Egypt: Morsi acts against democratization, warn human rights groups

Egyptian Constitutional
Assembly. (Photo: ANHRI)

The constitutional declaration issued by the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi last week “contravened the revolution’s goals of democratization and exploited the expansive powers he granted to himself shortly after his election to arrogate unparalleled powers and immunize his decisions against judicial oversight,” warned 22 human rights organizations.

In a joint statement, the groups, among them the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE, member of the Social Watch global network), assessed that Morsi “now possesses authorities beyond those enjoyed by any president or monarch in Egypt’s modern history”, and that his declaration “directly attacked the judicial branch, the rule of law, and indeed the very concept of the modern state.”

Earlier this month, 21 Egyptian, European and international human rights organizations “strongly condemned” the exclusion of Egyptian groups from a meeting convened for November 13. The invitation to the conference of the Egyptian-European Task-Force with a number of national and international groups “was suddenly withdrawn” by Morsi’s government “before the meeting with no reasons being provided,” the organizations said in a joint press release.

“It has come to the attention of the undersigned organizations that the Foreign Ministry intervened to cancel the invitation extended to organizations they did not wish to see in attendance, although it did not withdraw the invitation sent to European, international and other more ‘acceptable’ Egyptian rights groups,” according to the text.

“Everyone expected the first president elected after the January 25 revolution to pursue a new policy that paved the way for communication and cooperation with rights groups in order to benefit from their experience and include their recommendations in the relevant decision-making processes. However, the human rights policies adopted by the current president and government have been disappointing,” added the organizations, among them the EACPE.

The is Egyptian group also signed an open letter issued on November 11 in light of the ongoing negotiations between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was issued by various organizations, political parties, movements and labor unions to express their disapproval of this process.

The three texts read as follows

No to constitution establishing political and theocratic tyranny
Egyptian rights groups reject draft constitution

The undersigned rights organizations announce their unequivocal rejection of the constitutional declaration issued by the president on November 22 and demand its immediate revocation. These organizations believe that the president has contravened the revolution’s goals of democratization and exploited the expansive powers he granted to himself shortly after his election to arrogate unparalleled powers and immunize his decisions against judicial oversight, thus precluding the possibility of any challenges or opposition to them by legal and judicial means. In this way, the president appears to be seeking absolute powers that will allow no person or body to challenge his rule or contest his decisions.

By issuing this constitutional declaration, President Mohamed Morsi directly attacked the judicial branch, the rule of law, and indeed the very concept of the modern state. The president, who now possesses authorities beyond those enjoyed by any president or monarch in Egypt’s modern history, has dealt a lethal blow to the Egyptian judiciary, thereby declaring the beginning of a new dictatorship in which it is not permitted to oppose the president, criticize his policies, or challenge his decisions. Although these acts were taken under the pretext of protecting the revolution and its goals, they portend a bleak future for human rights and liberties in Egypt.

The constitutional declaration, which came as a surprise to all, grants extraordinary powers to the president. It offers citizens a misleading preamble which celebrates the revolution and its goals of enshrining freedom and achieving democracy and social justice and claims that the presidency’s objective is to eliminate corruption, purge state institutions, and achieve social justice. However, contrary to these initial statements, the articles of the declaration entrench tyranny and one-man rule, giving the president – in addition to the executive and legislative powers which he already held – the authority to interfere in the judiciary as well. The balance and separation of powers in Egypt has thereby been utterly demolished.

Through this declaration, the president severely debilitated judicial independence, obstructed litigation, blocked the application of the laws on the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and on the judiciary, destroyed the authoritative nature of court rulings, and paved the way for state institutions to refuse to implement court orders, which may well lead to the spread of chaos in the country and the collapse of the idea of the state based on institutions rather than individual leaders.

The president used the constitutional declaration to serve the interests of the Freedom of Justice Party (FJP), putting them above the welfare of society, and to circumvent impending rulings from the SCC on the constitutionality of the Shura Council and constituent assembly by immunizing these two institutions from any dissolution order issued by any judicial body. These actions undermine the rule of law and the pillars of justice and exploit presidential powers to protect the interests of a particular political group. This is further demonstrated by the fact that the president chose to give his speech yesterday to an audience of his supporters in front of the presidential palace and to use strident, threatening language and affront his opponents, thus belying his promise to represent all Egyptians as president.

The undersigned organizations assert their severe concern, and indeed shock, over the issuance of such a declaration which undermines judicial independence and rule of law. We are further alarmed that it comes at a time when a group of the most prominent advocates of judicial independence occupy executive positions in the executive power. Indeed, the contents of the declaration infringe on the independence that judges have long demanded from the executive. Their demands have included making both citizens and rulers subject to the law, removing the president’s authority to appoint the public prosecutor, and allowing for the public prosecutor to be instead appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council or selected by the president from a list of candidates presented by the judiciary.

