Hout’s detention for 45 days,” AFTE, 26 September 2022, last visited on 1 February 2023, https://afteegypt.org/legal-updates-2/legal-news/2020/07/05/19657-afteegypt.html

[65] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit, https://afteegypt.org/creators-detained-ar/2022/12/07/32998-afteegypt.html

[66] Al-Maraya Library for Culture and Arts, Yehya Fikri referred to Abdeen Prosecution over “artistic works” complaint, 27 September 2022, last visited on 23 January 2023, https://bit.ly/3R280jj

[67] Sarah Ramadan, AFTE, Between rap and mahraganat.. hostility towards contemporary music in Egypt, 30 June 2022, last visited on 25 January 2023, https://afteegypt.org/research/research-papers/2022/06/30 /31313-afteegypt.html

[68] Mahmoud Shoman, Full details of banning Asir Al-Kutub from the book fair... and the 1% negotiations, Cairo 24 website, 1 January 2022, last visited on 14 March 2023, https://bit.ly/3OpjLhK

[69] The House’s statement published on its manager’s Facebook account, 25 November 2021, last visited on 15 March 2023, https://bit.ly/3McUCoL

[70] Yasmine Mohamed, Closure, banning and confiscation, Cairo Book Fair repeats its customary behaviour, 1 February 2022, last visited on 15 March 2023, https://bit.ly/3rBMBSu

[71] Ahmed Abdel-Hadi and Ahmed Al-Gaafari, The Administrative Judiciary Court upholds the cancellation of Amr Waked and Khaled Abul-Naga’s membership of the Syndicate of Acting Professions, Youm7 website, 5 January 2022, last visited on 15 March 2023, https://bit.ly/3Oooss6

[72] Statement – The Syndicate of Acting Professions cancels the membership of Amr Waked and Khaled Abul-Naga for high treason, Fil-Fan website, 27 March 2019, last visited on 15 March 2023, https://www.filfan.com/news/98720

[73] SCMR bans Dice TV ad, SCMR’s Facebook page, 3 April 2022, last visited on 20 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3vAk3dX

[74] SCMR deletes incest scenes from the “Donia Tania” series, SCMR’s Facebook page, 2 April 2022, last visited on 20 February 2023, https://bit.ly/3buQbsB

[75] Hossam Harby, SCMR obligates Netflix and Disney to abide by licenses and regulations, Masrawy, 7 September 2022, last visited on 20 February 2023, https://www.elwatannews.com/news/details/6286389

