• One year behind bars: release Egyptian human rights lawyer Yara Sallam

    Today, one year on from the arrest and detention of human rights lawyer Yara Sallam and 22 peaceful demonstrators, the ICJ calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

    On 21 June 2014, Yara Sallam, together with award winning human rights defender Sanaa Seif and 21 others, was arrested and detained in the context of a peaceful demonstration in Heliopolis, Cairo.

    The demonstrators were calling for the revocation of Law No. 107 of 2013, on public meetings, processions and protests, and the release of all those detained under it. It was forcibly dispersed by security forces and men in civilian clothes.

    The ICJ has previously noted that this law is contrary to Egypt’s obligations under international law. It imposes overly restrictive limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and it grants...

  • Policing Football in Times of Exception

     On February 8, 2015, at least 19 fans died while waiting to enter the Air Defense Stadium for the match between Zamalek and ENPPI – it was the first Egyptian league game to allow spectators, albeit a small number, after a three-year ban that was put in place in the wake of the Port Said Stadium disaster which left 72 dead in February 2012. The Air Defense Stadium deaths were caused by a human crush that resulted from the police firing teargas into the very tight entrance where fans were packed before the start of the game. But was the tragedy triggered by a sudden surge in crowds, as the police claimed, or did political vendettas and heavy-handed policing practices have a bigger role to play?

     

    The history of football stadium disasters is a long one – the complex nature of the environment make football games prone to such accidents. The slightest slip-up can cause a crushing stampede of spectators, and there are plenty of things that can go wrong, from engineering failures and structural collapses to overcrowding coupled with poor safety and emergency measures. Although fan violence is rarely...

  • Egypt’s Government Assuages Minya Families after Weeks of Silence

    Over the past week, the village of al-Aour in the governorate of Minya—home to thirteen of the twenty Coptic Egyptian victims killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya—has been transformed. The once obscure village has become a site for official delegations and mourners to visit, and offer condolences and support to the bereaved families of the victims. This influx of visitors is new for al-Aour.

    During the more than forty-five days between the abductions and executions, the governor of Minya did not visit the town or meet with the families of victims. While families did meet twice with an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they were not provided with any information. The families also met with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab two days before the video depicting their gruesome execution was published.

    The twenty Copts were abducted by armed, masked men in two separate groups. The first group was abducted when armed men stopped a microbus as it was on its way back to the Egyptian border. The armed men asked the passengers about their religions; upon finding that seven...

  • A Closer Look at Egyptian Kidnappings in Libya

    By: Ishak Ibrahim

    The fate of 20 Egyptian Copts, who were kidnapped by masked men in two separate incidents in the Libyan city of Sirte, remains unclear. In the first kidnapping, which took place on December 31, 2014, militants forcefully stopped a microbus transporting Egyptians and kidnapped seven Christians at gunpoint. Four days later, on January 3, 2015, a group of masked militants raided an apartment building that is home to both Muslim and Christian Egyptians. The militants, who had a list of the Christian residents’ names, kidnapped 13 Copts and then left without harming any of the Muslims inside.

    Initially, no group officially addressed the motives or claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. However, on January 12, 2015, an affiliate of the Islamic State in Libya released a statement on a website claiming: “Islamic State soldiers have captured 21 Christian Crusaders from various regions of the State of Tripoli,” and shared pictures of the kidnapped Copts, while issuing no demands. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs verified the authenticity of the statement. The Ministry commented...

  • Egyptian Justice Under Collapse

    Egyptian courts have allowed alleged perpetrators of killings and torture from security agencies to walk free, sometimes without ever appearing in court, while relatives of those killed by police brutality suffer in silence. This trend didn't start with dismissing the case against former President Hosni Mubarak, and acquitting his Minister of Interior and top police aides of charges of killing protesters during the 2011 revolution, and apparently won't end with it.

    Amal Helmy will never see justice take its course. Last summer, human rights workers from the Egyptian Initiative of Personal Rights (EIPR) sat with her and her children at their home in the Cairo neighborhood of Matareya, as she recounted how her husband Ezzat Abdel Fattah Sliman was beaten to death at the local police station. "Until my last breath, I will fight for his rights" Ms. Helmy told EIPR researchers, "I will knock on all doors". Tragically, AmalHelmy, her son Ahmed and her daughter Safinaz died on 25 November, when their house collapsed without seeing perpetrators of his brutal killing brought to account. They are survived by Ezzat's younger son, currently completing his military service.

