Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.
Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the 2003 Telecommunication Regulation Law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized the internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.
On August 25, a criminal court in a terrorism circuit sentenced in absentia the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Bahey Eldin Hassan, to 15 years in prison for publishing false news and insulting the judiciary. In March Hassan, who lived abroad, learned that a criminal court in a separate case sentenced him in September 2019 in absentia to three years in prison on charges of spreading false news and tweeting phrases that undermined and discredited the judiciary. Hassan criticized the Public Prosecution on Twitter in 2018.
The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period. On October 8, several UN human rights special rapporteurs in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the country was using “terrorism charges” and “terrorism circuit courts” “to target legitimate human rights activities,” silence dissent, and detain activists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government issued implementing regulations for the law on August 27. On May 20, several local human rights organizations accused the government of restricting access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Media reported that authorities arrested a group of women in June and July who posted videos on the TikTok social media app. On July 27, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three others to two years in prison and fined each for “violating family values” based on the cybercrime law. An appeal was scheduled for January 10, 2021. On August 18, a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.
On August 6, authorities released TikTok influencer Manar Samy on bail pending an appeal. On September 19, a Tanta Economic Court upheld her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. Authorities also arrested members of Samy’s family for resisting authorities. On September 30, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter, Zumoroda, to six years in prison and fined each for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution. A court was scheduled to examine the appeal in January 2021.
There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.
The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.
The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.
There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
On June 25, a local media rights organization reported that since May 2017 the state had blocked at least 547 websites, including at least 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared intended to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations. On April 9, authorities blocked the newly established Daarb website run by human rights defender Khaled al Balshy, one month after its launch.
In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review was pending at year’s end.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. On January 18, an administrative court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a local human rights organization in 2017 challenging the law. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.
On March 22, President Sisi ratified amendments to the Prison Regulation Law, preventing the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.
There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.
On February 7, authorities detained Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, at the Cairo International Airport. Media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks. On February 8, Zaki appeared before the prosecutor, who ordered his pretrial detention on charges of inciting individuals to protest in September 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. A criminal court renewed his pretrial detention for 45 days on December 6.
On April 22, a local NGO reported that authorities released 3,633 of the 3,717 protesters detained after street demonstrations in September 2019. According to the report, approximately 1,680 defendants were released in 2019, approximately 1,983 were released in the first quarter of 2020, and an estimated 54 remained in detention. On February 5, the Al-Mokattam Emergency Misdemeanor Court ordered the acquittal of 102 individuals of charges of attacking the Mokattam police station in protest against the death in custody of Mohamed Abdel Hakim. Government investigators reported that Hakim had died from beatings by two police employees following his arrest in 2018.
On July 1, the Cassation Court reduced the prison sentence of a Central Security Forces officer, Yaseen Hatem, from 10 years to seven years for the death of activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh. Hatem was convicted of wounding that led to the death and deliberately wounding other protesters during a 2015 protest marking the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.
According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.
On April 12, the State Security Prosecution ordered the release of 35 detainees on bail whom authorities had accused of spreading false news about COVID-19, some of whom had participated in a street march in Alexandria on March 23 after curfew, despite government restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic. On April 25, authorities released 20 detainees on bail who had participated in an April 23 street march after curfew in Alexandria to celebrate Ramadan and protest COVID-19.
On June 17, a local human rights organization filed an official complaint with the prosecutor general to release activist Mohamed Adel as he reached the two-year legal limit for pretrial detention since his June 2018 arrest on charges of violating the protest law. On December 21, State Security Prosecution ordered Adel’s detention for 15 days pending investigation in a new case on charges of joining and funding a terrorist group, meeting terrorist leaders in prison, and spreading false news. Reports indicated that in September more than 2,000 persons, including at least 70 younger than 18, were arrested in response to small demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the anticorruption protests of September 2019. On September 27, the Public Prosecution ordered the release of 68 of the 70 minors who had been arrested. In early November more than 400 persons arrested during the demonstrations were released from prison, and in early December approximately 67 additional individuals were also released.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession, or industry-level general union, and a national-level union.
