In the first one hundred days of Mohamed Morsy’s presidency, human rights issues remained neglected and state authorities continued to violate human rights, even though the current president possesses more legislative and executive powers than any president before him. The absence of human rights issues from the president’s 100-day plan, as well as their absence from his practices and policies over this period, has made it impossible to end the numerous violations and infringements of these rights and, indeed, has given rise to three major crises.
A report issued by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on the president’s first 100 days, titled “Worrying indications for the future of human rights and minimal, ad-hoc responses under pressure,” addresses the most significant crises and incidents related to liberties and human rights as well as the most important rights-related decisions and actions taken by the president in the first 100 days of his term. The report looks at how the presidency has dealt with these crises, offering several recommendations to defuse the crises that erupted during the 100 days, in order to avoid their exacerbation in the future.
The report also shows that the president has no clear policy on human rights questions. He did not address vital human rights issues in his first 100-day plan and did not attempt to benefit from various initiatives posed to confront and address these problems, including the 100-day plan drafted by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations and submitted the day he assumed office. The few positive steps taken came as a result of broad popular pressure or to avoid serious embarrassment; they were not indicative of any holistic, well thought-out policy to improve the state of human rights in Egypt.
President Mohamed Morsy issued a decree forming a committee to review the status of persons convicted in military or civil courts and those detained by the Interior Ministry, which led to the release of hundreds of political prisoners. He also formed a fact-finding commission to investigate the killing and injury of peaceful protestors, and issued a blanket amnesty for those convicted of certain crimes during the January 25 Revolution, under which the cases of even more revolutionaries convicted of crimes in the course of their revolutionary activities will be addressed. As a fourth step, the president amended the press law to abolish pre-trial detention for the crime of insulting the president, on the same day a court ruled in favor of jailing the editor-in-chief of al-Dostour pending trial. By doing so, the president avoided going down in history as the first post-revolutionary president during whose first one hundred days in office an editor was imprisoned.
The report criticizes attempts by the Interior Ministry to reinstitute the state of emergency, both by explicitly advocating the reactivation of the emergency law and by proposing laws restricting rights and liberties and broadening the powers granted to police to repress the citizenry. The report also notes with trepidation the increasing assaults on freedom of belief and expression based on claims of religious defamation or attacks on a particular religion, looking at several pertinent cases and the attacks and forced displacement of Copts in Dahshour and Rafah.
Furthermore, the report observes that the pressures, investigations, trials, and verdicts to which the media was subjected during the first 100 days of Mohamed Morsy’s presidency may lead to a situation worse than that seen in the previous era. This is due to an attempt to create new methods of control and domination over the media while maintaining the media restrictions from the Mubarak era, so as to forge a new ruling party in place of the old.
The report also addresses the status of NGOs and trade unions and criticizes the government’s perpetuation of the Mubarak regime’s policies and practices, noting in particular the hostility to independent unions and civic associations, the attempts to create a new ruling party to control the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and to issue an NGO law even more draconian than Mubarak’s, and the resumption of media smear campaigns against civil society using the discourse of security.
The report notes that President Morsy’s first 100 days witnessed three major human rights-related crises. The first came when the president disregarded the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving the People’s Assembly and then dismissed the public prosecutor in violation of the judiciary law. The second crisis involved journalists and media workers, while the third came in the context of citizens’ exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as supporters and members of the Freedom and Justice Party repeatedly harassed and violently assaulted opposition demonstrators, critical journalists (in front of Media Production City), and persons filing lawsuits against certain practices supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these crises remain unresolved and may lead to further strife if the president does not address them courageously and comprehensively based on human rights principles, the rule of law, and Egypt’s relevant international commitments.
Based on a close reading of human rights practices in the first 100 days, the report expresses fears that a number of fundamental rights will be subject to grave assaults in the coming period, including:
- The right to peaceful assembly, and collective political protest and assembly, with the possibility of increased participation by supporters of the ruling party in repressing such practices, as was seen during and after the first 100 days of President Morsy’s tenure;
- The right to freely form and operate NGOs in accordance with international standards, with human rights groups being particularly targeted;
- The right to form independent trade unions and trade union pluralism;
- The right to freedom of belief and the exercise of religious rites for non-Sunni Muslims as well as minority rights in general;
- Freedom of the press, media, and information;
- Women’s rights;
- The right to a fair trial.
The report concludes with a set of recommendations, including that the president should pledge to protect human rights and above all honor the sovereignty of the law, judicial rulings, and judicial independence. The security establishment must also commit to protecting all forms of peaceful protest, including against assaults by supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood.