The first quarterly report on the state of freedom of expression in Egypt (1 January – 31 March 2023)

Date : Monday, 15 May, 2023
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Methodology

Introduction

First section: Media freedom

  • Continued targeting of independent news websites
  • Coverage ban: A regular, continuous violation
  • Suspension from work and referral to investigation at the public’s request

Second section: Digital rights

  • Citizens targeted for sharing posts on social media
  • Citizens targeted for posting videos on Facebook
  • Citizens targeted for posting content on TikTok
  • Citizens targeted for posting videos on YouTube
  • Harsh sentences issued against the backdrop of videos posted on social media
  • Continued blocking of human rights websites

Third section: Freedom of creativity

  • Books banned from display at the book fair
  • Libyan publishing houses banned from participation in the book fair

Fourth section: Academic freedom and student rights

  • Female university student prosecuted over religious posts on social media
  • Continued targeting of professor Manar Al-Tantawy for demanding her rights
  • Academic’s salary suspended for allegedly travelling during her vacation without university permission

Conclusion and recommendations

 

Methodology

 

This report presents and analyzes the general policies of the Egyptian authorities and their various agencies towards the right to freedom of expression in its various forms, specifically freedom of the press and media, freedom of creativity and artistic expression, freedom of digital expression, academic freedoms, and student rights. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) monitors and documents violations in these domains. It also provides legal aid to the victims of these violations through its lawyers at the legal unit. The report also reviews and analyzes the patterns of violations that were monitored and documented during the period from 1 January to 31 March 2023, according to AFTE’s monitoring and documentation methodology.[1]

 

Introduction

The first quarter of 2023 ended without setting a date for the start of the national dialogue that the President of the Republic called for on 26 April 2022. It seems that negotiations between the opposition parties and the party calling for the dialogue are getting more complicated day after another, especially in light of the ongoing ignorance by the political authorities of the guarantees put forward by the Civil Democratic Movement to participate in the dialogue. Foremost of these comes the final settlement of the prisoners of conscience issue, and the cessation of security violations committed against citizens for expressing their opinions. Prior to the publication of the report, the opening session of the national dialogue was held on 3 May 2023, with the participation of the democratic opposition and civil society organizations.

Despite the continued work of the presidential pardon committee and the release of a number prisoners, the committee’s steps are still slow and selective and its role is limited to preparing lists of the prisoners to be released, while the security services still monopolize the entire decision-making process. In this context, AFTE observed a significant decrease in release decisions, whether before the Supreme State Security Prosecution or before the criminal court. Moreover, the authorities continued to arrest opinion-holders in numbers larger than those released through the pardon committee.

On the other hand, the media scene in Egypt witnessed a tangible activity during the first quarter of this year. This culminated with the election of opposition journalist Khaled El-Balshy as head of the Journalists Syndicate in March, and the defeat of his rival Khaled Meri, who could be called the pro-government candidate. Moreover, the independence movement won most of the syndicate’s seats, something which many observers described as a victory for journalism and media freedom.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian authorities continued to violate the right to freedom of expression, as AFTE documented 31 violations during the first quarter of this year, compared to 38 violations during the same period last year. This indicates the continued absence of political will to address the systematic violation of human rights in general and the right to freedom of expression in particular. These practices raise doubts about the authorities’ seriousness in conducting a real political dialogue and making a political breakthrough by opening the public sphere.

This report reviews the state of freedom of expression in Egypt during the first quarter of 2023, highlighting incidents in which the right to freedom of expression has been violated.

 

First section: Media freedom

Violations against freedom of the press and media continued during the first quarter of 2023, albeit in a relatively low rate compared to the same period last year. AFTE recorded six violations during this quarter, compared to 11 during the same quarter of 2022.

Violations included banning journalists from carrying out their work, and suspending media workers temporarily. However, the most prominent of these incidents was the arrest of four female journalists from the independent website “Mada Masr” over complaints filed against them by members of the Nation’s Future Party – which has the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate – accusing the four journalists of publishing false news on the website.

In March, two imprisoned journalists were released. They are Ahmed Allam[2], who had been imprisoned in Case No. 558 of 2020 (Supreme State Security Prosecution) since 21 April 2020, and Ahmed Fayez[3], who had been imprisoned in Case No. 2070 of 2022 (Supreme State Security) since 10 November 2022. The two faced charges of spreading false news and misusing social media.

