Egypt | Freedom House

Countries at the Crossroads



Countries at the Crossroads 2007

2007 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)


The Egyptian government, led by President Hosni Mubarak and the National Democratic Party (NDP) he controls, routinely violates its citizens’ civil and political rights, including freedoms of assembly and association, as well as the right to participate in the political process as a candidate or elector. Torture and arbitrary detentions are not uncommon.

Egypt is not a military dictatorship per se, as Mubarak rules as a civilian leader. However, he and his two predecessors, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, rose to power through and with the assistance of the military. The security apparatus—including the secret police (the mukhabarat) along with the legislative and judicial processes, particularly the Emergency Law and military courts—are tools used both to prevent the exercise of human rights and to curtail them. This powerful combination—executive authority (security and secret police), supported by legislative and judicial mechanisms that serve the regime rather than the republic or the population—has ensured long reigns for all three leaders, with Mubarak in power for at least 26, Sadat for 11 and Nasser for 16 years.

The wrath of all three leaders has been aimed squarely at the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest (founded in 1928), most popular, and best organized opposition group. The Government of Egypt refuses to recognize the Brotherhood as a party, movement, or social service organization; nonetheless, most observers consider the organization to be tolerated by the regime. The Brotherhood currently holds the largest bloc of opposition seats in Egypt’s parliament. In addition to the nonviolent Brotherhood, militant religious groups, along with their alleged supporters and accomplices, also have been targets of state repression, particularly in the wake of intermittent periods of violent attack, which resumed most recently in 2002.

In 2005, the president undertook a seemingly dramatic political reform when he announced an amendment to the constitution that resulted in Egypt’s first direct, multiparty presidential elections. Later that fall, Egypt held three rounds of parliamentary elections, in which the NDP, as expected, won a majority. However, the gains of the Muslim Brotherhood caused great consternation for the government. Overall, the government misused the process to cloak itself in democratic legitimacy even as the scope of opposition activity expanded and its nature shifted in 2005—resulting in a larger target group for the government’s subsequent crackdown.

In December 2006, Mubarak proposed 34 amendments to the constitution. On March 19, 2007, the Egyptian parliament approved the amendments and a public referendum was scheduled for March 26. Government critics charged that the date was changed from its original April slot to impede the opposition from organizing a successful campaign against the referendum. Many human rights observers viewed some of the changes as an effort to “constitutionalize” aspects of the state’s emergency legislation; Egypt has operated under a state of emergency continuously since 1981. Additionally, journalists and political pundits believe that other amendments are a direct attempt to halt popular and political advances made by the Brotherhood in the wake of the 2005 elections. The referendum passed with 75.9 percent approval in a vote characterized by extremely poor turnout.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

The authority of the Egyptian government is not rooted in the will of the people. While Egypt holds regular elections, these are neither free nor fair in conduct or law. Suffrage is universal and equal, and electoral competition at the presidential and parliamentary levels is open to multiple, but not all parties. Approximately 20 parties are legally registered, while several others have had their registration applications consistently denied. Elections are conducted by secret ballot, but results are frequently manipulated (and often overturned) by the government.

Campaigning opportunities are not equal for those who do manage to register, and rotation of power between parties is a nonexistent concept. The Egyptian constitution (Article 5) affirms the country’s multiparty political system; however, anyone seeking to mount a meaningful political challenge faces serious impediments, particularly at the presidential level.

Citizen suffrage is guaranteed by the constitution and participation in public life is considered a national duty (Article 62). Law No. 73 of 1956, as amended by Law No. 173 of 2005 regulating the practice of political rights, stipulates that all Egyptians “shall exercise” their right to elect presidential, parliamentary, and local council candidates. In February 2005, President Mubarak initiated constitutional changes, approved by the NDP-controlled parliament in early May, which provided for the country’s first direct, multiparty presidential elections. However, the government mandated that only officially approved parties could field presidential candidates, thereby placing a nearly insurmountable hurdle for nomination in the paths of many potential candidates. Amendment opponents, both secular and Islamist, walked out of the legislative chamber before the parliamentary vote was announced.

In mid-May 2005, key opposition groups called for a boycott of the constitutional referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood, not included in the opposition statement because of the objections of a secular party, issued its own statement, also appealing for a boycott.[1] On May 25, 2005, the referendum was held and the amendment passed, although the results were disputed.[2] Voter turnout was low: estimates by nongovernmental analysts ranged from 15 percent to 20 percent, although the government estimated more than 50 percent. The validity of the referendum results, and thus the proposed changes, were questioned by various segments of society, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the umbrella opposition group Kifaya.

Following the referendum, parliament promulgated Law No. 174 (2005), which stipulates that all parties seeking to nominate a presidential candidate must have operated for five continuous years.[3] Additionally, a party was ineligible to nominate a candidate unless it held 5 percent of the seats (the 2007 amendment process reduced this to 3 percent) in the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council. An exception was made for the 2005 presidential election, when parties were permitted to nominate members of their senior leadership. To further complicate the situation, any independent (e.g. Muslim Brotherhood) applicant must be supported by 250 elected officials, including 65 from the People’s Assembly, 25 from the Shura Council (parliament’s upper house), and 10 from local popular councils in at least 14 governorates. By requiring signatures from elected officials in parliament or other “elected” bodies that are, again, all controlled by the NDP, the law plainly places enormous obstacles in the path of prospective future opposition presidential candidates. Moreover, requiring opposition parties to have at least 3 percent of the seats in parliament in order to run their own candidate in practice excludes all but the NDP. Provisions not terribly dissimilar exist in established democracies and are considered conventional. What makes them extraordinary in Egypt is there is little doubt on the part of objective observers that these provisions are intended to thwart democratic development.

