Human rights in Egypt

Human rights in Egypt

Rights and liberties ratings

Freedom House places Egypt's political rights at 6, civil liberties at 5, and an average of 5.5. This is an improvement, but it places them at unfree. Other nations in North African and the Mideast they place at 5.5 are Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. They gave them a press freedom score of 68, which is also unfree. They gave the following nations a 68 as well: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Maldives, and Russia. In 2000 the related Center for Religious Freedom placed Egypt as partly free at 5; this put them in line with Muslim nations like Turkey and Indonesia. [ [] ] Reporters Without Borders placed Egypt between Bhutan and the Côte d'Ivoire in press freedom. The Heritage Foundation's index of economic freedom placed Egypt at a 1.65, this is equal to Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Albania, Lesotho, and Benin.

See List of indices of freedom for more information on these ratings and how they are determined.

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press

The Press Law, Publications Law, and the penal code regulate and govern the press. According to these, criticism of the president can be punished by fines or imprisonment. Freedom House deems Egypt to have an unfree press, although mentions they have a diversity of sources. [ [ Freedom of the Press ] ] Reporters Without Borders 2006 report indicates continued harassment and, in three cases, imprisonment, of journalists. [ [ Reporters sans frontières - Egypt - Annual report 2006 ] ] They place Egypt 143rd out of 167 nations on press freedoms. [ [ Reporters sans frontières - Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index - 2005 ] ] The two sources agree that promised reforms on the subject have been disappointingly slow or uneven in implementation. Freedomhouse had a slightly more positive assessment indicating that an increased freedom to discuss controversial issues has occurred. [ Country Report ] ]

According to Al, "in the past few years, independent Egyptian newspapers have emerged that have proved willing to hold the rich and powerful elite to account, right up to the presidency. The old state-owned newspapers are beginning to lose their readership."cite web|title=Egypt approves tough press law|date=Monday 10 July 2006|url=|] In July 2006, the Egyptian parliament passed a new press law. The new law no longer allows journalists to be imprisoned for comments against the government, but continues to allow fines to be levied against such journalists. The independent press and the Muslim Brotherhood protested this law as repressive.

Although the Egyptian Government rarely bans foreign newspapers, in September 2006, Egypt banned editions of Le Figaro and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, because of their publication of articles deemed insulting to Islam. According to Al Jazeera, the German newspaper contained an article authored by the German historian Egon Flaig, "looking at how the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was a successful military leader during his lifetime". Al Jazeera quotes the Egyptian minister of information as saying that he, "would not allow any publication that insults the Islamic religion or calls for hatred or contempt of any religion to be distributed inside Egypt." [cite web|title=Two European papers face Egypt ban|date=Sunday 24 September 2006||url=|]

Freedom of religion

Islam is the official state religion of Egypt. Practices conflicting with Islamic law, Sharia are prohibited. The practice of Christianity or Judaism is not felt to conflict with Sharia. According to a 2003 US State Department report, "members of the non-Muslim minority worship without harassment. [ International Religious Freedom Report 2002: Egypt ] ] The government has made efforts toward greater religious pluralism and Christians are a significant minority who have served in government. Coptic Christmas has been a national holiday since 2002.

That said, intolerance at a cultural and political level remains according to two US-based sources. [ [ United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: USCIRF Events: 2005 Testimony: Remarks by Commissioner Prodromou Briefing on "Religious Freedom in Egypt" ] ] Islam is the state religion and the government controls the major mosques. There have been disputes between Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria and the government. Christians have found the building and repair of churches, however, to be problematic. Government regulations dating from Ottoman times require non-Muslims to obtain presidential decrees before building or repair a place of worship. Although in 1999 President Mubarak issued a decree making repairs of all places of worship subject to a 1976 civil construction code, in practice Christians report difficulty obtaining permits. Once permits have been obtained, Christians report being preventing from performing repairs or building by local authorities.

Human Rights Watch also indicates issues of concern. For example they discuss how the law does not recognize conversion from Islam to other religions. [ [ Essential Background: Overview of human rights issues in Egypt (Human Rights Watch, 31-12-2004) ] ] They also mention strict laws against insulting Islam, Christianity or Judaism and detention for unorthodox sects of Islam. In 1960, Bahá'í institutions and community activities were banned by Presidential decree of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. All Bahá'í community properties, including Bahá'í centers, libraries, and cemeteries, were subsequently confiscated. Bahá'ís are also not allowed to hold identity cards, and are thus, among other things, not able to own property, attend university, have a business, obtain birth, marriage and death certificates. This ban had not been rescinded as of 2003. In 2001 18 Egyptian Bahá'ís were arrested on "suspicion of insulting religion" and detained several months without being formally charged.