The first quarter of this year also witnessed the midterm election of the Journalists Syndicate, which was the most prominent event in the media arena, especially after journalist Khaled El-Balshy won the election to be the first editor-in-chief of a blocked website (Darb) to win the post of the syndicate’s head.

The election was held in a competitive atmosphere amid media marginalization of Balshy in the face of his rival Khaled Meri, the editor-in-chief of the government-run Al-Akhbar newspaper.

Key patterns of violations against media freedom:

  • Continued targeting of independent news websites

The Egyptian authorities continued to target independent news websites and their journalists during the first quarter of this year. AFTE documented the referral of three Mada Masr journalists[4], namely Bisan Kassab, Rana Mamdouh, and Sarah Seif El-Din, to the Mansoura Economic Court in Dakahlia Governorate on charges of insulting Nation’s Future Party MPs and misusing social media.

The three journalists were notified on different days in February 2023 about a decision to refer them to the Mansoura Economic Court, following a complaint filed against them at the Kafr Saqr police station in Sharqia Governorate. The journalists have not previously been investigated or even notified of the complaint. A citizen filed the complaint, accusing the three journalists of insulting members of the Future’s Nation Party and offending national leaders, something which could threaten the stability and societal peace in the country.

The case started when Mada Masr website published a report on 31 August 2022 quoting sources from the Nation’s Future 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 accused levelled charges at the Mada Masr journalists since their names were recorded as contributors to the report. However, none of the three journalists contributed to the report.

Mada Masr learned that at least one of the three 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 Mada Masr website suffers from severe restrictions on its activity. In addition to the security targeting of its journalists, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) has refused to decide on the website’s application for a license since August 2020. The website responded to the SCMR’s call for websites that had previously applied for a license to re-submit applications using a new format after the issuance of the executive regulations of the law. However, it has not received any response.

The website filed a lawsuit against the SCMR before the Administrative Judiciary Court last October, demanding a license and compensation for damage due to the SCMR’s refusal to notify the website of rejecting its licensing application.

 

  • Coverage ban: A regular, continuous violation

Banning journalists from media coverage has been one of the most common violations against media freedom over the past seven years. It violates the right to freedom of information. In February, journalist Mohamed Salah was banned from performing his job duties at the Zamalek Club. He told AFTE that he went to the club in Mit Oqba on 3 February 2023 to perform his job duties as a sports journalist covering the club’s news, but a security guard at Gate 3 prevented him from entering under the pretext that the club’s head, Mortada Mansour, issued instructions to prevent the entry of any man with “long hair”. Salah said that a member of the club’s board of directors contacted him and apologized to him for what happened, explaining that it was an individual mistake and the entry ban decision does not apply to journalists, but to club members, and that as a journalist he is welcome to enter the club any time.

 

  • Suspension from work and referral to investigation at the public’s request

On 14 January 2023, the privately owned Al-Nahar TV announced in a statement that the “New Republic” show and its host Mona Al-Omda were suspended[5], and that Al-Omda, her team and those in charge of the show were referred to immediate investigation. This came after an episode of the show contained what the channel called violations and mistakes. The station, accordingly, decided to suspend the show until it is returned to the right track or permanently cancelled as per the professional work ethics and the codes that regulate media work.

Al-Omda noted during the investigations that she had performed ear surgery that caused her voice to change in the last two episodes, as a result of some painkillers and medications that she took after the surgery. She later announced that she had left the channel, noting that her contract had expired.

On 13 January, head of the Media Syndicate Tariq Saada issued a decision to refer Yasmine Ezz, the presenter of the “Kalam al-Nas” show on MBC Masr TV, to investigation over alleged professional and legal violations[6]. Saada said the decision was based on recommendations of the syndicate’s media observatory as well as numerous complaints received by the syndicate.

 

Second section: Digital rights

The Egyptian authorities continued to violate the digital rights of citizens, and restrict the space available for free expression on the internet, especially on social media. In this regard, AFTE documented 9 incidents containing 15 violations during the first quarter of 2023.

These violations included arrest of citizens for sharing posts criticizing the state’s economic policies on social media or sharing entertaining videos on Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, issuing prison sentences against 37 people in the Joker case, and blocking the Cairo website.