Widespread allegations of fraud and low voter turnout marred the presidential election in September 2005. Interference with the vote included vote buying, voter coercion, and the provision of pre-marked, pro-Mubarak ballots that facilitated access to the polls. Independent monitors, prosecutors (including one who bore personal witness to state party corrupt behavior), and the Judges’ Syndicate all blew the whistle on government electoral misconduct.[4]

Participation in the process was very low: only 23 percent of 32 million registered voters cast their ballots.[5] Still, that 23 percent was larger than in previous presidential elections in the 1980s and 1990s, when turnout was estimated to be around 15 percent. Mubarak claimed his fifth 6-year term, with 88.6 percent of the vote in a field of 10 contenders. Ayman Nour of the al-Ghad Party finished second with 7.6 percent of the vote; Nu’man Gomaa, of al-Wafd, was third with approximately 2.7 percent.[6]

Nour had a particularly difficult time campaigning, as he was arrested on charges of forgery, held, released, and detained again, then subsequently tried and sentenced, all in 2005. Although the charge was widely understood as trumped up to discredit his candidacy, allegations hung over him throughout the presidential campaign as well as during the parliamentary election, in which he also ran. Nour was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

After previously denying domestic monitoring groups access to the polls, the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) announced—on election day, and under considerable international pressure and domestic demand—that civil society observers would be permitted. Following the balloting the Independent Committee for Electoral Monitoring (ICEM), a coalition of civil society organizations, enumerated key problems, including a lack of clear voting procedures and a division of responsibility between polling agents, monitors, and supervising judges.[7]

Law No. 40, as amended by Law No. 177 (2005), provides administrative guidance and establishes the Political Parties Affairs Committee (PPAC). The PPAC controls whether or not parties come into, and stay in, existence through its power to approve registration of parties and halt their activities once they are established. It prohibits the formation of parties based on racial, class, or religious affiliations. The PPAC is led by the chair of the Shura Council, the upper house of the parliament, dominated by the NDP. With the state having near absolute control of parties’ ability to function, Human Rights Watch observed that the PPAC “remains the president’s and ruling party’s primary lever for controlling Egypt’s political landscape.”[8]

Law No. 173 of 2005 created a Higher Elections Commission, chaired by the Minister of Justice, with a mandate that includes compiling candidate rosters, monitoring compliance with electoral ethics, and declaring election results. It also provided for a variety of penal sanctions for election crimes such as fraud and intimidation, although the high level of reported and documented fraud and intimidation, and the lack of state follow-up in terms of thorough investigations, indicates that Law No. 173 is poorly implemented and enforced.

Elections for the People’s Assembly are governed in part by Law No. 175 (2005), which echoes the law on presidential elections and requires campaign compliance with the “commitment to maintain national unity and abstention from using religious slogans.”[9] Moreover, the 2007 addition to Article 5 of the constitution has negative repercussions for religious and ethnic groups, stating that “no political activity shall be exercised or political parties shall be established on the basis of religion or on discrimination due to gender or race.”[10] These laws are notably relevant for Islamist organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, which (because it is illegal) fields candidates as independents. An amendment to Article 62 permits changes to the electoral system, moving away from the current “candidate-centered system to a mixed one that depends mostly on party lists, leaving only a small, unspecified margin for independent seats.”[11] This would disadvantage the Brotherhood, which has relied on the candidate-centered setup for running members as independents.

Egypt’s three-round parliamentary elections (for the People’s Assembly) began in November 2005 and concluded in December. The Parliamentary Election Commission set a candidate spending limit of 70,000 Egyptian pounds ($12,150).[12] Approximately 26 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, and the results gave 311 seats to the ruling NDP, 112 to independent candidates (including 88 seats to Muslim Brotherhood members), 6 seats to the liberal Wafd Party, 2 seats to the leftist Al-Tagammu, and 1 seat to Ayman Nour’s new Al-Ghad Party. The Muslim Brotherhood’s 88 seats represented a five-fold increase over their previous tally of 17 seats.

For the first time since the late 1940s the Muslim Brotherhood (although still illegal) effectively campaigned under its own name, with candidates openly promoting their affiliation and platform. It fielded 150 candidates in a third of Egypt’s 222 constituencies (each of which has two seats, for a total of 444) in order to win their 88 seats. Controversy was the hallmark of the election, which was, according to domestic and international monitoring groups, characterized by widespread fraud, mistreatment of voters and candidates by thugs and gangs (apparently protected, financed, or otherwise supported by the police and security forces), and the arrest of many Brotherhood members. Mahmoud Mekki, the deputy chief justice of Egypt’s Cassation Court (the highest criminal appeals court), called the elections “a farce, in which judges acted as extras.” [13]

In the aftermath of the 2005 elections—which left Mubarak in power and his party still dominant, but his image damaged internally and internationally—the president postponed local council elections, scheduled for April 2006. He said they would not occur for at least two years. Although the delay was purportedly to allow for constitutional decentralization, the move was understood to have a three-fold effect: first, to allow the NDP to maintain its stranglehold on power after being threatened by opposition gains in the 2005 parliamentary elections; second, to hinder the general influence of the Brotherhood; and finally, to prevent the Brotherhood from positioning to field a viable presidential candidate in 2011.