On 6 April, 2006, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of recognising the right of Egyptian Bahá'ís to have their religion acknowledged on official documents."cite web|title=Rights activists welcome ruling recognising Bahá'í rights|author=Integrated Regional Information Networks|date=2006-04-06|url= News ||accessdate=2006-10-20] However, on 15 May, 2006, after a government appeal, the ruling was suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court. [cite web | url = | title = EGYPT: Court suspends ruling recognising Bahai rights | date = 2006-05-16 | publisher = Reuters | author = IRIN | accessdate = 2008-03-28] On December 16, 2006, only after one hearing, the Supreme Administrative Council of Egypt ruled against the Bahá'ís and stating that the government may not recognize the Bahá'í Faith in official identification numbers.cite web|title=Government Must Find Solution for Bahá'í Egyptians|date=2006-12-16|accessdate=2006-12-16|author=Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights||url=] The ruling left Bahá'ís unable to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country unless they lie about their religion, which conflicts with Bahá'í religious principle.cite web|title=Congressional Human Rights Caucus, House of Representatives|accessdate=2006-12-29|date=2005-11-16|url=] Bahá'ís cannot obtain identification cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, or passports. Without those documents, they could be employed, educated, treated in hospitals, or vote, among other things. In 2008, a Cairo court ruled that Bahá'ís may obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents.cite news |first= Cynthia |last= Johnston |title= Egypt Baha'is win court fight over identity papers|url= |publisher=Reuters |date=2008-01-29 |accessdate=2008-01-30 ]

An Egyptian convert from Islam to Christianity, Mohammed Beshoy Hegazy has recently sued the Egyptian government to change his religion from Islam to Christianity on his official ID card. Earlier this year, Egyptian courts rejected an attempt by a group of Christians who had previously converted to Islam but then returned to Christianity and then sought to restore their original religion on their ID cards. The case is currently before an appeals court. [Threats force Egyptian convert to hide, MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press Writer Sat Aug 11, [] ]

:"See also: Persecution of Bahá'ís in Egypt and Egyptian identification card controversy"

tatus of religious and ethnic minorities

From December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000, 21 Coptic Christians were killed by an angry mob in Al-Kosheh. [ [] ] Al-Ahram in part cites economic resentment as the cause, [ [ Al-Ahram Weekly | Home News | The meanings of Al-Kosheh ] ] but discusses Muslims who condemned the action. A Coptic organization [ [] ] saw it as a sign of official discrimination. In 2005 a riot against Copts occurred in Alexandria.

According to a 2003 report, privately owned and (less frequently) government-owned newspapers publish anti-Semitic articles and editorials.

tatus of women

Domestic violence is not dealt with by many police in Egypt. Also family law is traditionally based on Sharia, which critics deem unfair to women. That stated some progress has been made.

After an incident in which crowds of young males sexually molested women outside a movie theatre, women trying to make a police report were allegedly turned away from the police station without being allowed to file the report. [ [] ]

The Ministry of Health issued a decree in 1996 declaring female circumcision unlawful and punishable under the Penal Code [ [ Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Legal Prohibitions Worldwide ] ] , and according to UNICEF the prevalence of women who have had this procedure has slowly declining from a baseline of 97% of women aged 15-49 since 1995. [cite web|url=|title=Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical exploration|publisher=UNICEF|date=November 2005|accessed=2 September 2006] According to a report in the British Medical Journal BMJ, " [t] he issue came to prominence...when the CNN television news channel broadcast a programme featuring a young girl being circumcised by a barber in Cairo. ...Shocked at the images shown worldwide, the Egyptian president was forced to agree to push legislation through the People's Assembly to ban the operation.cite news|url=|title=Egypt sees U turn on female circumcision |author=Peter Kandela||date=7 January 1995|accessed=2 September 2006] ". Despite the ban, the procedure continues to be practiced in Egypt Fact|date=February 2007 and remains controversial. In 2006, Al-Azhar University lecturers Dr. Muhammad Wahdan and Dr. Malika Zarrar debated the topic in a televised debate. Dr. Zarrar, who objected to the procedure, said..."Circumcision is always brutal...I consider this to be a crime, in terms of both religious and civil law". Dr. Wahdan defended the partial removal of the clitoris for girls who Muslim doctors determine require it, saying it prevents sexual arousal in women in whom it would be inappropriate such as unmarried girls and spinsters. He cited Muslim custom, Islamic law, and a study reporting that the procedure is a determinant of chastity in Egyptian girls. He also blamed the controversy about the procedure on the fact that the, "West wants to impose its culture and philosophy on us." [cite news|url=| title=Egyptian Experts on Islamic Religious Law Debate Female Circumcision|publisher=Kuwaiti Al-Rai TV translated into English by|date=28 March 2006|accessed=2 September 2006] The ban was controversial in the medical community as well. In the debates leading up to the ban, a gynecologist at Cairo University, said that "Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching," and, "called on the government to implement training programmes for doctors to carry out the operation under anaesthesia. Another doctor reportedly said, "If my daughter is not circumcised no man is going to marry her." Other MDs opposed the ban stating that the, "trauma of the operation remains with the girl for the rest of her life,..." [disputing] the argument that the procedure prevents women from "moral deviation," and argued that it is not, "a legitimate medical practice, and when it is conducted by untrained people it frequently results in infection and other medical problems..."