Through broad language open to abusive interpretation, the constitutional declaration follows the same process of “tailoring” laws and constitutional provisions as was often done under the former regimes in Egypt. Article 6 gives President Morsi absolute powers to take “necessary measures and procedures” to confront what he deems to be threats to the revolution, the “life” of the nation, national unity, national safety, or the operation of state institutions. These prerogatives could be used to restrict liberties and undermine human rights, and they grant the executive the power to restrict citizens’ rights to peaceful protest and labor strikes. In other words, the president has assumed the power to suppress all forms of political and social protest in the country, thus possessing another exceptional tool in addition to his authority to declare a state of emergency.

It is important to note that this article of the constitutional declaration was adapted from Article 74 of the 1971 constitution, yet it goes even further by omitting the stipulation that the president must issue a statement to the people and conduct a referendum within 60 days of declaring a state of emergency, as well as by eliminating a provision which prohibited the dissolution of the Peoples’ Assembly even under such a state of emergency. The presence of these stipulations in the 1971 constitution effectively ensured that the president could not exercise emergency powers without obtaining the consent of the people in an official referendum and without the oversight of an elected parliament. However, Article 6 of the recent constitutional declaration thus lifts the restrictions on President Morsi which had previously limited even Mubarak’s power to issue despotic measures and decrees.

Since his election, President Mohamed Morsi, like the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces before him, has disregarded the revolution’s demands for security reform, the restructuring of the Interior Ministry, and an end to impunity for grave human rights abuses. Although the preamble of the constitutional declaration suggests that a decision has been made to purge state institutions, current policies indicate a lack of any such intention to restructure or purge any state institution.

The undersigned organizations are particularly alarmed by the continued disregard for demands for security reform, even as police forces continue to use excessive force to disperse the protests that erupted last week on Mohammed Mahmoud Street during the commemoration of the events which killed dozens and injured hundreds last year as a result of a brutal crackdown by security forces.

Despite the incurrence of additional deaths and injuries, the president’s office has been completely silent on the subject. The undersigned organizations strongly condemn the continuation of policies that grant impunity for human rights violations and for the killing and maiming of demonstrators before, during, and after the revolution and currently taking place in Mohammed Mahmoud Street and the surrounding area. The recent constitutional declaration does not achieve justice or protect the revolution. Rather, it merely codifies policies of impunity and provides for the continued absence of a state based on institutions and governed by rule of the law.

(Signatories: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination, New Woman Foundation. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Appropriate Communications Techniques for Developments (ACT), Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support, Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Arab Penal Reform Organization. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights, Egyptian Center for Women Rights, Egyptian Coalition for Children Rights, Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Conditions, Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Nazra for Feminist Studies, The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, The Human Rights Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners, United Group, Attorneys at law, legal researchers, and Human Rights Advocates.)

***

Ministry of Foreign Affairs cancels invitations to advocacy groups to meet with EU; President excludes rights organizations from meeting with “civil society”
Joint press release by 21 Egyptian human rights organizations (November 13)

The undersigned rights organizations strongly condemn the exclusion of Independent Egyptian human rights organizations by the Egyptian authorities. Two days ago, the president excluded such groups from a meeting he convened with “civil society” groups. Most recently, a number of Egyptian, European, and international human rights groups were invited to a joint meeting of the Egyptian-European Task-Force meeting, scheduled to begin today, yet the invitation was suddenly withdrawn before the meeting with no reasons being provided. It has come to the attention of the undersigned organizations that the Foreign Ministry intervened to cancel the invitation extended to organizations they did not wish to see in attendance, although it did not withdraw the invitation sent to European, international and other more “acceptable” Egyptian rights groups.

Under the former regime and during the tenure of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), decision-makers in Egypt commonly excluded human rights groups from discussions about pressing issues and political decisions that affect the rights and liberties of citizens. Everyone expected the first president elected after the January 25 revolution to pursue a new policy that paved the way for communication and cooperation with rights groups in order to benefit from their experience and include their recommendations in the relevant decision-making processes. However, the human rights policies adopted by the current president and government have been disappointing.

As part of the efforts by independent human rights groups to engage with the 100-day plan announced by the president, these groups noted that the strengthening and protection of human rights was not among the president’s declared priorities. A number of rights groups prepared reports on the status of human rights during the first 100 days of the president’s term, offering recommendations and proposing measures to the president and the government. No response was received. These groups were excluded from the president’s recent meeting with civil society organizations, showing that the political will needed to strengthen human rights and involve human rights groups in decision-making discussions is sorely lacking.

This trend is consistent with the practices of the political parties currently dominating the constituent assembly and the constitution drafting process, which are clearly hostile to human rights. The successive drafts of the constitution restrict citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties and have excluded any reference to international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt. Even the meager references which had been present in the pre-revolutionary constitution have disappeared. In this context, it is important to note that the new draft law on NGOs recently proposed by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs is one of the most draconian and arbitrary in Egypt’s history.