 

Key patterns of violations:

  • Citizens targeted for sharing posts on social media

The Egyptian authorities continued to crack down on individuals for expressing their opinions on Facebook by sharing posts criticizing the state’s economic policies, in light of the current economic crisis in the country.

On 4 January 2023, Ahmed Abdullah Mohamed El-Mogy, a 25-year-old tuk-tuk driver, was arrested from his home at around 3:00 am for sharing several Facebook posts on price hikes after the devaluation of the Egyptian pound. He was taken to the National Security headquarters in Mansoura, where he was held for 10 days. On 15 January, he appeared before the Supreme State Security Prosecution, which remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 95 of 2023 (Supreme State Security). The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group, misusing social media, and spreading false news.[7]

Six plain-clothes policemen arrested Mohamed Ibrahim Farid Gabr from his home in Alexandria on 13 February 2023. They took him to an unknown destination before he appeared before the Public Prosecution the next day (14 February) in connection with Case No. 549 of 2023. The prosecution remanded him in custody for four days for sharing a number of posts on social media criticizing the government’s economic policies. The prosecution faced him with 12 posts he shared on Facebook. He was also questioned about some of his poetic works. The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group and creating and using a social media account for the purpose of promoting terrorist acts. On 18 February, the prosecution renewed his detention for 15 days pending investigation. Gabr is a staff affairs director at the Ministry of Irrigation. He does not belong to any political movement. He is a poet, and his latest work was the song “Al-Khair Goana”, which was presented during a Police Day celebration at the Opera House in Alexandria. He suffers from liver cirrhosis, weak immunity and tears in the ligaments of the back.[8]

 

  • Citizens targeted for posting videos on Facebook

The security services arrested Mohamed Hossam El-Din, Basma Hegazy, Ahmed Ali El-Khouly and Ahmed Tariq on 25 January 2023 for publishing a satirical video on Facebook under the title “The Visit”, which talks about a visit to a detainee at a police station. On 29 and 30 January 2023, the State Security Prosecution decided to detain the defendants for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 184 of 2023 (Supreme State Security). The prosecution charged them with joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Hossam El-Din and El-Khouly had earlier posted a video under the title “The Public Prosecutor”, in which they talked about the impact of the dollar crisis on drug prices. At the same time, Hossam El-Din appeared in another video depicting a young man who decided to break off his engagement after the dollar crisis.[9]

 

  • Citizens targeted for posting content on TikTok

On 2 January 2023, security forces arrested Wael Mohamed Ahmad Radwan, a 49-year-old tyre worker, near his home in Faisal neighbourhood in Giza. He was taken to a National Security office in Giza and remained there until he was presented to the Public Prosecution on 4 February 2023 for sharing videos on TikTok about price hikes after the devaluation of the local currency against the US dollar. The prosecution remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation into Case No. 184 of 2023 (Supreme State Security) and charged him with joining a terrorist group and misusing social media.[10]

Security forces also arrested Nabil George, a 39-year-old member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, from his house in Al-Zawia Al-Hamra neighbourhood in Cairo on 15 February. He was interrogated in Case No. 325 of 2023 (Supreme State Security) over YouTube and TikTok videos talking about political affairs in the country. The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. On 12 March 2023, the prosecution renewed his detention. Prior to his arrest, George had had heart surgery and was therefore in need of medical care[11]. He was released on 1 May 2023.

 

  • Citizens targeted for posting videos on YouTube

On 14 February 2023, security forces arrested Mohamed al-Fatla in the village of Shatta in Damietta Governorate after he posted a satirical video on YouTube about a butcher’s shop that sells meat in installments in response to the recent increase in meat prices. Fatla appeared in another video the next day explaining that the first video was just a joke, after he received comments on it. The Ministry of the Interior announced Fatla’s arrest on its Facebook page, saying that he admitted that he prepared the aforementioned video to increase viewership in order to achieve financial profits.[12]

 

  • The Supreme Council for Media Regulation continues to block websites

The Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) said in a Facebook statement on 1 March 2023 that it had referred three social media accounts belonging to a sports journalist to the Public Prosecution. The SCMR’s Complaints Committee listened to the journalist’s statements regarding his accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and concluded that many posts and videos on those accounts violated the law, incited sports intolerance, discrimination between citizens, and sports racism, and insulted and slandered officials and individuals. The SCMR decided to refer the admins of two of the accounts in question to the Public Prosecution, after reviewing the monitoring reports and complaints filed against them[13]. It did not reveal the names of the two accounts or the sports journalist, nor did it reveal the measures it took or the investigation outcomes.

