• 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.


  • 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...

  • Unpacking Egypt's low education score in the Global Competitiveness Report

    Last week, people have been sharing news of Egypt ranking last in the quality of primary education according to the latest Global Competitiveness Report issued by World Economic Forum. Shocked Arabic and English newspaper commentators drew particular attention to the embarrassingly low score on education, while online social network users wondered whether this figure is really true and Egypt did really rank the lowest among countries listed in this report.


    While recognizing the significance of the figures cited and admitting that public education in Egypt is in a dismal state, it is problematic to be citing the Global Competitiveness Report on this matter,  for a very simple reason:

    There are two figures in the report that cover primary education in Egypt. One is the net enrollment rate, which means the percentage of children from a given age group enrolled in the academic year for that age group. So if we assume that 5th grade is...
  • Footnotes to a curfew


    It’s the big fire.

    On 28 January 2011 we watched the flames consume the NDP building, awaiting the announcement of a curfew as a mark of victory. When the army was deployed that night, it was the sign that Habib al-Adli’s state had been broken against the will of those who took to the streets and stayed there, for a day or a bit longer. That morning we saw everything: death, freedom, and the face of truth.

    Life before the "Friday of Anger" was not the same as life after it. The "Friday of Anger" was that fairy singer "naddaha" of the revolution. For two years the naddaha called on us assuring that the will of the street—the will of the masses that came out ready to die for bread, freedom and human dignity—was our will, and it was what determined the course of events.

  • The Persistence of the Police in Egypt

    The fact that millions of Egyptians welcomed back the military and the police in order to depose Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in early July has given the police a regained sense of control and authority. As such, they have returned to the streets in large numbers and, moreover, have been implicated in the shooting deaths of protestors calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.

    The police are also being given formal powers by the new government that they have not seen in two and a half years. Last week, Egypt’s interior minister announced the reinstatement of a number of secret police units that had been ostensibly shut down after the January 25 revolution. Such units were well-known for their brutality against Islamist and other opposition groups under Mubarak.

    Yet the reality is that the police and their violent tactics never abated after 2011, and we are now only seeing a more obvious and public use of them by the new regime. The emerging order following June 30 is apparently allowing the police to return to the forefront of political oppression they practised under Mubarak and SCAF...

  • All Roads Lead to Mubarak?

    All Roads Lead to Mubarak?

    What was already lost 

    “A coup or not a coup?” That, is NOT the question. Yet it is one that has consumed much of everyone’s attention and energy since Military Chief-of-Staff General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi read out the statement announcing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt, on the evening of 3 July. But what appeared to be a classic “military coup” was backed up by much popular support. On June 30, millions of Egyptians took to the streets (yes, again) calling for the ousting of “the first democratically elected” president of post-revolution Egypt exactly, and only, one year after he was sworn in to office. Morsi of course, never failed to remind us, over … and over … that he was democratically elected, chosen by the people and president of all Egyptians, occasionally throwing in that “رئيس لكل المصريين”  to clear himself of any allegations that he was only there to serve the interests of his clan, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and their political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Legitimacy “شرعية” on the other hand, is a word he used in insane abundance. Morsi held on to his legitimacy until the very word itself was the ruin of him. Only someone with Morsi’s less than mediocre and comically awkward public speaking skills could manage to fit that word effortlessly into practically any...

  • Idku - a neglected town stands up against environmental degradation

    Recently we visited Idku in the Governorate of Beheira – a beautiful coastal town on the Mediterranean,  35 km east of Alexandria. Idku is primarily a fishing community; the local population of 250,000 has long relied on Lake Idku – a freshwater body – and the sea for its livelihood. Additionally, its economy also relies on agriculture: Idku is famous for its guava, and residents  proudly describe Idkuan grapes as having been “the finest in the world”.

    Talking to Idku locals, their pride in their hometown's past glory is  hard to miss - “Idku used to be Egypt’s food basket”, they tell me. But so is the bitterness over its lost potential; the neglect, violations, and loss of their livelihoods, “Idku is an orphan town no one cares about”.

    Indeed, Idku seems to be the unfortunate meeting point of a confluence of short-sighted profit and corporate interest driven policies cutting across all vital sectors, combined with lack of any real and effective consultation with the local community, including the longshore and lake fishermen, farmers, and youth...