The 2007 constitutional referendum on Mubarak’s proposed amendments, likewise, created serious grievances. Numerous independent commentators suggested the government hastened the pace of the vote to prevent the opposition from mounting a meaningful campaign, resulting in a boycott by opposition groups, including the Brotherhood and Kifaya. After the election, the Judges’ Syndicate alleged widespread fraud and irregularities in the vote. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights observed pre-marked ballot cards and mass voting via public busing of public employees, as well as bribes and other illegal inducements.[14] Official government turnout estimates were between 23 and 27 percent; however, others asserted it was less than 10 percent.[15] Amnesty International said the amendments represented the “most serious undermining of human rights safeguards in Egypt since the state of emergency was re-imposed in 1981.”[16]

Egypt’s executive branch is not accountable to the legislature, and NDP dominance of both houses effectively renders hollow any theoretical separation. Historically, the judicial branch enjoyed some independence from the legislative and executive branches. The courts issued rulings that resulted in executive branch changes; they overturned elections (as in 1987 and 1990); and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, courts deemed unconstitutional a number of laws passed by parliament (supported by the executive), including harsh laws against a free press and free association (“NGO laws”). That degree of independence waned in the 2005 elections and their aftermath. Judicial scrutiny of those processes resulted in accusations of government fraud and misconduct, primarily in the executive branch. This, in turn, led to government retaliation in April 2006, as two senior judges were called before a disciplinary tribunal and threatened with dismissal. One judge was cleared, the other reprimanded.[17] Then, as part of the 2007 constitutional amendments, limitations on judicial oversight of elections were enshrined, explicitly eliminating their supervisory role and, in its place, creating an electoral committee. A leading Egyptian paper reported judges’ belief that because the government’s strong-arm tactics failed to dissuade them from criticizing the vote, the state decided to constitutionally limit their role.[18]

The civil service has long been a place where personal connections, wasta, can be useful but not necessarily determinative. In 2006 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noted the need to address corruption so that good governance values could be fostered and the civil service could become an honorable professional calling, with decent pay and merit-based opportunities for advancement.[19] This is not a new criticism of the civil service: just a few years earlier, a regional expert observed that “nepotism and favoritism in public sector recruitment and promotion continues to stifle reform.”[20]

Despite the government’s authoritarian oversight and one-party hegemony, Egypt has a vibrant civil society, with more than 16,000 registered NGOs.[21] This vibrancy is held in check, however, by stringent government control, grounded in Law 32 of 1964, a restrictive law of associations allowing for state control of private organizations. The legal regime tightened further in 2002 with Law 84, which nominally replaced Law 32 but nevertheless maintained tremendous obstacles in the path of organizations, such as continued restrictions on foreign funding and maintenance of the state’s unchecked power to dissolve any NGO the government sees as a threat. Human Rights Watch characterized this law as discouraging legitimate NGO activity.[22] Nonetheless, civil society reached new levels of activism during the 2005 election season. Indeed, after the elections, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the respected human rights activist, said “the real winner is civil society” and added that a new generation of activists had been inspired to fight for change.[23]

While the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant opposition group among both Islamist and secularist movements, Kifaya, meaning “enough,” is the best known of the secular opposition groups. The organization emerged during the 2005 electoral season, forging coalitions and mobilizing diverse supporters. However, after the election Kifaya reportedly suffered from growing pains as internal dissent developed relating to both the power of a minority of members within the group and tensions between some Islamist and secular members.

New groups have also organized; some share Kifaya’s broad reform agenda, while others have their own specific goals. For example, Aziz Sedki, a former prime minister under Nasser, formed the National Coalition (or Rally) for Democratic Change, seeking to draft a new constitution. Reporters, meanwhile, formed their own group, Journalists for Change, to “lift the grip of the state and of its security services from public journals.”[24]

Egypt’s media has a long and rich history, even if its current status is much diminished. It remains diverse as state-owned, semi-official, and opposition periodicals are distributed in daily, weekly, and monthly formats.

The constitution provides for press freedom and forbids censorship except during a state of emergency (which Mubarak has maintained since coming to power in 1981) or time of war, when limited censorship is permitted. Despite the constitutional guarantee, however, restrictive media laws are in place and an assortment of press offenses are criminalized. Press legislation passed in 2006 enumerated 35 media offences punishable by prison sentences, including imprisonment of up to five years for “publishing false news,” defamation of domestic and international heads of state, and “undermining national institutions.” Notably, defamation of civil servants was decriminalized, but fines were doubled.[25] The Journalists’ Syndicate strongly opposed the new law, and in protest, many opposition and independent newspapers declined to print their Sunday editions and called for a boycott of state papers.

The government rhetorically supports freedom of the press while quashing it in practice through detentions, criminal charges, and media closures. High-visibility cases include Egypt’s April 2006 arrest (and subsequent release of) of Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief for false reporting, and a separate attack against Al-Jazeera in which the state issued criminal charges against a producer for her work related to a documentary about torture. In May 2007, the producer was convicted of “harming Egypt’s national interest” and “falsely depicting events” and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and a fine.[26] Other journalists cite physical harassment, while one described difficulty gaining access to a public demonstration despite the presentation of press credentials to security forces on the scene.[27]

Many of the state’s agents are perceived to be acting within the bounds of domestic law (although in violation of international norms) or carrying out official orders, and thus escape criminal or other sanction. In cases of physical abuse and mistreatment of journalists, security forces rarely face repercussions. Some journalists also admit to a degree of self-censorship, toning down articles they would otherwise (i.e., if they did not have to pass each written word through a government censor) prefer to leave more critical of the government or its allies (internal or external). Internet freedom came under government attack in early 2007 as, for the first time, an Egyptian blogger was sentenced to prison for offenses related to public order, presidential insult, and incitement against Muslims.[28]

Civil Liberties: 

Incidents of torture by state agents are common in Egypt due to weak legal controls and rare repercussions.[29] Human Rights Watch in 2005 and Amnesty International in 2006 reported the routine use of torture, mistreatment of political prisoners and ordinary citizens, and custodial deaths.[30] The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has a pending request for a country visit to Egypt to investigate conditions and allegations.