tatus of homosexuals

Homosexuality is not technically illegal in Egypt, but is considered taboo. Until recently, the government denied that homosexuality existed in Egypt, but recently official crackdowns have occurred for reasons felt to include the desire to appease Islamic clerics, to distract from economic issues, or as a cover-up for closet homosexuals in high places. In 2002, 52 men were rounded up on the Queen Boat, a floating nightclub, by police, where they were beaten and tortured. Eventually 29 were acquitted and 23 were convicted for "debauchery and deflaming Islam" and sentenced for up to five years in prison with hard labor. Since the trial was held in a state security court, no appeal was allowed. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party rising in popularity in Egypt, condems homosexuality, saying, "From my religious view, all the religious people, in Christianity, in Judaism, condemn homosexuality," he says. "It is against the whole sense in Egypt. The temper in Egypt is against homosexuality." A government spokesman said the Queen Boat incident was not a violation of human rights but, "actually an interpretation of the norms of our society, the family values of our society. And no one should judge us by their own values. And some of these values in the West are actually in decay." [ [ Egypt crackdown on homosexuals] ]

In 2006, Human Rights Watch released a 144-page report called [ "In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice in Egypt's Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct"] . The report stated that "The detention and torture of hundreds of men reveals the fragility of legal protections for individual privacy and due process for all Egyptians." Egyptian human rights organizations including the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Egyptian Association Against Torture, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Nadim Centre for the Psychological Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information also helped HRW to launch the report. A spokesman for Human Rights Watch stated, "when we talk about the situation of homosexuals in Egypt, we don't describe the Queen Boat Case, but we describe a continuing practice of arresting and torturing gay men." A Cairo court sentenced 21 men to prison in 2003 after it found them guilty of "habitual debauchery", in a case named after the nightclub they were arrested in, the Queen Boat. He also pointed out that, under the pretext of medical exams, the Forensic Medical Authority contributed to the torture of the defendants." Not just the Queen Boat: HRW is asking the Egyptian government to stop persecuting homosexuals and commit to reform] ] According to a report in the Egyptian press, "the government accuses human rights groups of importing a Western agenda that offends local religious and cultural values. Rights groups deny this claim, but independent critics argue that it's not void of some truth. Citing the failure of these groups to create a grass-roots movement, critics point to "imported" issues such as female genital mutilation and gay rights as proof that many human rights groups have a Western agenda that seems more important than pressing issues that matter to ordinary Egyptians -- such as environmental, labour, housing and educational rights," and says that the issues brought up at the press conference to launch the above report, "reminded some in the audience of US efforts to impose its own vision of democracy in Egypt as part of the US administration's plan for a Greater Middle East."

Conditions for detainees

In a 2005 report of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Human Rights chaired by former UN secretary-general and former Egyptian deputy prime minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali cites instances of torture of detainees in Egyptian prisons and describes the deaths while in custody of 9 individuals as, "regrettable violations of the right to life." The report, "called for an end to [a] state of emergency, which has been in force since 1981, saying it provided a loophole by which the authorities prevent some Egyptians enjoying their right to personal security."

According to an Al-Jazeera report, the council asked government departments to respond to complaints, but "The Interior Ministry, which runs the police force and the prisons, ..answered [only] three out of 75 torture allegations." The council also recommended that President Hosni Mubarak, "issue a decree freeing bad health." [cite news|url=|title=Report on Egypt human rights critical||date=10 April 2005|accessed=1 September 2006]

ee also

* Religion in Egypt
* Egypt

Further reading

* cite journal
quotes =
last = Abdelrahman
first = Maha
authorlink =
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year = 2007
month = April
title = The nationalisation of the human rights debate in Egypt
journal = Nations and Nationalism
volume = 13
issue = 2
pages = 285–300
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url =
language =
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References and footnotes

External links

* [,1518,443678-2,00.html Personal accounts from Egyptian women]
* [ Censorship in Egypt] - IFEX
* [ A tale of two women] A reflection on the status of women in Egypt
* [ Interview with Elijah Zarwan on human rights and the internet in Egypt and the Middle East]

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