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Joint NGO letter on the EU’s macro-financial assistance to Egypt Joint NGO letter on the EU’s macro-financial assistance to Egypt and human rights We, the undersigned Egyptian, regional and international human rights organisations, urge the European Commission and member states to uphold international and EU law to ensure that macro-financial assistance to Egypt granted under EU regulations secures concrete, measurable, structural and timebound human rights progress and reforms in the country. Since the 2013 military ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has been ruled with an iron fist. Authorities have brutally and systematically silenced peaceful dissent, nearly wiped-out independent media and civil society, repressed political opposition, adopted and enacted repressive legislation, jailed tens of thousands of actual or perceived critics and severely undermined the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession. With very little civic, judicial, or parliamentary scrutiny, the authorities have faced virtually no accountability for their repressive policies and actions. In turn, this has contributed to the government’s failure to respect, protect and fulfil people’s social and economic rights, leading to setbacks for those most affected by the recurring economic crises in the country. From February 2024 onwards, Egypt’s donors including the United Arab Emirates, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Kingdom and the European Union provided or pledged around 57 billion USD in grants and loans. As part of this process, donors should ensure that the Egyptian authorities pursue and effectively implement reforms that improve respect for human rights alongside greater transparency and accountability. Donors must also ensure that economic and fiscal measures implemented as part of these programs do not contribute to the further erosion of people’s economic and social rights, especially in light of the continuing rise in poverty rates since the adoption of the first IMF program in 2016, as well as the Egyptian government’s inadequate spending levels on social protection, health and education. Any agreed macroeconomic reforms must reflect and uphold the legal obligations of all parties with regard to economic and social rights, notably in the areas of labour rights and environmental justice, and corporate accountability. We believe that structural reforms to strengthen rule of law, guarantee fair trials, open civic space, uphold the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and media freedom, and release all those arbitrarily detained, are crucial. Not only would they comply with Egypt’s constitution and international human rights obligations, but they would also address some of the root causes of Egypt’s financial and economic instability. This instability has severely impacted the economic and social rights of millions of people in Egypt, who will ultimately carry the burden of repaying Egypt’s debts, particularly those in vulnerable and marginalised situations. We note that EU regulations require that recipients of macro-financial assistance “adhere to the respect of human rights and effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system and the rule of law,” while the European Council stipulated that a precondition for granting the Union’s macro-financial assistance is that “Egypt continues to make concrete and credible steps towards respecting effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system, and the rule of law, and guaranteeing respect for human rights.” However, what those “concrete and credible steps” should be is not defined in the Commission’s proposal. As the Commission and Egyptian authorities negotiate Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to regulate the disbursement of EU funds to Egypt up to 2027, we urge the European Commission, Council and Parliament to ensure that: 1) The MoUs lay out a roadmap for structural reforms, with public, clear, specific and timebound indicators, targets and benchmarks for Egypt to meet its human rights obligations. 2) Egyptian authorities immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 3) Egyptian authorities open civic and political space, by respecting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including before, during and after the 2025 parliamentary elections. If these steps are met the EU’s macro-financial assistance will contribute to concrete and lasting progress on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt, which is indispensable to ensure transparency and accountability, end impunity and help prevent the recurrence of economic crises in the country. Failing to set human rights benchmarks would instead be a blank check for further abuses and repression in Egypt. Signatories Amnesty International Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Committee for Justice Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR) Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF) Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) EgyptWide for Human Rights EuroMed Rights International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Human Rights Watch Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC) Minority Rights Group Refugees Platform In Egypt (RPE) Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)Joint NGO letter on the EU’s macro-financial assistance to Egypt and human rights We, the undersigned Egyptian, regional and international human rights organisations, urge the European Commission and member states to uphold international and EU law to ensure that macro-financial assistance to Egypt granted under EU regulations secures concrete, measurable, structural and timebound human rights progress and reforms in the country. Since the 2013 military ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt has been ruled with an iron fist. Authorities have brutally and systematically silenced peaceful dissent, nearly wiped-out independent media and civil society, repressed political opposition, adopted and enacted repressive legislation, jailed tens of thousands of actual or perceived critics and severely undermined the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession. With very little civic, judicial, or parliamentary scrutiny, the authorities have faced virtually no accountability for their repressive policies and actions. In turn, this has contributed to the government’s failure to respect, protect and fulfil people’s social and economic rights, leading to setbacks for those most affected by the recurring economic crises in the country. From February 2024 onwards, Egypt’s donors including the United Arab Emirates, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Kingdom and the European Union provided or pledged around 57 billion USD in grants and loans. As part of this process, donors should ensure that the Egyptian authorities pursue and effectively implement reforms that improve respect for human rights alongside greater transparency and accountability. Donors must also ensure that economic and fiscal measures implemented as part of these programs do not contribute to the further erosion of people’s economic and social rights, especially in light of the continuing rise in poverty rates since the adoption of the first IMF program in 2016, as well as the Egyptian government’s inadequate spending levels on social protection, health and education. Any agreed macroeconomic reforms must reflect and uphold the legal obligations of all parties with regard to economic and social rights, notably in the areas of labour rights and environmental justice, and corporate accountability. We believe that structural reforms to strengthen rule of law, guarantee fair trials, open civic space, uphold the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and media freedom, and release all those arbitrarily detained, are crucial. Not only would they comply with Egypt’s constitution and international human rights obligations, but they would also address some of the root causes of Egypt’s financial and economic instability. This instability has severely impacted the economic and social rights of millions of people in Egypt, who will ultimately carry the burden of repaying Egypt’s debts, particularly those in vulnerable and marginalised situations. We note that EU regulations require that recipients of macro-financial assistance “adhere to the respect of human rights and effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system and the rule of law,” while the European Council stipulated that a precondition for granting the Union’s macro-financial assistance is that “Egypt continues to make concrete and credible steps towards respecting effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system, and the rule of law, and guaranteeing respect for human rights.” However, what those “concrete and credible steps” should be is not defined in the Commission’s proposal. As the Commission and Egyptian authorities negotiate Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to regulate the disbursement of EU funds to Egypt up to 2027, we urge the European Commission, Council and Parliament to ensure that: 1) The MoUs lay out a roadmap for structural reforms, with public, clear, specific and timebound indicators, targets and benchmarks for Egypt to meet its human rights obligations. 2) Egyptian authorities immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights including the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. 3) Egyptian authorities open civic and political space, by respecting the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including before, during and after the 2025 parliamentary elections. If these steps are met the EU’s macro-financial assistance will contribute to concrete and lasting progress on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt, which is indispensable to ensure transparency and accountability, end impunity and help prevent the recurrence of economic crises in the country. Failing to set human rights benchmarks would instead be a blank check for further abuses and repression in Egypt. Signatories Amnesty International Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Committee for Justice Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR) Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF) Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) EgyptWide for Human Rights EuroMed Rights International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Human Rights Watch Middle East Democracy Center (MEDC) Minority Rights Group Refugees Platform In Egypt (RPE) Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)and human rights

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