Several notorious incidents of torture and ill-treatment have occurred in recent years. In one, four Tunisians were detained in late 2006 in connection with an alleged terrorist cell organized to fight the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq. The Tunisians claimed beatings, electroshocks, blindfolding, sleep deprivation, and the forced viewing of the torture of their cellmates.[31] In another case, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian national, was picked up in Pakistan and moved to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured with techniques including suspension from hooks on a wall, sleep deprivation with dousings of cold water, and shocks with an electric cattle prod, all before being transferred to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.[32]

Perhaps the most widely publicized recent case of torture involves Imad Kabir, a bus driver who had an altercation with police and was taken into custody. During his detention, officers sodomized him with a broomstick. To make the incident even more degrading, they recorded the rape with a cell phone video camera, which they broadcast in his neighborhood as a warning. Two officers involved were later arrested and scheduled for trial in 2007. However, many observers and activists believe that the only reason these officers, unlike many others, face charges is that the case brought unwanted criticism of the government after the video was publicly circulated.

The 2007 amendments to Article 179 of the constitution effectively allow the government to bring key aspects of the state’s repressive emergency laws, which are maintained in the name of counterterrorism, in line with the constitution. The new language strengthens the government’s hand by precluding three other constitutional articles from hindering Egypt’s domestic antiterrorism campaign: Article 44 (protection of home from unwarranted search), Article 45 (privacy and security of communications) and Article 41 (freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention).

Two distinct groups already bear the brunt of arbitrary arrests and detentions: the Muslim Brotherhood and suspected religious militants.[33] State targeting of the Brotherhood is widely perceived as an effort to undermine the legitimate political opposition, while efforts directed at suspected militants are part of the domestic “war on terror.” During the 2005 election season, news headlines in Egypt and abroad were replete with incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions of Brotherhood members. These sweeps each resulted in the incarceration of anywhere from a couple of dozen to 1,000 members. For example, in a runoff election in late November 2005, 1,000 supporters were detained prior to and during the conduct of the poll.[34] After the elections, things did not improve: between March and October 2006, nearly 800 Brothers were detained and held. In early 2007, again, hundreds of members were arrested and detained, 40 of whom face military tribunals, with no recourse to civilian appeals courts.[35] Round-ups of suspected militants also take place in the wake of attacks or any time the government finds it politically expedient.

The prison conditions that greet these detainees are extremely poor; substandard and overcrowded facilities are the norm. Amnesty International noted in 2006 that a local source estimated 16,000-20,000 people were held in appalling conditions in administrative detention without sufficient medical attention.[36] International observers were not granted access to prisons.

What Egyptians frequently refer to as “different rights” between men and women are seen by many outside Egypt as basic gender inequalities; these persist in law and in practice despite relatively strong constitutional language. Article 8 of the constitution, for instance, provides that the state “shall guarantee equality of opportunity to all citizens,” and other articles likewise affirm women’s rights. In contrast, personal status laws are a historic source of disempowerment. Muslim women still cannot marry Christian men, and non-Muslim women marrying Muslim men are subject to Sharia (Islamic law). In terms of positive changes, Law No. 1/2000 established a woman’s right to seek and obtain a divorce from a common law marriage, and amendments to the Nationality Law provide for parental constitutional equality regarding children’s nationality.[37] However, women’s ability to seek divorce has been complicated by the requirement that they forgo all financial benefit, from return of dowry to alimony, if they choose to end the marriage.

Discrimination against women as victims of domestic violence is embedded in the penal code. Article 17 permits judicial discretion in sentencing and is used to reduce punishment in cases of honor killings. The inequality of marital standing is also enshrined in Article 277, which provides that a woman’s adulterous acts are understood as such no matter where they occur, whereas a man’s are adulterous only when committed in the marital home. A 2005 survey compiled alarming statistics, including the fact that nearly half of all married, divorced, or separated women reported being subjected to violence after age 15.[38]

Female genital cutting has been illegal since 1996, and the Court of Cassation upheld the ban in 1997.Statistics, however, reveal an unfortunate reality for young women in Egypt. The U.S. Agency for International Development reported positive change between 1995 and 2000, with the proportion of young women undergoing the procedure declining from 97 percent to 81 percent.[39] However, a 2006 survey showed the practice was nearly universal among reproductive-age women.[40]

Egypt prohibits trafficking in women through Law 10 (1961). The law targets prostitution but also addresses the movement of women across borders for indecent purposes. Sources including the Protection Project nevertheless maintain that Egypt is a source, transit, and destination country for the trafficking of women and children.[41]

Islam is the official religion of the state; the constitution explicitly affirms that “Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.”[42] Article 46, however, provides for freedom of religious belief and practice. Demographically, 98 percent of the citizenry is ethnically Egyptian; ethnic minorities—2 percent or less—include Berbers, Nubians, Bedouins, as well as Greeks, Armenians, and other Europeans. In religious terms, 90 percent of Egyptians are thought to be Muslim, mostly Sunni, with the remaining 10 percent largely Christian.[43]

The most significant religious minority in Egypt is the Coptic Christian population, consistently estimated at around 9 percent; other Christians comprise 1 percent. Discrimination against Copts does exist, although it does not reflect a systematic plot by Muslims or the state. Intermittent violence against Copts does occur, generally without public accountability or legal repercussions. Copts also face discrimination in the public and private sectors in terms of employment and political representation.

