Joint press release by 20 rights organizations: One year into Mohamed Morsi’s term: Manifold abuses and the systematic undermining of the rule of law
The undersigned organizations regret to announce that the status of human rights in Egypt has deteriorated alarmingly in the one year since the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) took control of the institutions of governance and became the primary party responsible for the deteriorating status of human rights in Egypt, particularly after the President Mohamed Morsi - who is backed by the MB - ended the dual power structure in place following the elections by revoking the authorities of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to administer the country.
Certainly, SCAF bears major responsibility for the massive failures of the transitional period, which was marked by a high degree of ineptitude, chaos, and a failure to build the national consensus required to administer the country during this phase. The SCAF is politically and criminally liable for the severe abuses witnessed during this period, including the referral of more than 12,000 civilians to military trials and the spread of torture in prisons and detention facilities run by the military police, including forcing detained female activists to undergo virginity tests.
It was clear from President Morsi’s first day in office that his program for the first 100 days of his term paid little attention to addressing human rights issues and realizing Egyptians’ aspirations for democratization. At the end of the 100-day period, rights organizations issued a report documenting broad assaults on the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and on religious liberties, as well as the continued harassment of political and labor activists, increasing cases of torture and mistreatment in police stations, and the failure to prevent impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. The absence of human rights issues in the newly elected president’s political program was not only accompanied by the continuation of abuses and a lack of attempts by the government to stop them, but also by several major crises which demonstrated the authorities’ disregard for judicial autonomy, suspicion of media outlets, and strong desire to contain peaceful protest and social action, as well as the continuation of the smear campaign and criminal prosecution of human rights activists and civil society groups and the pursuit of legislation to clamp down on their activities. The report warned that citizens’ basic rights were liable to be further eroded absent an immediate, thorough review of policies and systematic practices and the presidency’s adoption of a well-studied, comprehensive plan to improve the situation of human rights in the country, uphold the rule of law, and ensure respect for Egypt’s international commitments.
One year after Morsi became president, it is now clear that the priority of the presidency—and, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood —was to firmly establish the underpinnings for a new authoritarian regime in place of the Mubarak regime. It is no surprise, therefore, that the past year witnessed widespread human rights crimes, on a scale that rivaled than under the Mubarak regime. The brutal suppression of political and social protest movements did not cease; indeed, the security forces are no longer the only party to use of excessive force against demonstrators, as MB supporters have also been given free rein to use violence to punish and intimidate their opponents, including through torture and even killings, whether at the gates of the presidential palace, in front of the main MB headquarters in Muqattam, or in squares in other governorates. The situation has recently culminated in the incitement of violence against Shiites and against participants in the protests planned for June 30; the incitement took place at a recent press conference attended by the president, government officials, and leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood. Repercussions of this incitement have already become all too clear – days later, four Shiites were killed by a mob in the village of Abu Muslim in Giza.
The public prosecutor’s office has taken no serious steps to confront abuses, including the beating, torture, and murder of protestors both by police and MB supporters. Just as there has been no justice for the massacres perpetrated under SCAF, there appears to be little hope that accountability will be sought for the second Port Said massacre of January 2013, when more than 40 people were killed, or that the truth will be exposed regarding the murders of revolutionary youth and others, including journalist Al-Husseini Abu Deif.
The human rights abuses which occurred under Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood over the past year include the following issues:
- The drafting of the new constitution by the Muslim Brotherhood and other political Islamist groups coincided with a broad assault on the judiciary and judicial independence, aimed at preventing the Supreme Constitutional Court and the State Council from exercising their prerogatives to rule on the legality of the Constituent Assembly. The president’s constitutional declaration on November 21, 2012—which essentially announced this battle on the judiciary, the rule of law, and the components of the modern democratic state in Egypt—immunized Morsi’s past and future decrees from judicial review until the new constitution could be pushed through. The Muslim Brotherhood then incited its supporters to set siege to the constitutional court for nearly six weeks, thus impeding the court’s work and rendering it unable to resume operations until after the referendum on the constitution. This strategy worked: The court’s recent rulings declaring the constituent assembly invalid are meaningless in light of the fact that the constitution was passed in a referendum, despite the refusal of numerous judges to supervise it. The travesty of the constitution has thus become a done deed.
It is therefore no wonder that the constitution, drafted solely by political Islamists, further entrenches both political and religious despotism and paves the way for a Sunni theocracy similar to the Iranian model. The constitution gives a religious panel—in this case, senior Azhar clerics—the power to act as custodians of the legislative process in the name of Islamic law, and it gives certain groups the power to impose their vision on society in the name of “protecting morals” and the “authentic nature of the Egyptian family.” The constitution contains no reference to gender equality and limits the right to worship and build houses of worship to adherents of the Abrahamic religious recognized by Islam. Guarantees for civil rights and liberties were rendered toothless by Article 81, which makes the exercise of these rights conditional on their not contravening other constitutional articles related to the state’s religious identity and the protection of moral values and ethics, the public order, and society’s cultural and civilizational components.