    ...
  • The ‘legal woman’: Sexual violence, the state and the law

    On June 5, 2014, an amendment to the Egyptian Penal Code saw the introduction of harassment as a definitive crime. While the amendment does not fully satisfy the aspirations of many stakeholders, who fought for years to enact it (for example, the definition confines harassment to the act of stalking and following the victim, which excludes many acts of verbal harassment), it remains a crucial victory and an achievement worth celebrating. The irony, however, lies in the fact that despite harassment being a crime, the law, the state and society encourage the harassment of women, and here is how.

    The law and the courts indirectly nurture harassment through establishing a definitive image of the model woman — an image that is used by many in society to justify sexual violence and blame the victim. The law has a codified perception of the woman; of her role in society, how she should be dressed, and how valuable her various body parts are. This perception has accordingly become a legal point of reference, making women more susceptible to sexual violence.

    Television host Tamer Amin and Cairo University President Gaber Nassar, were obligated to make public apologies after they audaciously blamed the female victim who was assaulted by a mob of harassers on...

  • How rent could solve the housing problem

    In a previous article I pointed out four main challenges for the housing minister in providing adequate housing to the millions of families seeking their right to an affordable and safe home. One of these challenges was making government housing projects work.

    The last housing project, the National Housing Program (NHP), never achieved its target of 500,000 units, while tens of thousands of completed units have been standing empty — either because they never got their infrastructure hooked up, or because they are in remote areas lacking security and public transportation.

    The most glaring shortfall of the NHP, however, was that middle and upper-middle income earners benefited more than the poor from the billions of pounds in public spending that the project consumed.

    Today, we have three government-backed housing projects currently on the table, all of which are targeting the so-called low-income families. The main project is the...

  • Egypt will not patent new hepatitis C drug

    Local newspapers recently reported that the first batch of sofosbuvir, the new drug for treating the hepatitis C virus (HCV), is expected to arrive in August, and the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis will start identifying the cases that will receive priority treatment.

    Sofosbuvir, marketed under the name Sovaldi, is produced by the US-based multinational pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences Inc. It is an oral antiviral drug with high cure rates compared to the other antivirals, and is considered a breakthrough in the treatment of HCV.

    At the end of 2013, Gilead revealed its plan to launch the new product in the USA at US$30,000 per month. All interested groups around the world received the price unhappily. It is unrealistic and unaffordable for everyone, even state budgets. It is worth noting that the cost of production of one sofosbuvir tablet does not exceed US$2, approximately LE15.

    For the past few months...

  • Why Egypt should open its prisons**

    In late April, a small group of us from Egyptian NGOs and independent movements attended the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Forum on monitoring places of detention and the prevention of torture in Beirut. The forum brings together people from across the region representing independent NGOs and movements, as well as the national offices of ombudspersons, to exchange experiences and best-practice on monitoring prisons and other detention facilities, with the aim of improving conditions and preventing torture and other ill-treatment.

    The forum’s activities include visiting prisons across the region. Since its inception in June 2012, we have visited prisons in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. For the most part, we were able to gain unfettered access to these prisons, conduct interviews with prisoners of their choice in private, look through prison registries, and meet with prison directors, doctors and other staff to ask questions and raise concerns. Egyptian prisons are, however, not likely to be on the forum's visitation agenda anytime soon.

    Successive...

  • Even if we can cure AIDS, do we really want to?

    When the Egyptian army's medical team announced it had invented two devices to detect and cure the viral infections HCV and HIV, it came under a fire of criticism from the scientific community.

    The official announcement and subsequent statements by military spokespeople were fiercely ridiculed across social media platforms, but at the same time, others gave a standing ovation.

    People who up to that point would have denied the existence of AIDS in Egypt were now applauding the Armed Forces for a device meant to cure a disease that the country supposedly didn’t have.

    The more society rejects and marginalizes people living with HIV, the more reluctant the government is to address the real issues that are fueling the epidemic. The question is not whether or not we can cure AIDS, it’s whether or not we really want to.

    ...