Sunni Islam dominates social, cultural, and political life in Egypt. However, within the Sunni communities, as well as other Muslim groups in Egypt, there are different approaches to the religious practice. State discrimination arises from the attempted (and failed) enforcement of a one-size-fits-all concept of the faith, institutionalized in an executive order (and subsequent policies) aimed at forging a single, government-controlled Islamic voice. To this end the government has tried to dictate that all mosques be licensed and all sermons monitored for content. Moreover, imams are appointed and paid by the government, although many private mosques continue to operate with their own religious leaders who are not loyal to the state.

In terms of ethnic discrimination, the Bedouin suffered through suspicion and maltreatment as the state engages in its domestic antiterrorism campaign. State security crackdowns on Bedouins have followed militant attacks as they are accused of either direct involvement or complicity. In July 2005, for example, thousands were arrested after the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings that killed 88 people.[44]

The Egyptian constitution recognizes the right to assembly. However, in practice, security forces frequently crack down on opposition demonstrations, arresting participants, physically abusing them on site and while in custody. For example, in May 2005, female activists were attacked and sexually molested, and some incidents were caught on camera, as was widely reported in domestic and international media.[45]

Egyptian professionals, including lawyers, doctors, teachers, and other groups, are represented by syndicates that sometimes serve as unions and licensing entities. Article 56 of the constitution provides the right to form syndicates, with participation regulated under law. Despite this guarantee, the government has taken measures to control syndicates, especially through Law 100 of 1993. In late 2006, the Daily Star quoted an Egyptian expert, who noted that “the syndicate system has been dominated by the authoritarian state established by the 1952 regime…The syndicates have been one form of control within the system.”[46]

Generally, the right to form, join, and participate in trade union activity is restricted. Workers in Egypt may form unions, but in practice the state exerts significant influence through the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), which all unions must belong to and which is closely tied to the NDP. Nonetheless, unauthorized strikes have been increasing in recent years as workers react to perceived declines in job security associated with the privatization of state-owned enterprises.

Rule of Law: 

Egypt has an internationally well-regarded and well-trained judiciary that is considered by some to be a regional model. Judicial independence is guaranteed in Articles 165 and 166 of the constitution but not always respected in practice.

In the past, judges in the regular court system were appointed for life by the president upon recommendation by the Higher Judicial Council (HJC), led by the president of the Court of Cassation (the court of maximum instance for criminal matters) and comprised of senior judges. A 2007 amendment to the Constitution, however, cancels the HJC’s authority and states “Every judicial body shall assume its own affairs. A council shall be formed to join the chiefs of the judicial bodies chaired by the President of the Republic to care for its common affairs. The law shall prescribe its formation its competencies, and its rules of action.” While this could be perceived as part of an effort to grant increased independence to the judiciary, in reality, it is more likely an attempt to further consolidate executive authority over the judiciary under the guise of positive constitutional change.

Despite these legal and administrative entanglements, the judiciary is at the forefront in efforts to promote democratization in Egypt, pushing for its own independence and the accountability of other branches. Even prior to the 2007 amendment, judicial appointments and executive oversight were a long-standing point of contention. For example, in August 2001, Mubarak appointed the chief justice and five judges to the Supreme Constitutional Court from the Ministry of Justice, in defiance of the court’s tradition of self-selecting the chief justice from its own ranks. Dismissal from the bench may only occur with serious cause; however, in practice, this too is problematic, as illustrated by the previously mentioned case of the two judges threatened with dismissal for electoral criticism (see Accountability and Public Voice).

Moreover, the state does not always respect judicial orders. For example, a local judge’s order to allow civil society monitors into the September 2005 presidential poll was ignored.[47] Additionally, President Mubarak has failed to honor civilian court orders to release certain Muslim Brotherhood detainees who are being held for military trials.

The Ministry of Justice has historically administered and financed the court system, further entrenching executive control. However, a new “Judicial Authority Law” passed in 2006 and drafted by the Ministry of Justice—notably without meaningful Judges’ Syndicate consultation—provides for budgetary independence. The law, however, failed to address many other longstanding substantive concerns of the syndicate.[48]

To thwart opposition, legal or otherwise, Egypt has operated two types of state military or security courts. One, now legally defunct, is termed a “state security court.” Its status changed after a law passed in the summer of 2003 legally transferred its responsibilities to other criminal courts. The other special court, the State Security Court–Emergency Section, is bound only by executive oversight and offers no subsequent impartial, civil judicial relief, although the military governor may affirm the verdict or order a retrial. Additionally, one of the March 2007 amendments allows the state to refer defendants to any judicial body authorized under law. The government can thus try, without judicial review, civil rights activists, democracy activists, Islamist opponents, and secular political opponents, as well as gay men and feminists.

Egypt has grossly failed to ensure the enforcement of basic civil and political rights guaranteed under law. However, if viewed from a strict legal perspective, their record can appear misleadingly admirable. The constitution provides the legal framework for the respect of civil and political rights in civil and criminal matters. Constitutionally, people are innocent until proven guilty (Article 67); they have the right to an attorney, even when it is beyond their means (Article 67); and they are considered equal before the law (Article 60). Egypt is also a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All these rights, however, are effectively suspended under the state’s emergency legislation, which in April 2006 Mubarak announced would remain in effect for yet another two years.

