As a result of political upheaval, the human rights situation in Egypt deteriorated in 2013. Following the removal of then-President Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, in July 2013, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK did not support military intervention as a way to resolve disputes in a democratic system, and called on all sides to avoid violence. The military announced a political roadmap for the return to democracy, led by a military-backed civilian interim government.
The political tension led to rising violence in July and August, culminating in operations by the Egyptian security forces to clear pro-Muslim Brotherhood protestors from sit-ins in Cairo, during which about 1,000 people were killed. The Foreign Secretary issued a statement condemning the use of excessive force in clearing protestors. On 21 August, he raised his concerns at the EU Foreign Affairs Council, and on 9 September we raised Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council. Ministers continued to call for an independent investigation into the operations to disperse the sit-ins, and the Foreign Secretary requested an investigation into the death of a British journalist who was shot at the sit-ins on 14 August.
In December, Egypt’s Constitutional Committee launched a draft constitution, to be voted on by referendum in January 2014. It improved protection for religious minorities and women. The military would retain the right to try civilians in military courts, albeit in more clearly defined circumstances. The key test for the constitution will be its ratification and how it is implemented, with many articles requiring additional legislation.
Political polarisation continued throughout the reporting period. In November, a controversial new protest law was introduced restricting the right to protest without permission. In December, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation by the Egyptian Cabinet. The Foreign Secretary said that whilst the UK Government does not support any specific political party in Egypt, it strongly supported an inclusive political system which allowed all groups in society to be represented, and in which freedom of association and expression was respected.
Media freedom was limited under President Mursi. However, it deteriorated further after 3 July. There were numerous reports of harassment, detention and prosecution of journalists.
We continued to stress that freedom of expression, including freedom of the media and the ability for citizens to debate issues and challenge their governments, is fundamental to building a democratic society. We have called on the Egyptian authorities to release political leaders and journalists detained since the events of 3 July, unless there is a credible criminal case to be made against them.
The interim government is facing a growing terrorist insurgency, which is spreading beyond North Sinai into other parts of Egypt. The Foreign Secretary condemned the attack on 24 December in Mansoura, which killed at least 16 people and wounded over 100.
Sectarian violence and lack of protection for religious minorities continued in 2013. 40 churches were burned and 23 damaged, in an upsurge in Islamist violence against Coptic Christians. The Foreign Secretary spoke out following these acts, and Minister for the Middle East, Hugh Robertson, discussed the situation faced by Coptic Christians with Bishop Yulios during his visit to Cairo in December. The Bishop was strongly supportive of the new constitution and its safeguards for religious minorities. During Baroness Warsi’s visit to Cairo in February, she met Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Church, and the Shaykh Al Azhar, Dr Ahmed El Tayyeb, and discussed the issue of minorities in Egypt. We continue to raise the importance of respect for religious beliefs and the protection of religious minorities, with the Egyptian authorities.
Women’s rights continue to be a source of serious concern, with a high incidence of sexual violence, sex trafficking of women and forced marriage. There were incidents of sexual assault against women during protests in Tahrir Square in both January, during the anniversary demonstrations, and during further protests throughout the year. There has been widespread failure to prosecute those individuals responsible for these assaults. Through the Arab Partnership, we work with project partners to ensure that gender issues are taken into account, and support projects which aim to strengthen women’s political and economic participation. We remain concerned that female genital mutilation is still being practised in Egypt, which is contrary to international conventions and fundamental human rights.