The drafters of the constitution did not hide their desire for revenge against the Supreme Constitutional Court; they included provisions permitting the dismissal of particular judges and the executive interference in the composition of the court and introducing amendments to the law defining the impact of the court’s rulings. As part of the ongoing battle against the judiciary and the authorities’ desire to control its institutions, a new judiciary law is currently being drafted that would undermine the judiciary, including through the forced retirement of thousands of judges. This step comes after the MB replaced the Mubarak-era public prosecutor with one chosen unilaterally by the president without any input from the Supreme Judicial Council – all in the name of justice for the revolution’s martyrs. The new public prosecutor is plagued by political and legal challenges to his legitimacy and has ignored court rulings that invalidate his appointment.
- Military trials of civilians continue and have been given legal status under the new constitution, which was drafted unilaterally by the Brotherhood and other Islamist factions. The first year of MB rule saw numerous political activists, social activists, and others - even fishermen! - prosecuted in these exceptional courts.
- The constant use of defamation of religion as a tool to undermine freedom of expression has been one of the landmarks of the first year of Morsi’s presidency. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have employed infamous legislation from the Mubarak era that contradicts internationally recognized standards to prosecute individuals for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
- The harassment of journalists and media workers expanded even as Mubarak-era laws were used to secure MB dominance over state-owned papers, the Supreme Press Council, and the National Council for Human Rights. The media was intimidated through the siege imposed by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood on Media Production City, later continued by some Salafi groups who harassed and physically assaulted journalists and media professionals. The most recent targets of harassment were culture workers held a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture to protest attempts by the MB to control their institutions and impose a conservatism hostile to culture diversity and freedom of thought and creativity.
- At the same time as jihadist elements have benefited from presidential amnesties and a blind eye is turned to their terrorist activity in Sinai, smear campaigns against human rights organizations have continued, as has the politically motivated, vindictive trial in which 43 staff members of advocacy organizations were recently sentenced to prison for between one to five years; the case was based on investigations by Mubarak’s security apparatus. Simultaneously, a new NGO law is set to be passed by the Shura Council which would further tighten the noose on civil society and human rights groups.
- Instead of passing a new law to uphold trade union freedoms following the revolution, the current authorities have used provisions of the current union law and its amendments to secure MB control of the trade union organization and to harass and prosecute independent trade unions, many of which began to emerge in Egypt even before Mubarak’s ouster.
- The legitimate demands for security reform, transitional justice, and an end to impunity heard after the fall of the Mubarak regime now ring hollow as the country moves further away from democratization and toward the establishment of a new authoritarian regime, in which repressive security solutions are deployed in the face of opponents. In practice, calls for security reform have been reduced to efforts to bring the security apparatus to heel, in tandem with attempts to pass more laws that criminalize protest and demonstrations, give the police free rein to use force against demonstrators, and stiffen penalties for resisting the authorities and assaulting police. Upon being elected, President Morsi promised justice for the revolution’s martyrs and injured, but measures taken have only exploited the issue to justify the assault on the judiciary and to issue exceptional laws in the name of the revolution and martyrs’ rights. In practice, these laws can be used to undermine civil liberties, harass political opponents of the regime, and keep them in pretrial detention for up to six months.
The undersigned organizations believe that the policies pursued by the Muslim Brotherhood and the presidency are exacerbating the human rights crisis in Egypt. These policies raise the specter of civil conflict and a spiral of violence and counter-violence.
We condemn all forms of violence and intimidation by the Muslim Brotherhood and some Salafi groups, as well as acts of counter-violence by their opponents, which include the torching of dozens of offices of the MB and its party. However, these criminal acts would not have taken place absent systematic policies and practices that have eroded the rule of law. Indeed, public incitement by MB members and supporters to harass protestors has become an accepted policy carried out with impunity.
The undersigned organizations believe that to avoid a collapse of the state into civil strife, the presidency and the government must realize that the legitimacy of governance is based on respect for the principles of the democratic process that brought them to power and that priority must be given to Egyptians’ aspirations for freedom and the promotion of human rights. Political and moral responsibility to the Egyptian citizenry requires that the presidency and the government fully reconsider the policies and practices pursued over the last year and take basic steps to rebuild the trust that has been eroded by their broken promises. The failure to follow through on commitments has been a prominent characteristic of the last year and contributed to the deterioration of the human rights situation and the polarization of Egyptian society, which threatens to send the country spiraling into a cycle of violence.
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Andalus Institute for Tolerance & Anti-violence Studies
- Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Right Support
- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
- Arab Penal Reform Organization
- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
- Center for Appropriate Communication Techniques
- Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Aid
- Center for Trade Union and Workers Services
- Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights
- Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
- Group for Human Rights Legal Assistance
- Habi Center for Environmental Rights
- Hisham Mubarak Law Center
- Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
- Land Center for Human Rights
- Masriyon Against Religious Discrimination
- New Woman Foundation