  • Searching for the church of Islam

    Amid the conflict currently underway in Egypt—between state authorities led by the military-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies—another momentous battle is being waged over the country’s mosques and pulpits. Sermons, religious lessons, and charitable and development activities centered in mosques are an important sphere of influence for Islamist movements of various stripes. This arena is also a space to affirm the legitimacy of the regime in Egypt, whose government directly runs many mosques and oversees many more through the Ministry of Endowments (Awqaf). As such, mosques have long been the locus of struggles over power and influence between the regime and its men in the official religious establishment on one hand, and Islamist groups on the other. Currently, the Ministry of Endowments is instituting strict policies aimed at tightening its exclusive control over all Islamic rites and mosque-centered activities, in tandem with a sweeping security campaign targeting the activities of all Islamist movements, with the exception of the pro-government Salafi al-Nour Party.

    By law, all mosques must operate under the supervision and oversight of the Ministry of Endowments. In...

  • Egypt's new constitution: Reshuffling old cards

    The new draft constitution whose fate Egyptian voters will decide in a few days is a relatively better document than its short-lived predecessor, but is ultimately disappointing and less than what could have been realistically achieved to enhance the civil, political and economic rights of Egyptian citizens.

    The document is underwhelming for human rights defenders, some of whom wrongly expected a vast improvement over the Muslim Brotherhood-driven 2012 constitution.

    Many Egyptians struggled as much as they could to influence the text through small windows of public participation that were allowed by the appointed 50-Member Committee charged with amending the charter. These interventions made a marginal difference in articles that handle issues such as civil liberties, the right to access information, the right to food and the rights of the disabled, to name a few. However, the new text is simply a reshuffle of conventional building blocks that have long served to perpetuate the rule of a state over the people, rather than to establish a state to serve its citizens and...

  • Military Judiciary Trumps All Justice

    Did you know that according to current Egyptian laws, particularly the Code of Military Justice, the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces cannot be put to trial for any offence before any court, be it civilian or military? 

    The provision that allows for military trials in the 2012 Constitution, even after the slight amendments it has gone through in the latest constitutional draft, is a significant and perilous shift in the history of the Egyptian legal and judicial system. In addition to constitutionalizing military trials of civilians before military courts, it is a blatant infringement on the judiciary, its mandate, jurisdiction and administration of justice.  But more importantly, it lays down the foundation for a heavily fortified military state.

    The immunity granted to the military in the 2012 Constitution and the current amended draft is unprecedented. Historically, Egyptian constitutions, barring that of 2012, have explicitly...

  • The Other Side of the Sudan Dams Complaint before the African Commission seeks justice for victims of Sudanese dams

    While the success of a mega development project may simply be measured by its impact on the country’s economy as a whole, a myriad of experiences have shown that such projects may come at a very high cost for less powerful and rather marginalized communities who do not benefit from it and are often not properly compensated. In Sudan, local communities have suffered – and continue to suffer –from the construction of two hydropower dams: The Merowe High Dam in the Nile State and the Kajbar Dam in the Northern State. In an attempt to bring justice to those communities in Sudan, Ali Askouri and Abdel Hakeem Nasr, two activists from the affected communities, represented by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR),have initiated a complaint at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The Commission has decided to be seized of the case during its 14th Extra-ordinary session, held from 20-24 July 2013, which means that the Commission has found that the case includes alleged violations that are worthy of its consideration. The immediate aim of the case before the Commission is to provide sufficient remedies to the affected communities. On a strategic level, however, this effort aims at getting a strong statement from Africa’s main human rights mechanism on how the Sudanese government, as well as all African governments, have a duty to involve affected local communities in the decision making...

  • The National Council for Women: state feminism seeking to contain revolutionary feminism

    Feminist solidarity is not absolute; we must choose our allies with care


    As representatives of civil society, in 2010 we were invited to a meeting with Farkhonda Hassan, then the chair of the National Council for Women (NCW), to discuss the implementation of the recommendations issued to the Egyptian government by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in its 45th session, aimed at improving the status of women in Egypt and alleviating discrimination. The UN meeting had been a huge success for civil society, after most of the recommendations we had pushed for in shadow reports were adopted and issued.

    From the first moment, we realized that the meeting was purely for show. The NCW chair sat alone on a platform while we sat lined up below her as if we were in a lecture hall. Hassan’s discussion divided the CEDAW recommendations into two parts. She went on at length about the first set, dealing with the government’s achievements, after which she discussed the second set concerning criticisms and...