 

  • Harsh sentences issued against the backdrop of videos posted on social media

On 15 January 2023, the Emergency State Security Criminal Court sentenced self-exiled businessman Mohamed Ali to 25 years in prison in Case No. 653 of 2021 (Emergency State Security – Criminal, First Settlement), registered under No. 195 of 2021 (New Cairo) and 1357 of 2019 (Supreme State Security), known in local media as “the Joker”. The court also sentenced five defendants in the same case to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment, 16 to five years’ rigorous imprisonment, 11 to 15 years in prison, four to 10 years in prison, and eight to five years in prison. The defendants were charged with endangering public peace, assaulting officials, and using force and violence against policemen. The case began in October 2019 when Ali called for anti-government protests. At the time, a video went viral showing children wearing the Joker mask and calling on citizens to demonstrate on the January 2011 revolution’s anniversary. Police arrested 103 people, including a woman and 23 children, and referred them to the Emergency State Security Criminal Court. The number of children who appeared in the video did not exceed four. The defendants did not receive fair trials, and some were even tortured. They were arrested randomly and questioned one year after their arrest. Exhibits were fabricated, as the defendants did not have any. The rulings issued against them were arbitrary and illogical.[14]

 

  • Continued blocking of human rights websites

On 26 January 2023, the website of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) was blocked for the first time, according to Mohamed Zari, the director of the Egypt Program at the institute. This came after the website published a statement that a number of organizations submitted to the UN in conjunction with the January 2011 revolution’s anniversary. The statement tackled the human rights situation in Egypt between November 2019 and November 2022. The CIHRS is an independent organization founded in 1993 to advocate for human rights and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. It was among human rights organizations that were raided in 2011 under the pretext of receiving foreign funding. Its office in Cairo has been closed since then.[15]

 

Third section: Freedom of creativity

AFTE documented five incidents containing six violations of freedom of creativity during the first quarter of this year, all of which included banning some books from being displayed or issued to participate in the 54th Cairo International Book Fair, which kicked off on 25 January. 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 security services banned a number of books from display at the exhibition on the first day of it. They also banned a writer from obtaining a registration number for his book and prevented Libyan publishing houses from participating in the fair due to political disagreements.

 

Key patterns of violations:

  • Books banned from display at the book fair

During the first week of the fair, author Dr. Mohamed Medhat Mustafa announced on his Facebook page[16] that his book, published by Al-Muntada Publishing House under the title “The history of the Zionist movement and its organizations”, was removed from the house’s pavilion at the fair without clear reasons. The publishing house, meanwhile, said that the security authorities demanded that the book be removed, without sending an official notification to the house. It noted that the authorities did not confiscate the book, adding, however, that it was subjected to “security harassment that created an uncomfortable atmosphere”. “We do not know the reason for that, especially as the book is academic, chronicling the history of the Zionist associations in Egypt, their beginnings and their roles in the period before the July 1952 Revolution, from a completely neutral point of view,” the house said in a statement.

Sayed Saber, the publishing director at Al-Muntada, described what happened as security harassment that led the publishing house to remove the book from its shelves. Days later, the author announced again on his Facebook page that the book was back on display at the fair, without knowing the exact truth of what happened. Mustafa thanked “those who stood in solidarity with freedom of expression until the book’s return,” in an indication that the return of his book to the shelves of the house’s pavilion came thanks to the wave of solidarity on social media.

In the same context, political writer Anwar al-Hawari commented[17] in a post titled “Incomplete Joy” on the prevention of his two books “The Taming of Tyranny” and “The New Dictatorship” from display at the book fair. In the beginning, he considered the presence of his two books at the fair “a kind indication of tolerance shown by the authorities towards different opinions”, since the two books carry an explicit criticism of the authorities. However, his joy was not complete. According to al-Hawari, the two books were removed from the shelves upon an order from an unknown body, and without a legal basis, so the books were moved from the shelves to the closed cartons.