Prosecutors, as agents of the authoritarian state, lack independence from the government, including its security forces. Prosecution of public officials and ruling party actors for corruption and other abuses of power is selective, depending upon the Mubarak regime’s need to eliminate and punish internal opponents by removing them publicly from their positions.

The state’s security services evince a distinct lack of respect for civil and political rights. Violations of human rights include the documented use of arbitrary detention, harassment and ill treatment of attendees at public rallies, and torture of those in custody. Accountability for human rights violations is rare but does sometimes occur in instances such as the widely publicized video of the individual sodomized while in custody (see Civil Liberties).

Egypt is not a military dictatorship per se; however, Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak secured their power through the military. Power also derives from the secret police apparatus (Amn al-Dawla), the intelligence services (mukhabarat), and the NDP. There is no effective, democratic, civil control of the police or military; both are powers unto themselves, and the military is the dominant power of the state. Indeed, the military’s budget is not subject to meaningful parliamentary oversight, and the public lacks awareness about the extent of its economic power.[49] This absence of civic accountability is critical because the military owns, runs, and profits from a significant portion of the economy, from agriculture to manufacturing to certain tourism services.

The Mubarak regime and the military and security services enjoy a relationship of mutual, if presidentially directed, dependence, with the president directing security force action within the state as necessary. There is, however, little evidence that the military or security forces take independent initiative to a degree that would threaten either the president’s or the NDP’s firm hold on power.

Government respect for property rights has made strides forward in recent years; however, access to and ownership of property remains unevenly divided among various socioeconomic strata. Personal property rights, especially in housing, are lacking, as many live in dwellings without official title; indeed, the Ministry of Finance estimates that more than 80 percent of residences are unregistered.[50] Beyond the basic rights issues, this puts both private citizens and the state at an economic disadvantage, as property cannot be used as collateral for further investment. The government has made progress in its willingness to promote (although as yet with minimal success) property ownership: in 2001, Law 148, the Home Mortgage Law, created an important vehicle for the purchase of private homes. Even with the option of a private mortgage, however, the initial down payment remains beyond the means of most people. Between the time of the law’s implementation (2001) and 2005, only 16 mortgages were awarded.[51] New laws regarding a flat property tax and reduction of bureaucracy in construction were on the 2007 legislative agenda.

Those who can afford legal property and a building permit face tremendous bureaucratic hurdles. In 2007 the World Bank found that property registration required seven procedures and took 193 days, at a cost of 5.9 percent of the property value. Contract enforcement was also cumbersome, requiring 55 procedures and more than 1,000 days, at a cost of 18.4 percent of the debt at issue.[52]

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Corruption is endemic in Egypt. In the summer of 2006, Kifaya produced a scathing report, more than 200 pages in length, detailing the problems and consequences of corruption.[53] In 2006 Egypt ranked 70th out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, scoring just 3.3 out of a possible 10 points.[54]

Egyptian bureaucracy is entangled in red tape, providing opportunities for bribery and other corrupt behavior. The U.S. Department of Commerce found that this overregulation impedes commerce as there is too much bureaucracy and arbitrariness and too many delays.[55] Additionally, the intervention of senior government officials is perceived as necessary to accomplish critical tasks.

Asset disclosure, a key weapon in combating bribery, is required by law at all levels of government. Judicial disclosure of assets is also specified by law; however, compliance and enforcement difficulties have been reported.[56] Moreover, public access to government officials’ records is limited.[57]

Egypt’s Code of Corporate Governance requires that companies have written rules on preventing conflicts of interest and procedures for internal and external audits, and stipulates criteria for the composition and disclosure of remuneration of the board of directors.[58] Egypt ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in 2005. Like most Arab countries, however, Egypt has not ratified the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, and it has neither signed nor ratified the African Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Corruption. Active and passive bribery are criminalized in the penal code and can result in fines and imprisonment. Protections for whistleblowers, however, are deficient.[59] Egypt’s anticorruption campaign, initiated in 2002, is government controlled, lacking substantive input from civil society groups.

Egypt’s bureaucratic structure, if properly empowered, could promote transparency and fight corruption. A central auditing agency is legally authorized to monitor fiscal transparency, among other issues, and reports to parliament; however, it lacks implementing power for its recommendations.[60] The Administrative Control Authority is Egypt’s anticorruption watchdog, but it lacks jurisdiction to investigate accusations of corruption against certain categories of state employees.

President Mubarak’s government has garnered headlines for implementing so-called reforms, and some government officials have been investigated for corrupt behavior. For example, in February 2006, an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, taking with it the lives of 1,000 (of the 1,400) passengers. In the wake of poor government handling of the disaster and its aftermath, allegations of corruption surfaced in relation to the ferry company, Salam Maritime, and its owner, Mamdouh Ismail, a member of the Shura Council and close associate of Mubarak’s chief of staff. The People’s Assembly transportation committee was charged with investigating the disaster and the chair said “carelessness, indifference and corruption [were] the main culprits.”[61] One year later, in February 2007, another significant corruption scandal emerged as 50 Ministry of Health officials were ordered to stay in-country until an investigation could be completed regarding their role in allowing the delivery of tainted blood to hospitals.[62]

Many analysts believe corruption charges are sometimes used selectively to create the political space necessary to ensure a smooth succession of power for Mubarak’s son Gamal. These efforts serve a dual purpose: first, they are an exercise in political weeding—eliminating significant opposition to the dynastic succession—and second, they are a limited attempt at appeasing domestic and international audiences concerned about state accountability. Gamal currently serves as the assistant secretary-general of the NDP and heads the key policymaking committee within the party.

