Latest update: 30 September 2013
Egypt has seen renewed political turmoil and periods of violence over the past six months.
In late June 2013, one year after Egypt’s first democratically elected President took office, millions took to the streets all over Egypt to call for then President Morsi to step down. The head of the Egyptian Armed Forces announced late on 3 July the removal of President Morsi and the military’s political roadmap for Egypt’s transition. On 3 July the Foreign Secretary called on all sides to show restraint and avoid violence; he also made it clear that the United Kingdom does not support military intervention as a way to resolve disputes in a democratic system.
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in protests in squares in Cairo and Giza. There were significant clashes between pro-Muslim Brotherhood protestors and security forces, resulting in mass fatalities on 8 and 27 July. On 8 July, the Foreign Secretary condemned the violence which led to the deaths of over 40 people, including protestors.
The then Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, visited Egypt on 24 July and met with the interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood. He stressed the State’s responsibility to uphold the Egyptian people’s right to peaceful protest and the people’s responsibility not to resort to violence.
In the early hours of 14 August the security forces moved in to clear forcibly the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people. The Foreign Secretary issued a statement in which he condemned the use of excessive force in clearing protestors on 14 August. He voiced the UK’s deep concern at the escalating violence and unrest in Egypt, and his regret at the loss of life on all sides. This was echoed by the Prime Minister who stated that the way to peace was through compromise. A state of emergency was declared 14 August and there are daily curfews in many areas of Egypt. The UK government has called for an independent investigation into the operations to disperse the sit-ins, and the Foreign Secretary has requested an investigation into the death of a British journalist who was shot on 14 August in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.
Since 3 July the UK government has been closely involved in intensive diplomatic efforts directed at reaching a peaceful resolution to the political standoff. We have been clear that for long-term stability, Egypt needs an inclusive political process leading to early and fair elections, which all groups are able to contest. We have called for a soundly-based constitution upholding human rights in their entirety, including freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.
We welcome the current review of the constitution. As the Foreign Secretary said in Parliament on 3 September, “it is important that we urge everyone in Egypt towards inclusive political dialogue, but condemn all acts of violence”. On 9 September we raised our concerns about the recent events in Egypt at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UK government is concerned by reports of the detention of journalists and political figures. UK ministers have clearly stated 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 criminal case to be made against them.
The UK government is watching closely the outcome of September’s Cairo court ruling banning the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, and reports that the Freedom and Justice newspaper has been closed down. The Foreign Secretary has been clear that, whilst we do not support any specific political party in Egypt, we strongly support an inclusive political system which allows all groups in society to be represented, and in which freedom of expression is respected.
Overall, establishment of a thriving civil society in Egypt has seen little progress. We believe that Egypt’s draft NGO laws, including that set before the Shura Council in April, were restrictive and limited the registration, activity and funding of an essential part of civil society. The Foreign Secretary, on 4 June, raised his concerns about a court verdict convicting 43 Egyptian and international NGOs. Mr Burt issued a statement expressing our concerns: “civil society has a vital role to play in Egypt’s transition. We call on the authorities to create an environment which allows a vibrant civil society to flourish.”
Through the Arab Partnership we are supporting projects aimed at supporting the media, the engagement of civil society with Parliament, and providing training to journalists.
Regrettably there have continued to be sectarian attacks during this period. Mr Burt issued a statement on 8 April which strongly condemned the violent clashes that occurred outside St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on 7 April, leaving at least one person dead and many others injured. On 23 June four Shia men were killed and several others injured in a violent sectarian attack in a village in the Giza Governorate. And since 3 July there has been a rise in the number of violent sectarian attacks including on churches, homes and businesses. The Foreign Secretary has publicly condemned all acts of violence in Egypt, including against places of worship. In Parliament on 3 September he spoke about the deplorable burning of churches and attacks on Coptic Christians. We are concerned by reports that large numbers of Coptic Christians have left Egypt in recent years.
We are deeply concerned by reports of large numbers of sexual assaults on female protestors. Although the 30 June protests were viewed as largely peaceful, there were a number of sexual assaults reported in Tahrir Square that evening. FCO ministers have been clear in their contact with the Egyptian authorities that women’s participation is a key part of supporting political transition and building stability, and that their rights must be protected. 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. We remain concerned about the restrictions on the right to form independent trade unions and ongoing harassment and intimidation of trade union officials.
Trade unions have an important role to play in supporting the development of a healthy democracy. We are supporting a project which aims to assist Egypt’s new independent trade unions to develop and promote economic and social policy recommendations.
Egypt – post-revolution
10 April 2013
In 2011, we concluded that our key concerns were freedom of expression; freedom of association; mistreatment of religious minorities, protesters, journalists and human rights defenders; increased use of military trials for civilians; and allegations of inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of the security services. Over the course of 2012, there have been a number of improvements in the human rights situation in Egypt. Most significantly, handover of power from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to a democratically elected president took place in June and there is now greater space for public debate. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to begin on 27 April 2013.
However, issues of concern remain. Foremost of these are women’s rights, freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Women, who played a key role in the revolution, have seen little improvement in their rights. We remain concerned about reports of increasingly violent sexual assault and treatment of women, and we have raised this with the Egyptian government. The transition period has also seen continued sectarian violence. The Prime Minister raised the protection of religious minorities during his meeting with President Mursi on 26 September. Through project funds, we have supported a project to create a partnership between mainstream Muslim and Christian groups to train mixed teams in conflict resolution and mediation skills.
The new constitution agreed by referendum in December lacks clarity on certain human rights elements. While it gives Muslims, Christians and Jews the right to practise their religion, it does not give the same freedom to other religions and minority sects.
More positively, there is now greater space for public debate in Egyptian society since the fall of Mubarak. We note that during the protests over the draft constitution at the end of 2012, the police initially acted with more restraint than previously and the army made clear that they would not intervene. But we are concerned about limits on freedom of expression in Egypt, including the increase in prosecutions of bloggers and activists, closing of satellite television stations, and lack of clarity on the definition of blasphemy, which is illegal under the new constitution.
We are also concerned about ongoing harassment and intimidation of trade union officials as well as the article in the new constitution which prohibits more than one trade union per profession. Trade unions have an important role to play in developing a healthy democracy. Through the joint-funded FCO–DFID Arab Partnership Fund, we are supporting a project to assist Egypt’s trade unions to develop and promote economic and social policy recommendations.