24 Jul 2023
Egypt’s Worst Decade for Human Rights Ten years of a war on the population under the guise of fighting terrorism
24 يوليو 2023

Ten years ago, on 24 July 2013, President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, then minister of defense, called on Egyptian citizens in a public speech “to give [Sisi] a mandate and a command to confront potential violence and terrorism.” This “mandate speech” in effect became a “mandate to oppress” as it paved the way for the Rabaa Massacre in August 2013, where over 800 protestors were killed by security forces. The “mandate speech” also gave the authorities license to consolidate their grip by using security pretexts to silence independent media and civil society, and eliminate all forms of dissent, including peaceful opposition—be it Islamist or secular. Sisi sought to secure public buy-in to lay the foundations for the most repressive decade in Egypt’s modern history, leaving tens of thousands of victims of human rights violations. The undersigned organizations reaffirm our demands for a deep overhaul of Egypt’s counter-terrorism architecture, a cessation in the targeting of peaceful political opposition, media, and civil society, and an end to torture, impunity and other serious abuses institutionalized by Egyptian authorities throughout the past decade.

Over the past decade, our organizations have documented 4,202 death sentences handed by Egyptian courts, of which 448 have been implemented, after trials largely reliant on torture-tainted “confessions.” Dozens of extrajudicial executions have also been documented by several human rights organizations, underscoring the emergence of a “clear pattern.” Since July 2013, tens of thousands of individuals have been unjustly imprisoned, either after being convicted in grossly unfair trials or through prolonged pretrial detention sometimes for periods exceeding the two-year maximum permissible under Egyptian law. The victims of those practices include human rights defenders, members and leading figures of peaceful political opposition, journalists and artists, and online content creators. To date, Egypt’s counter-terrorism architecture remains one of the primary tools used by Egyptian authorities to build and sustain the authoritarian system.

The undersigned organizations reiterate their position that Egyptian legislation in 2013 had already included provisions criminalizing terrorism. The Egyptian Penal Code, which was amended in 2014, as well as the Counter-Terrorism Law and the Terrorist Entities Law, both issued by presidential decree in 2015, have been routinely used to punish peaceful dissent. Our organizations have repeatedly warned of the dangers counter-terrorism legislation poses to rights and freedoms, as well as how it encourages the use of lethal force and reinforces impunity. For example, articles 40 and 41 of Counter-Terrorism Law 94 of 2015, have enabled enforced disappearances by providing legal cover for holding individuals incommunicado up to 28 days. According to the Law of Terrorist Entities (8/2015), individuals and an array of entities could be placed on terrorism lists by a court at the request of the prosecution, without proof of committing a specific crime. 4,620 Egyptian citizens, including peaceful politicians and human rights defenders, have been placed on the terrorism lists by the courts between 2015 and 2022, without a trial and on the basis of a state security investigations.

In December 2013, Egypt’s Appellate Court established Terrorism Circuits that, along with the State Security Emergency Court, are officially tasked with handling terrorism-related cases. These courts have consistently passed harsh sentences against peaceful dissidents and even against apolitical individuals. Terrorism Circuits are also responsible for keeping tens of thousands of individuals in pretrial detention for years on baseless charges. In 2022 alone, Terrorism Circuits ordered detentions to be extended for close to 25,000 individuals, including human rights defenders, journalists, and peaceful dissidents, while only ordering the release of 1.41% of that figure. Court sessions routinely take place without due process, resting solely on dubious security forces investigations while defense lawyers are denied access to case files.

After July 2013, thousands of civilians were referred to military courts. Whereas military trials for civilians have been enabled by successive Egyptian constitutions, presidential decree 136/2014, enacted in 2014, expanded the mandate of military courts by giving them authority to try civilians allegedly involved in crimes committed at what authorities deem as “public and vital facilities”. Our organizations have documented violations of the right to fair trial in at least 363 military court cases.

The Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP), which is tasked with investigating matters of national security, has also routinely misused counter-terrorism to prosecute thousands of peaceful dissidents. In 2013, SSSP investigated 529 cases with the number steadily increasing to reach a total of 10,130 cases by 2021. The SSSP is complicit in serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance and torture, through its systematic refusal to investigate allegations of abuse and its use of confessions coerced under torture.

Sinai has been the area most impacted by the Egyptian authorities’ counter-terrorism measures. Throughout a decade, Sinai’s population has suffered violations ranging from the enforced displacement of tens of thousands to extrajudicial killings, torture, and mass arbitrary arrests at the hands of security forces.

Independent media and civil society has also been targeted by counter-terrorism. From arbitrarily banning coverage on specific issues to blocking hundreds of websites, including those of NGOs and media outlets, Egyptian authorities cite alleged security and terrorism-related concerns to justify their actions. Ultimately, this has led Egypt to fall eight places in the World Press Freedom Index, with the Sisi government becoming one of the biggest jailers of journalists.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Egyptian government has obtained national and international sanction to develop policies and practices that consolidate authoritarianism and crush peaceful dissent. A decade later, as the human rights situation in Egypt continues to worsen, authorities announced several initiatives, including most recently the National Dialogue, that purportedly aim to address the crisis and appease faint international criticism. Yet given the absence of political will, none of these initiatives resulted in any real change. If genuine political will to address the human rights situation is present, a thorough overhaul of Egypt’s counter-terrorism architecture would be the starting point for a process of reform.


Signatory organizations:

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

  2. Committee for Justic

  3. Egyptian Front for Human Rights

  4. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

  5. Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture

  6. Sinai Foundation for Human Rights

  7. The Freedom Initiative