In 2014, the Egyptian government completed two of the three
steps in its road map for political transition. These were a
referendum to adopt a new constitution in January, and presidential
elections in May. But the human rights situation in Egypt remained
poor and deteriorated in some areas, particularly with regards to
freedom of expression and association. This had an impact on
the political context in which the elections were held. The 2014
constitution enshrines a wide range of human rights, but these
protections were not implemented in full. Although the number of
deaths of non-violent citizens resulting from security force action
reduced in 2014 from the very large numbers in 2013, deaths
during the policing of demonstrations and in custody remain a
Egypt continued to confront a growing terrorist insurgency. The
number of terrorist attacks rose, with members of the security
forces the primary target. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond,
and other ministers consistently condemned the terrorist violence in
Egypt and the extremism which supported it.
There were increased restrictions on freedom of expression.
Reporters without Borders ranked Egypt 159th for press freedoms
out of 180 countries. Ministers continued to raise concerns,
including the Al Jazeera case. In June, six journalists were
sentenced to between seven and ten years’ imprisonment. Two of
the three journalists tried in absentia were British. According to the
Committee to Protect Journalists, 12 other journalists were also
held in prison on politically motivated charges.
Freedom of assembly remained an area of concern, and the UK
government continued to press for a revision of the Protest Law.
This law requires police authorisation for demonstrations, and
provides for significant prison sentences against opposition activists
participating in peaceful protests, including the former leader of
the April 6 Movement, Ahmed Maher.
The UK remained concerned at restrictions on freedom of
association and at the cumulative pressure against political
opposition and dissent. In the run-up to the referendum on the
constitution, opposition political activists were arrested while
campaigning for a “No” vote. Amnesty International estimated
that up to 40,000 people have been arrested since July 2013, in
the context of demonstrations or opposition political activities.
In September 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron raised with
President Al-Sisi concerns about the number of people in pre-trial
Civil society groups complained of harassment and intimidation
from state authorities. They were concerned at the implications
of a deadline for all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Social
Solidarity in November. After consultation with civil society, the
government decided to postpone introducing a new NGO law
until the new parliament was formed. We called on the Egyptian
government to ensure the law reflects the constitution’s guarantee
of civil society freedom. FCO ministers discussed the situation for
civil society with the Egyptian Minister for Social Solidarity during
her visit to London in November.
Since the election of President Al-Sisi, there has been new
government impetus, promoted by the President himself, to
tackle the endemic problem of sexual violence in Egypt. Several
convictions followed the new sexual harassment law, passed by
Interim President, Adly Mansur. In spite of this, the protection of
women’s rights in Egypt continues to be a concern.
The new Egyptian government has been clear about its intent to
protect religious freedoms. The Coptic Christian community has
reported improvements in the protection of religious minorities.
The National Council for Human Rights reported that violence
and torture was used in detention. An Egyptian rights group,
Wikithawra, estimated that approximately 80 people had died
in detention between late 2013 and early 2014. After a de facto
moratorium since 2010, 11 prisoners were executed in Egypt
in June 2014. Over 1,200 people were sentenced to death in
2014, many in absentia, but most of these sentences were later
commuted to life sentences.
On 5 November, Egypt underwent its second review under the
UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Universal Periodic Review
(UPR). The UK recommended full implementation of the Egyptian
government’s provisions for the free operation of civil society and
completion of the National Strategy on Violence Against Women.
We also used the UPR to invite the Egyptian government to address
human trafficking, the opening of an OHCHR (Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights) regional office in Cairo, and
reports of mistreatment in detention.