Regarding transparency and public scrutiny, there is a distinct lack of public access to information. In terms of budget transparency, in 2006, the IMF said further progress was needed but lauded government’s efforts to carry out reforms in terms of increased transparency and efficiency.[63] The former Article 115 stated that the People’s Assembly could not effect any modification in the draft budget. However, as part of the package of constitutional amendments of March 2007, greater parliamentary scrutiny of budget is envisaged, including the ability to amend expenditures. There are government procurement laws and some protections for bidders; concerns, however, exist about procedural transparency.[64] Even higher education is not immune from corrupt practices. Hundreds, and frequently thousands, of students are packed into auditoriums in a lecture format. To get the attention of the professor, and to get good grades, all too often students must approach the lecturer for “private lessons”; these may legitimately take place, but more often result in the exchange of money for a good grade, without the professor actually meeting the student outside of class.

The international donor community, led by the United States and European Union, struggles to ensure that its aid to Egypt is administered legally and distributed fairly. The United States congressional oversight and Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits have highlighted Egypt’s inability to absorb the billions of dollars it receives annually, especially in economic assistance (military aid is absorbed much more readily). The United States’ aid to Egypt (over $60 billion from 1979 to 2007) has been deemed a political handout, an encouragement and reward for Egypt’s maintenance of peace with Israel, and an incentive to maintain a strategic partnership with the United States and support its policies in the Middle East. There are few, if any, American governmental reports (GAO, congressional, or otherwise) that suggest Egypt’s administration and distribution of aid is a source of corruption. Still, media reports frequently question the size as well as the sources of Mubarak’s enormous personal wealth—i.e., whether it is a direct result of the scores of billions of dollars in aid Egypt has received during his rule.[65]

  • In advance of the 2010 parliamentary elections and the prospective 2011 presidential elections, the government should revisit the recent constitutional amendment ending judicial supervision of elections and prepare for meaningful judicial monitoring, or otherwise ensure adequate domestic and international supervision of those elections.
  • The government should and allow all parties to field candidates for parliament and president, thus eliminating the need for the PPAC, which should be abolished.
  • Direct presidential elections should be democratized through the elimination of the current candidate restrictions imposed by Law 174 (2005).
  • Law 84 should be abolished, and the government should engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society leaders and international rights organizations to develop a new Law of Associations.
  • The government should fully decriminalize libel and slander as a step toward ensuring freedom of the press.
  • The government should acknowledge past instances of torture and renounce all future use in conjunction with investigation and prosecution of those who torture and mistreat detainees.
  • The government of Egypt should suspend the Emergency Law and return to the 1971 constitution.
  • The government must embrace international standards on prisoners’ rights and allow for better public monitoring as well as the independent and impartial review of complaints.
  • The government of Egypt should ensure freedom of belief, thought, conscience, and religion by comporting with international treaties to which it is a state party.
  • The government should repeal discriminatory provisions in the family and penal laws to promote a single standard of divorce for men and women.
  • The government should use the full weight of the law to prevent and to punish violence against girls and women, including the existing against female genital mutilation.
  • Full judicial independence—from financing to appointments to dismissals—should be guaranteed in law and practice.
  • The emergency court system should be fully and publicly disbanded.
  • The military court system should be used only for military cases.
  • The military’s budget should go before the parliament for public debate.
  • The state should work to ensure people’s property ownership through facilitating property registration, without penalty for noncompliance.
  • The government should accept NGOs and the press as partners in the campaign against corruption by engaging in an open and ongoing dialogue at the national and local levels.
  • The government should champion public administration reform, streamlining processes such as business and property registration, which currently suffer from bureaucratic delays and offer opportunities for corrupt practices.
  • The government should redouble its campaign against corruption and look to independent judicial reformists to head up the effort through public education, criminal investigations, and prosecutions.
  • The government should enable its corruption watchdog agencies to operate independently from the executive.

Essam El-Din, “NDP Reacts Coolly to Boycott Call,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 19–25 May 2005,

[2] See Egyptian State Information Service (SIS), “Political Reform in Egypt,” SIS,

[3] Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Article 76.

[4] “Not Yet a Democracy; Egypt’s Election,” Economist, 10 December 2005.

[5] “Landslide Win for Egyptian Leader,” BBC News, 9 September 2005,

[6] Mona El-Nahhas, “Ghad’s Bigger Battles,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 15–21 September 2005,

[7] Independent Committee for Election Monitoring, Preliminary Report on Election Day Voting and Counting Process (Cairo: Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, 8 September 2005),

[8] Human Rights Watch (HRW), Monopolizing Power—Egypt’s Political Parties Law (New York: HRW, January 2007),

[9] Law No. 175 of 2005 on the People’s Assembly,

[10] Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Article 5, as amended.

[11] Amr Hamzawy, “Where Machiavelli Errs,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 5–11 April 2007,

[12] “Guide to Egypt’s Election,” BBC News, 8 November 2005,

[13] “Egypt: Parliamentary Runoffs Marred by Reports of Violations,” IRIN, 17 November 2005,

[14] Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), “Results of the Monitoring of the Public Referendum over the Constitutional Amendments,” news release, 26 March 2007,

[15] Mona Salem, “Few Egyptians Vote in Controversial Referendum,” Agence France-Presse, 26 March 2007.

[16] Amnesty International (AI), “Egypt: Proposed Constitutional Amendments Greatest Erosion of Human Rights in 26 Years,” news release, 18 March 2007,

[17] AI, “Egypt: Violent Attacks and Arrests of Peaceful Protesters Must Stop,” news release, 23 May 2006,

[18] Mona El-Nahhas, “Judges Call for Monitors,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 25 January 2007.

