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Egypt’s Comprehensive Vision for Human Rights

The issue of human rights is at the center of the comprehensive national project Egypt has adopted since 2014. The state is concentrating its efforts on the issue of human rights to achieve the aspirations of the Egyptian people that carried out two revolutions within three years. Despite the multiple threats issued by the political regime, and the terrorist organization to which it belongs, and that rose to the helm after the 25 January 2011 Revolution, the nation decided to rise again in June 2013.

Egypt adopted a comprehensive national project aiming at supporting human rights with its three generations, starting with the political and civil rights, in addition to the economic, social and cultural rights, and third generation human rights. Therefore, it is safe to say that Egypt has a comprehensive vision for human rights that doesn’t solely depend on the role of the state, but extends to the role of the civil society and religious institutions such as Al-Azhar and the Church, and the individual.

Egypt believes in human rights, not only on the national level, but on the regional and international levels as well. Egypt realizes that protecting human rights will contribute to the containment of the troubled humanitarian conditions due to conflicts spread across the region. The state also believes that respecting human rights shall prevent the threats from spreading from the region to the international arena.

Egypt has made various achievements for the sake of supporting and respecting human rights, the most prominent of which are: 

The First Generation: Civil and Political Rights

– Following the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, the Egyptian state did not put in place an exceptional or arbitrary justice system. Rather, corrupt and violent regime figures were dealt with under the ordinary course of law. No one was punished or fired from their work for their intellectual affiliation unless they had committed violent acts.

– A direct political communication tool was established. Periodical conferences were held between the president and state ministers and youth, media, and different and marginalised groups of society.

– The law establishing the National Council for Human Rights was issued to support its authority and independence in accordance with the constitution and in line with the Paris Principles of National Human Rights Institutions.

– A human rights department at the Prosecutor-General’s Office was established to investigate complaints of human rights violations.

– The right to public assembly and peaceful protest law was amended in 2017. The amendment stripped the Interior Ministry of the right to prevent, postpone or change the course of a protest, granting this right instead to the judiciary for the sake of establishing equality.

– The law regulating the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was issued in July 2019, allowing the establishment of NGOs and their acquisition of legal personality by notification, granting them financial merits and tax exemptions, and the right to receive funds and grants after notifying the administrative body. 

The law also abolishes penalties infringing on rights, prohibits the dissolution of an association or its board of directors except by a judicial ruling, and reduces the fees for granting licenses for foreign organizations to function in Egypt. 

In addition to allowing the increase in percentage of foreigners on NGOs’ boards and membership to reach 25 percent, the law establishes a fund to provide technical, financial and administrative assistance to NGOs to improve their performance, along with comprehensive organization of volunteer work.

– Believing in the important role NGOs play in developing society, and since civil associations have reached more than 57,000, governors began in 2017 to invite a representative of NGOs’ regional unions from every governorate to attend its executive council meetings to establish communication with civil society bodies and coordinate efforts that serve citizens. The government suggested adding to the municipal administration draft law, currently discussed in parliament, a clause that allows representatives of NGOs’ regional unions to be seated on the executive council of each governorate.

– The law of trade union organizations avoided the flaws of the previous law, granting trade union organizations, whether a trade union committee, a general union or a trade union, a legal personality.

The law established the right of workers to form trade unions, and to join more than one trade union organization if they were practicing multiple occupations, and prohibited the dissolution of their boards without a court ruling. 

It also allowed the trade union organization to hold strikes, and to make its general assembly the supreme authority to formulate its policies and supervise its affairs in accordance with its statute. 

In 2018, trade union elections were held in accordance with this law after a 12-year hiatus, resulting in the change of 80 percent of union members in some 2,500 committees, 145 of which are not affiliated with the General Union.

In July 2019, the House of Representatives approved the recommendation of the International Labor Organization to amend the law. The amendments abolished all penalties infringing on freedoms, reduced the quorum for the formation of a trade union committee from 150 to 50 workers; the trade union committees necessary to form a general union from 15 to 10; member workers from 200,000 to 15,000; the general trade syndicates needed to establish a trade union from 10 to seven; and members of general trade unions from 200,000 to 15,000 workers.

– The law of building and renovating churches was approved. Until July 2019, the status of 1,021 churches and service buildings were ratified.

– The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that some sections in Article 71 of the civil workers law were unconstitutional, since it was limited to granting Muslim workers the right to perform Hajj. The court approved the right of Christian workers to a one-month mandatory leave with full pay once to visit Jerusalem.

– The Moderate Tolerance Forum was established at the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.

– Azharite education saw the introduction of a new curriculum to consolidate Islamic values ​​and support human rights and pluralism.

– The Al-Azhar Brings Us Together campaign was launched in youth centers to spread the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other.

– The Egyptian Family House initiative was launched, putting Al-Azhar and the Egyptian Coptic Church together to consolidate the principles of citizenship and combat actions that incite violence and discrimination.