Although the two books went through the usual procedures to be displayed, including revision and the obtaining of a registration number, they were not banned during that process. However, a commentator from the publishing house, who preferred not to be named, said: “Perhaps someone from the security authorities did not like the books, or did not want to see them displayed among other books, so he asked the house owner to move the books from the shelves back to the cartons.” He pointed out that this request did not come through official channels, adding that the books remained available in bookshops and publishing houses without being displayed, as happened with Al-Muntada Publishing House.

In the same context, we contacted Dr. Khaled Abdel Rahman[18], a former member of the “Doctors Without Rights” movement, who said that his book was banned from display at this year’s fair. He said: “After we agreed with the publisher and finished writing, only the registration number was left for the book to be printed. However, the publisher informed me that the book was prevented from obtaining a registration number, without giving reasons from the censorship bodies, something which we expected.” He suggested that the book might have been banned due to its content or his opposition activities on social media. Granting a registration number is a regular procedure for issuing any new book. The Egyptian National Library and Archives is responsible for granting these numbers.

The book titled “42 Al-Qasr Al-Ainy Street” tackles the establishment and development of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate and how it interacted with the various regimes, including the monarchy and the eras of late presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, as well as the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to the syndicate’s council. It also tackles the emergence of the Doctors Without Rights movement, the January 2011 Revolution and its political impact on the syndicate, then the decline in the syndicate’s role after 30 June 2013, the attempts to revive it, and the establishment of the Health Workers Association. The book also refers to the doctors’ strikes in 2011, 2012, and 2014, and ends with the 2016 mass general assembly of the Medical Syndicate, known as the “Day of Dignity”, which came up with nothing, thus leading doctors to lose hope in collective salvation and the predominance of the logic of individual salvation. Since then, the number of doctors’ resignations and rate of immigration increased.

The Egyptian authorities did not only ban books issued by Egyptian publishing houses or authored by Egyptian writers, but also banned non-Egyptian books containing views different from those of the Egyptian authorities on various issues. For example, Sudanese writer Ehab Adlan told AFTE[19] that his book “Homethology: Controversy of Identity and Myth” was confiscated from the 54th Cairo International Book Fair on its second day. He was told that the reason was that the book attributed the Egyptian civilization to Sudan and considered the current Egyptians as remnants of occupation that lasted for more than 3,000 years, and that Sudan is the origin of civilization and humanity.

He said this might have bothered the Egyptian authorities, noting that they confiscated all copies of the book amid a high demand for it. He said security individuals stormed a pavilion displaying his book and asked the publishers to remove it from the shelves. The matter caused a state of uproar[12] on the mainstream and social media in Sudan.

Adlan blamed in a Facebook post the Egyptian intelligence service for confiscating his book from the fair.

 

  • Libyan publishing houses banned from participation in the book fair

Political disagreements were also a reason for banning Libyan publishing houses from participating in the fair. The echo of the conflict over legitimacy between the two rival governments in Libya reached the Cairo book fair this year, as the head of the Libyan Publishers Union, Ali Awain, revealed in a statement[20] reported by several news websites the reason behind banning Libya from participating in the fair.

According to Awain, the ban came from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after the Ministry of Culture in the Libyan parallel government headed by Fathi Bashagha submitted a request to participate in the fair instead of the Ministry of Culture in the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU) headed by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. However, officials in the Ministry of Culture of Dbeibah’s government said that the correspondent of the Ministry of Culture in Bashagha’s government had requested that Dbeibah’s government be prevented from participating in the fair.

Awain noted that the Egyptian foreign ministry banned both Libyan governments from participating in the fair.

Local media in Libya criticized the country’s absence in the fair, blaming what they described as the sterile competition between the two governments over power. However, Egyptian foreign ministry sources confirmed that the absence was not politically motivated, but rather due to procedural issues, giving no further details.

 

Fourth section: Academic freedom and student rights

The Egyptian authorities and university administrations continue to violate the rights of academics and students. This is not limited to the university activities, but also includes the behaviours of students and professors outside the university. University administrations monitor the personal lives of students and academics and set themselves as accountability bodies.