Instead of putting forth a program for democratization and transitional justice, particularly in the realm of security reform after decades of severe human rights abuses, the Ministry of Interior recently proposed five repressive laws that violate international human rights norms. The president has already declared his intent to issue one of the laws, despite increasing complaints about the continuation of torture in detention facilities, the ill treatment of citizens, and the violent suppression of political and social protests.

Similarly, during a conference convened by the UN on Wednesday in Cairo, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demonstrated the current government’s reluctance to establish a meaningful process of transitional justice in Egypt as well as to ensuring accountability for perpetrators of pas abuses and to compensate victims. The government boycotted the inaugural session by not sending a representative, although the conference agenda included a speech to be given by an Egyptian government representative. The following day, a representative from the Foreign Ministry attended the event and sharply attacked the conference, calling it an extension of the international conspiracy against Egypt and even declaring that the concept of transitional justice is rejected in Egypt.

The CIHRS has informed the president, the Ministry of Justice, and leading members of the Freedom and Justice Party of this scandal and sent a memo to the president yesterday asking him to explain the Foreign Ministry’s hostile stance towards independent human rights groups, even after this very ministry had extended invitations to these same organizations, which had been marginalized under the former regime.

The undersigned organizations urge the president to:

■ Abandon the policy of exclusion aimed at human rights groups;

■ Conduct a serious discussion with human rights groups on their perspective on the state of public and private liberties and rights in the proposed constitution, as well as their evaluation of the human rights situation in recent months and means to facilitate cooperation;
■ Reject the repressive laws proposed by the Interior Ministryand the Cabinet bill on labor unions, as only the president possesses the legislative authority needed to issue or reject such laws until a new parliament is elected.

(Signatories: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Appropriate Communications Techniques for Developments, Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support. Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Arab Penal Reform Organization, Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Center for Egyptian Woman’s Legal Assistance, Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Conditions, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination, Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Hesham Mubarak Law Center, Land Center for Human Rights, Nazra for Feminist Studies, New Woman Foundation, The Egyptian Center for Woman’s Rights, United Group, attorneys at law, legal researchers, and human rights advocates.)

Letter to IMF from Egyptian parties, NGOs, labor unions and political movements

Dr. Hisham Qandil
Prime Minister of Egypt
Magles El Shaab St.,
Kasr El Aini St.Cairo

Ms. Christine Lagarde
Managing Director
International Monetary Fund,
700 19th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20431

11 November 2012

Dear Dr. Qandil and Ms. Lagarde,

We, the undersigned civil society groups and political parties, are writing to express our concerns about the proposed $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Egypt that is currently under negotiation. We reject the loan negotiations on the following basis:

The negotiations of the terms and conditions of the loan agreement, including the government’s economic reform program, have lacked transparency on the part of both the IMF and the Government of Egypt. Moreover, these negotiations have continued in the absence of an elected parliament, which was dissolved on 14 June 2012, and with the president of Egypt holding full legislative authority. Any agreement under these circumstances would contravene the democratic principle of separation of powers and Egypt’s longstanding constitutional requirement of parliamentary oversight over executive decisions.

Furthermore, the public consultations carried out by the government to date to solicit societal feedback on the loan have been exclusionary and inaccessible. They do not fully represent Egypt’s civil society and political groups.

There is no clarity on the part of the government about how the loan will contribute to a national economic plan of inclusive growth and social justice that addresses the structural problems of the Egyptian economy and meets the needs of the Egyptian people. We worry that this potential loan agreement and the policies connected to it will represent a continuation of the old regime’s economic policies, particularly as they relate to the incursion of debt. The austerity measures associated with this potential loan agreement, including cutting subsidies as well as other deficit reduction policies, may aggravate the economic deprivation of a large section of the population, threatening their basic economic and social rights.

With little transparency and no clear economic program, the potential loan agreement continues to lack the “critical mass” of support that the IMF requires as a necessary condition for financial assistance. For that reason, we believe that negotiations for the proposed loan should be frozen.

Signatories
Political parties: The Popular Current Party, The Egyptian Current Party, The Strong Egypt Party and The Popular Alliance Party.
Civil society organizations: Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions, Habi Center for Environmental Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egyptian Women Legal Aid, The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, New Woman Foundation, Act Egypt and the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information.
Labor unions: Egyptian Federation for Independent Trade Unions and Federation of Teachers.
Movements and campaigns: Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt’s Debt and April 6th Movement.

Sources
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information: http://bit.ly/UZpXdq
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies: http://bit.ly/U4G2zq
Jadaliyya: http://bit.ly/UZq093

Human Rights International Treaties
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