– Al-Azhar established the International Observatory, addressing nations in different languages, to fight extremist doctrines and terrorist claims.

On accountability and transparency, until April 2019, criminal investigations and prosecutions of police officers were carried out in 30 cases of torture, 66 cases of violence, and 215 cases of ill-treatment. 

The investigations and trials resulted in 70 criminal convictions, 156 cases were closed, and 85 cases are still in court. There were also 344 disciplinary trials of police officers, resulting in 207 disciplinary convictions. 

In addition, a government delegation met with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in February 2019.

The Second Generation: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

– A comprehensive economic reform program.

– The establishment of labor-intensive projects: The New Administrative Capital, Suez Canal Zone, power plants, a nuclear power plant with four reactors, 7,500 greenhouses, 5,759 fish farming tanks, and the launch of the Golden Triangle project.

– Social programs: Solidarity and Dignity, Dignified Life, development projects in the poorest areas, subsidized bread and food supply programs.

– Development of slums and medium- and low-income housing: The government built 102,000 alternative housing units for residents of hazardous areas, and 90 slums are being developed in various governorates with a total of 92,355 units.

– Providing clean drinking water: The government has implemented 276 projects since the end of 2014, bringing clean drinking water to more than 98 percent of the population. 

It also established 155 waste management projects in cities and 624 projects in villages, to deliver waste networks to about 60 percent of the population.

– The Education Development Plan included the upgrading of 2,038 schools, 506 technical education schools, the establishment of 10 schools for clever pupils and 18 centers for the talented. The Knowledge Bank was also inaugurated.

– Strengthening cooperation with civil society to eradicate illiteracy.

– The Scientific research budget increased from EGP 22 billion in 2014 to EGP 29 billion in 2018. Special attention is being given to innovators.

– The 100 Million Health initiative to eliminate Hepatitis C and detect noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, stress and obesity was one of the health initiatives launched. In February 2019, a campaign to detect and treat obesity, stunting and acute anemia was kicked off targeting pupils under 12 years of age. Another campaign concentrating on women’s health was also launched.

– Regarding women empowerment, the 2015 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of 90 female deputies – 76 elected and 14 appointed. Since 2018, there have been eight female ministers who hold 25 percent of the ministerial portfolios, and two women have been appointed for the first time as governors.

– In 2016, the Knocking Doors campaign was launched in villages to receive women’s complaints and raise awareness about government services. The They Can initiative was launched, providing 2,812 medical services, training 1,010 women and girls in remote areas, and supporting 162 microenterprises. The Office of Receiving Women’s Complaints and the Family Advice Hotline 16021 were set up as national mechanisms to combat violence against women.

– To counter violence against women, three national strategies were launched in 2015: the National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women; the National Strategy to Combat Female Genital Mutilation; and the National Strategy to Combat Early Marriage.

– The Together to Serve the Nation program was launched with the aim of raising the awareness of female Muslim preachers and Christian nuns on the importance of including the message of eliminating all forms of violence against women.

– The government, in cooperation with NGOs, launched the National Strategy for Childhood and Motherhood 2017-2023, with an integrated development perspective to provide better services to improve children’s quality of life, focusing on protecting children’s health, development, education and participation in society, and paying particular attention to providing the basic services to children of poor families. 

– The establishment of the Child Fund to protect street children, combat child labor, and reduce the spread of the phenomenon.

– 2018 was declared the Year of Persons with Disabilities, and law granted them active participation in all aspects of life.

– A health strategy for persons with disabilities was laid out with the participation of NGOs to provide health programs at a reasonable cost. The strategy included the expansion of phonetic rehabilitation centers, that reached 123 centers in all governorates, and the development of 108 physiotherapy centers in health insurance clinics and hospitals to follow up on cases of harmonic paralysis, in addition to providing prosthetic devices.

– Several youth centers were developed and provided with the appropriate engineering code for disability. The sports law considered the Egyptian Paralympic Committee a sports body, and was obliged to establish centers for the discovery and care of talented athletes suffering from dwarfism and persons with disabilities depending on the extent of their disability. 

This enabled the Egyptian Paralympic champions, women and men, to win international and regional medals, the latest of which were 12 medals in Rio de Janeiro.

– Regarding youth empowerment, 59 youth are sitting as members of the House of Representatives. Other activities include national youth conferences and the World Youth Forum held annually in Sharm El-Sheikh, as well as the Presidential Leadership Program to qualify youth for leadership. 

That is in addition to the appointment of 41 deputy ministers and six deputy governors from youth cadres, and allocating 50 percent of the membership of specialized councils for community development, education, scientific research, economic development, foreign policy and national security for youth.

The Third Generation: Solidarity and Collective Rights

The third generation of rights establishes the link between human rights and sustainable development, the most prominent of which are peace, health, and the environment. 

In other words, the third generation of rights establishes the right of people of this time and the coming generations to live in a safe environment.