This policy was clearly reflected in the case of student Mai Abdullah, which the report highlights. The universities’ approach to the personal lives of students and academics is not new. In 2022, several university students were referred to investigation over Facebook posts or comments that had nothing to do with the university or academic life. This was evident in the dismissal of Mina Atallah, a student at the Faculty of Medicine at Misr University for Science and Technology, after he published a post about religions on his Facebook page. Benha University also dismissed a student because of a quarrel with a classmate on Facebook.

 

Key patterns of violations:

  • Female university student prosecuted over religious posts on social media

The privately owned Sinai University referred Mai Abdullah Sweidan, a first-year student at the Faculty of Dentistry, to investigation on 13 February 2023, a day after one of her colleagues shared a post attributed to her expressing her disbelief in Islam and Prophet Muhammad, according to Sweidan’s mother. The post was later shared by a number of users, with some sharing Sweidan’s personal data including her Facebook account, her phone number, and the accounts of her family members. The shared posts included incitement against Sweidan and appeals to the university to dismiss her permanently.

Sweidan feared for her life and felt threatened. She went to the East Qantara police station in Ismailia Governorate, accompanied by a professor from her university. The university sent a representative to interrogate her at the police station.

The student was interrogated in a friendly manner, in the presence of a number of clerics, according to her mother. The investigation revealed that Sweidan’s Facebook account had been hacked and that she was not responsible for what was posted on it. She was acquitted of the charge of atheism. Meanwhile, posting continued on her Facebook account during the investigation.[21]

In this context, AFTE issued a statement condemning the referral of Sweidan to investigation, and demanded that the administrative investigation be halted, and also called on the Ministry of Interior to provide protection for her.[22]

 

  • Continued targeting of professor Manar Al-Tantawy for demanding her rights

On 22 January 2023, Manar Al-Tantawy, an assistant professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Higher Technological Institute’s branch in the 6th of October City, was notified that she had been referred to investigation again based on a complaint submitted by the institute’s supervisor, and that she should appear before investigators on 28 January 2023.

Al-Tantawy faces several administrative violations for demanding her right to an academic degree that she met all its technical and legal conditions, as well as her claim to head the mechanical engineering department in her capacity as the most senior assistant professor at the institute. On 27 July 2022, the disciplinary board of the institute’s teaching staff decided to punish Al-Tantawy 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.[23]

 

  • Academic’s salary suspended for allegedly travelling during her vacation without university permission

In late February 2023, the Cairo University decided to suspend the salary of Dr. Laila Soueif, a professor at the Faculty of Science. She went to collect her salary, but she did not find it. When she asked the university administration, she was told that the salary had been suspended by a decision from the faculty’s dean. Soueif had travelled to London for a short period during the mid-year vacation after completing her marking tasks. She sent a notice of her travel to the head of her department, stating that she had completed the marking tasks. The notice was forwarded to the dean. Soueif returned from London to find a letter from the dean stating that she had travelled without permission and she must return immediately. Soueif replied to the letter, saying she had already returned and resumed her work. Then she was surprised that her salary was withheld in late February. Article 92 of the Universities Law stipulates that the vacation of faculty members begins with the end of the academic year’s work and ends before the start of the new academic year, as decided by the university administration. Article 93 of the same law stipulates that, taking into account the interests of the work, a faculty member may take a paid or unpaid leave during the academic year for a specified period not exceeding three months, and this shall be decided by the university president after consulting the faculty’s dean and the head of the department.[24]

Therefore, Soueif is entitled to take a leave in the middle of the academic year after obtaining the dean’s approval. Indeed, she sent a travel notice, but she travelled before receiving the approval. She said she did not receive the dean’s approval because it was waiting for the security approval, as the dean cannot approve the travel of faculty members without first obtaining security approval. This actually contradicts the independence of universities and their internal affairs. Soueif rejects this, as she was one of the founders of the 9 March Movement which calls for the independence of universities.

But even if Soueif did not wait for the dean’s approval, the dean should not have withheld her salary. None of the disciplinary articles in the Universities Law refers to the dean’s ability to withhold the salary of a faculty member without being investigated.[25]

This represents an infringement by the dean of his terms of reference and a violation of the academic rights of faculty members. It also shows that the power of punishment and accountability is loose and can be exercised without following the legal procedures stipulated in the Universities Law and can be used in an unbiased manner against whoever the security authorities and the university administration want to remove and harass.