[19] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Egypt Human Development Report 2005 Launched Under the Title ‘Choosing Our Future: Towards a New Social Contract,’” news release, 12 February 2006,

[20] Samir Radwan, “Towards a Coherent Employment Strategy,” Al-Ahram Weekly, 14–20 October 2004,

[21] Kareem Elbayar, “NGO Laws in Selected Arab States,” International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law (September 2005),

[22] HRW, World Report 2007 (New York: HRW, January 2007),

[23] “Egypt: Focus on Presidential Elections,” IRIN, 12 September 2005,

[24] Mona Salem, “Reformist Groups Mushroom in Egypt,” Middle East Online, 6 June 2005,

[25] Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Annual Report 2007 (Paris: RSF, 2007),

[26] Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “Cairo Court Sentences Al-Jazeera Producer to Six Month in Jail,” news release, 2 May 2007,

[27] RSF, Annual Report 2007.

[28] HRW, “Egypt: Blogger’s Imprisonment Sets Chilling Precedent,” news release, 22 February 2007,

[29] Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Torture in Egypt: An Unchecked Phenomenon (Cairo: Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, 2004),

[30] HRW, World Report 2007; AI, Report 2006 (New York: AI, 2006),

[31] AI, “Urgent Action: Egypt—Forcible Return/Torture/Fear of Further Torture,” news release, 5 January 2007,

[32] See Dana Priest and Dan Eggen, “Terror Suspect Alleges Torture,” Washington Post, 6 January 2005,

[33] This is not meant to imply that militants in Egypt constitute a cohesive group like the Brotherhood.

[34] William Wallis, “Opposition Hit by Crackdown in Egypt’s Election,” Financial Times (London), 29 November 2005.

[35] Heba Saleh, “Egypt Cracks Down on Illegal Muslim Group,” Financial Times, 7 February 2007,

[36] AI, “EU-Egypt Association Council Meeting” (briefing paper, AI European Union Office, Brussels, 13 June 2006),

[37] SIS, “Boosting Women Status in Egypt,” SIS, 2005,

[38] Fatma El-Zanaty and Ann Way, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2005 (Cairo: Ministry of Health and Population, National Population Council, El-Zanaty and Associates, and ORC Macro, 2006),

[39] U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “Empowering Women by Changing Attitudes,” USAID,

[40] El-Zanaty and Way, Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2005.

[41] Protection Project, Egypt (Washington, DC: Protection Project, 2005),

[42] Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Article 2.

[43] U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), World Factbook 2007 (Washington, DC: CIA, 2007),

[44] Harry De Quetteville, “Suspicion Over Egypt Bombings Falls on Bedouin,” Daily Telegraph (London), 31 July 2005,
/news/2005/07/31/wegypt31.xml&sSheet=/ news/2005/07/31/ixnewstop.html.

[45] Michael Slackman, “Assault on Women at Protest Stirs Anger, Not Fear, in Egypt,” New York Times, 10 June 2005.

[46] Liam Stack, “Experts Fear Fraud in Upcoming Election,” Daily Star (Egypt), 3 November 2006, Stack quoting Nabil Adel Fattah, the deputy director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

[47] Charles Levinson, “Who’ll Watch Egypt’s Historic Vote?” Christian Science Monitor, 6 September 2006,

[48] Amira Howeidy, “The Battle Is Not Over,” Al-Ahram (Cairo), 29 June–5 July 2006,

[49] The CIA’s World Factbook estimated it at $2.44 billion for 2002.

[50] Ahmed A. Namatalla, “Ministry of Finance to Present New Property Tax Law to Parliament in January,” Daily Star, 2 January 2007,

[51] Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Egypt: Overview of the Housing Sector (Washington, DC: OPIC, July 2005),

[52] World Bank, “Doing Business—Explore Economies—Egypt,” World Bank International Finance Corporation, 2007, Data listed for 2006.

[53] See Kifaya, Corruption in Egypt: The Black Cloud is Not Disappearing (Cairo: Kifaya, July 2006)

[54] Transparency International (TI), Corruption Perceptions Index 2006 (Berlin: TI, 2006),

[55] U.S. Department of Commerce, Doing Business in Egypt: A Country Commercial Guide for U.S. Companies (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Commercial Service, 2007),

[56]Outline Report of the State of the Judiciary in Egypt (Beirut and Washington, DC: Arab Center for the Development of the Rule of Law and Integrity and the International Foundation for Election Systems, January 2004),

[57] Global Integrity, “2006 Country Reports: Egypt,” Global Integrity,

[58] Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchanges (CASE), “Egypt Code of Corporate Governance,” CASE, August 2005,

[59] Global Integrity, “2006 Country Reports: Egypt,”

[60] UNDP Programme on Governance in the Arab Region (POGAR), “Financial Transparency—Egypt,” POGAR,

[61] Gamal Essam El-Din, “Corruption of All Sorts,” Al-Ahram, 16–22 February 2006,

[62] “Egypt Bans 50 Health Officials from Travel over Corruption Probe,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 25 February 2007.

[63] International Monetary Fund (IMF), Arab Republic of Egypt: 2006 Article IV Consultation—Staff Report (Washington, DC: IMF, July 2006),

[64] Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 2006 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (Washington, DC: U.S. Trade Representative, March 2006),
Reports_Publications/2006/2006_NTE_Report/Section_Index.html .

[65] The speculation has been rife for more than a decade. See, for example, Mamoun Fandy, “Egypt Sliding into Crisis,” Christian Science Monitor, 30 July 1993, 18.