– The right to peace is right in the core of the Egyptian vision on conflicts, be they directly related to the Egyptian state or in one of the regional countries. Therefore, the Egyptian vision always emphasizes the importance of building and promoting peace through political and diplomatic solutions that guarantee the representation of all parties, and rejects violence and the use of the military tool.

– The 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy, with broad community participation that encompasses the visions of civil society and the private sector, and with the participation of international development partners, aims at achieving sustainable economic, social and environmental development, by safeguarding the rights of future generations, and ensuring equality and the optimal use of resources.

– On the environment, the Egyptian government adopts a two-dimensional strategy. The domestic dimension works in accordance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy, which aims at the good management and utilization of water resources, raising the efficiency of the solid waste management system, reducing air pollution, as well as protecting biodiversity. More important is the initiative of new and renewable energy. 

On the foreign level, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, during the Climate Summit in Paris 2016, pointed to the dangers of global warming, calling for a fair agreement, and encouraging the international community to support Egypt’s efforts to face climate change, focus on developing countries, and provide $100 billion annually to address climate change by 2020, and to double the amount in later years.

– The comprehensive health insurance system is the backbone of the long-term development of the healthcare system until 2030. The first phase of the comprehensive health insurance system was launched in 2018 in five governorates at the cost of EGP 1.8 billion.

Refugees

– Egypt grants refugees and asylum-seekers the freedom of housing and movement. The number of registered refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Egypt is 250,000 from 55 nationalities, in addition to about five million people most of whom have fled armed conflicts in neighboring countries.

– The total number of refugee students in Egypt is 71,851, excluding Syrians attending public schools with the same conditions as Egyptians.

– Egypt stresses the importance of sharing the burdens of hosting refugees, and believes that short-term solutions based on providing them with assistance are insufficient. Long-term solutions are needed to eliminate the causes of asylum. It is vital to look at the issue from a comprehensive perspective that takes into account the aspect of development, not only security.

Illegal migration and human trafficking

In 2017, a national coordinating committee was established to combat and prevent illegal migration and human trafficking, coordinate policies, plans and programs, and to provide care and services to migrants. 

Several social and field studies were conducted to identify the most important exporting cities of illegal immigration for unaccompanied youth and children. 

The committee launched a national strategy to combat illegal migration until 2026, with the aim of strengthening cooperation between the government and non-governmental, regional and international parties to decrease illegal migration, with development being the basis to fighting the phenomenon as well as supporting the paths of legal migration. Following the state’s efforts on this file, not a single ship transporting illegal immigrants departed from Egypt’s shores since September 2016.

– Egypt joined the “Blue Heart” campaign to raise awareness of the crime of human trafficking. The National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking 2016-2021 was adopted. That is in addition to the establishment of criminal departments in courts of appeal for crimes of human trafficking. 

A map was drawn out showing the spread of human trafficking crimes in the cities between 2014 and 2017. Safe shelters were provided for victims of human trafficking, and a national mechanism was set up to facilitate communication between the concerned parties and law enforcement bodies.

Recommendations

Making further progress to consolidate human rights requires more cooperation between the national, regional and international bodies. It is important to de-politicize this file and refrain from using it as a tool for political pressure. This is why the recommendations are as follows:

On the national level:

– The Egyptian state should intensify its efforts to promote the culture of human rights in society through the media, education, and specialized awareness programs.

– Despite the ambitious policy adopted by Egypt on the empowerment of young people, there is still an urgent need to expand this policy based on the fact that Egypt is a young country.

– As we move forward on the path of political stability and economic development, the Egyptian state must move towards a more open and dynamic political system.

On the regional level:

– There is an urgent need to launch a mechanism of action to promote and follow up on the human rights file of regional organizations (the Arab League and the African Union).

– Additionally, there is a need to build a network of national centers involved in the human rights file as well as civil society organizations interested in human rights between the countries of the region (the Arab world and Africa).

On the international level:

– It is imperative for international institutions and organizations to treat the human rights file on the basis of cultural privacy and to treat each of its cases individually.

– Stimulating international and regional cooperation in the human rights file is needed, as well as providing support and funding resources to help countries implement and accelerate their policy to promote human rights.

– Providing international programs for technical and technological support related to the multiple human rights files is important.

In conclusion, Egypt has been taking accelerating steps to promote and preserve human rights. The state is giving prominence to the issues of women empowerment, youth, people with disabilities and children’s rights.

Even if Egypt has not achieved all of its aspirations yet, it is important to note that the state is exerting its utmost efforts, despite the limited resources, and the security, economic and social challenges, prime among which are terrorism and overpopulation. Making matters more difficult is the issue of refugees and asylum-seekers who flee their war-torn countries.

That is not to mention the limited international assistance handed out and the attempts by a number of countries to promote instability in Egypt by harboring and funding terrorist and criminal elements.

This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Human Rights: The Trajectory to Combat Terrorism, Special edition, Cairo, November 2019.  

Maha Allam
Researcher at American studies unit

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