While the United Nations celebrated International Human Rights Day on Saturday, the fundamental right to freedom of expression continues to deteriorate in Egypt. This comes despite Egypt’s commitment to international human rights conventions, as stated in the country’s Constitution.
Yet, in spite of constitutional guarantees, attacks on freedom of thought, opinion, and speech were widely seen in judicial cases brought up against journalists, intellectuals, politicians, and activists.
The year 2016 witnessed an unprecedented assault on the Egyptian Press Syndicate and prison sentences against its president and deputies. According to the syndicate’s Freedoms Committee, 28 journalists are behind bars.
In other cases, journalists witness prolonged detention periods against the backdrop of the National Security’s labelling them as threats to public order.
Journalist Ismail Alexandrani has completed a year in pre-trial detention, while photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid ‘Shawkan’ has been in prison without trial since August 2013.
Contempt of religion is furthermore another obstacle to freedom of expression, manipulated by religious powers and the state against intellectuals, such as prison sentences issued in the cases of writer Fatima Naoot and researcher Islam El-Beheiry, for publicly sharing critical thoughts related to Islamic teachings and Muslim practices.
This also comes as a new case against two senior intellectuals emerged. Writer Youssef Al-Qaeed and TV presenter Mofeed Fawzy came under fire for making comments involving religious figures and texts in separate TV interviews.
Fawzy argued that the most popular Islamic scholar of the last decade, Sheikh Mohamed Metwally Al-Shaarawy, held an extremist ideology.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeed asserted that if the state wants to pass a legislation against public moral indecencies, then texts in both the Quran and the Bible would be subject to trial.
Meanwhile, the Constitution stipulates: “freedom of artistic and literary creativity is guaranteed … no freedom restricting sanction may be inflicted for crimes committed because of the publicity of artistic, literary, or intellectual products.”
In more than one example, state practices contradicted the Constitution. Teenage members of the satirical musical group Street Children spent nearly five months in prison after posting videos mocking the regime and the president.
Novelist Ahmed Nagy is serving time in jail on charges of breaching public morals, after a literary newspaper republished parts of his novel containing sexual content.
In recent days, some parliamentary members even went as far as condemning the so-called indecency in the works of Nobel prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.
Last but not least, the Constitution acknowledged the right of citizens to organise peaceful public meetings and demonstrations. However, protesting remains banned under the controversial Protest Law in theory, and under the Ministry of Interior’s own scrutiny in practice.
Although a slight amendment to the law is being discussed, it does not get rid of the restrictions imposed on public assembly.
In violation of the Constitution, most cases related to freedom of expression brought up before the judiciary are not established by the public prosecution authorities, but by independent lawyers.