 

Conclusion and recommendations

AFTE believes that the state’s new discourse does not match the reality of the policies implemented on the ground. At a time when a national dialogue called for by the President of the Republic more than a year ago begins with the aim of introducing political reform and addressing human rights issues, the authorities continue their repressive policies towards various issues, especially freedom of expression. This confirms that the authorities are not serious in what they call for, and that what is happening is just prevarication to silence the rising voices that criticize the harsh human rights conditions that Egypt has witnessed over the past decade.

Accordingly, AFTE recommends the following:

  • The security services must stop targeting citizens for expressing their opinions in various forms
  • We call on the President of the Republic to pardon all those who have been sentenced by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court for expressing their opinions
  • The Egyptian authorities must stop blocking news websites and halt violations against independent websites
  • We call on the Public Prosecutor to immediately order the release of all those held in pretrial detention in opinion cases, and to stop prosecuting them

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[1] AFTE’s monitoring and documentation methodology, https://bit.ly/3vyVIFw

[2] The Egyptian Observatory for Press and Media, Journalist Ahmed Allam released, 1 March 2023, last visited on 5 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3nVxd48

[3] The Egyptian Observatory for Press and Media, Journalist Ahmed Fayez released, 16 March 2023, last visited on 6 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3ZGcoXX

[4] Mada Masr, “Mada Masr” journalists referred to trial for insulting Nation’s Future Party, 28 February 2023, last visited on 5 April 2023, https://bit.ly/40WCKWC

[5] Mustafa Al-Qusaibi, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Nahar channel suspends presenter Mona Al-Omda and refers her to investigation after monitoring mistakes, 14 January 2023, last visited on 6 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3Mgr398

[6] Khaled Mostafa, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Yasmine Ezz in her first appearance after her referral to investigation: Men are kind and naïve, 13 January 2023, last visited on 6 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3ZRmXHr

[7] Ahmed Abdullah Mohamed Al-Mogy detained, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, 20 January 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3CXWAHd

[8] Mohamed Ibrahim Farid’s detention renewed, the Egyptian Commission for Human Rights, 16 February 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3KAc1d5

[9] The State Security Prosecution decides to detain content creators, AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit, 1 February 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3KEob4s

[10] Wael Mohamed Radwan detained, the Egyptian Commission for Human Rights, 7 February 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3RHtsu3

[11] Detention of Nabil George continues, the Egyptian Democratic Party’s Facebook page, 13 March 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3GlAkc1

[12] Citizen Mohamed Fatla arrested, Mada Masr, 16 February 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/40L8n5P

[13] Three social media accounts referred to the Public Prosecution, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation’s Facebook page, 28 February 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3UghpVZ

[14] The Joker case in Egypt comes to the fore again, Al-Araby, 16 January 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/40R43Sv; Harsh prison sentences issued against fugitive businessman Mohamed Ali and others, Al-Shorouk, 15 January 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3MlWkHR; Ruling issued in the Joker case, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, 15 January 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3Xx8UpX

[15] Cairo Today website blocked after publishing a statement on human rights violations, Al-Manassa, 28 January 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3KffvAm

[16] Alaa Othman, Al-Manassa, Two books banned from display at the Cairo Book Fair, 30 January 2023, last visited on 6 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3ZGdrXT

[17] Writer's testimony to AFTE

[18] Dr. Khaled Abdel-Rahman’s testimony to AFTE

[19] Ehab Adlan’s testimony to AFTE

[20] Mohamed Ibrahim, Al-Shahed, Libya excluded from the 2023 Cairo International Book Fair, 14 January 2023, last visited on 6 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3zAbNfB

[21] Testimony from the student’s mother on 22 February 2023

[22] Statement: AFTE condemns investigation of student Mai Abdullah, AFTE, 22 February 2023, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/3GnBx2y

[23] AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit

[24] Articles 92 and 93 of the Universities Law No. 49 of 1972, p. 37, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/30Hd4OB

[25] Articles 105 to 112 of the Universities Law No. 49 of 1972, pp. 39:42, last visited on 4 April 2023, https://bit.ly/30Hd4OB

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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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