While the law provides for collective bargaining, it imposes significant restrictions. For example, the government sets wages and benefits for all public-sector employees. The law does not provide for enterprise-level collective bargaining in the private sector and requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. In January, 115 workers in the Mega Glass Company in Al Fayyum conducted a strike demanding better wages. The Local Ministry of Manpower officials negotiated a raise in workers’ pay with company management, resolving the strike.
The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes. The Unified Labor Law permits peaceful strikes as well, but it imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with ETUF.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor laws do not cover some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy.
The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions can use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.
Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent, and penalties for engaging in illegal strikes are more stringent than other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government also occasionally arrested workers who stage strikes or criticize the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. Since February authorities arrested at least 10 doctors from the Egyptian Medical Syndicate for social media posts critical of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and charged the doctors with spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group, according to human rights groups. In March government prosecutors extended the detention of labor union activist Khalil Rizk on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management over wages. In April, Aswan University, a public university, laid off 1,500 workers when the university closed due to COVID-19. In June the National Steel Fabrication Company in Suez Governorate fired six workers, including trade union leadership, and suspended another 270 workers following a dispute over compensation.
The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March workers from Al Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay.
Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In some cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if an ETUF-affiliated counterpart existed. In January, Bibliotheca Alexandria workers resubmitted documents to form a trade union committee. Their application had been pending since 2018, and they filed multiple legal and administrative complaints to local police and the Ministry of Manpower to have it reviewed. A decision on accepting its registration remained pending.
Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. Rights groups claimed authorities sometimes arrested those seeking to obtain protest permits. In March police in Nasr City detained 70 street cleaner workers protesting an employer who reportedly withheld their salaries for three months. Police originally accused the workers of staging an illegal assembly, but subsequently released them without charges.
A new law provides that for a period of 12 months beginning July 1, a monthly 1 percent deduction will be made from the net income of all public-sector employees, and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners, to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition but conducted awareness raising activities such as distributing antitrafficking informational booklets to migrant laborers, and the NCW conducted a media campaign regarding the treatment of domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to victims of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties for forced labor and trafficking were less severe than for other analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment. The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18. A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.” Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. The labor code and law limit children’s work hours and mandate breaks.
Overall, authorities did not consistently enforce child labor laws. The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines, while those for other analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping ranged from imprisonment to the death penalty. The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the NCCM and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management. Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor issues, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training. The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service. When authorities imposed penalties for violations, fines were insufficient to deter violations.
Although the government often did not effectively enforce relevant laws, authorities implemented a number of social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitive labor. The NCCM, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.
Child labor occurred, although estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase in the face of deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children. Children also worked in the production of limestone. On April 9, a total of 43 persons, mostly children, were injured when a truck carrying day-laborer children overturned near a security check point in the district of Abu Tesht, Qena. After an investigation, the government announced that the children worked in agriculture. Authorities charged the hiring contractor and the owner of the farm for violating laws against children engaging in the worst forms of child labor.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” While discrimination is a civil violation, penalties for other analogous violations of civil rights, such as those related to election interference, were punishable by imprisonment. The country has legal restrictions against women in employment to include limiting working hours at night, occupations such as mining, construction, factories, agriculture, energy, and jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. In April 2019 the Justice Ministry started its first training course for 22 employees working at the state’s real estate departments in Giza and Cairo to use sign language to help persons with disabilities fill out documents. The training came as part of a cooperation protocol signed in January 2019 between the Justice Ministry and the newly established NCPD. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.
An employee facing discrimination can file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they can file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. In January the Ministry of Culture rescinded the appointment of artist Mona Al Qammah, who wore a niqab, from a managerial position in Behira Governorate. Al Qammah told the BBC the decision to cancel her appointment came after several online posts claimed she was an ISIS sympathizer and criticized her for wearing the niqab.
Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions.
In August the Ministry of Religious Endowments revoked the preaching license of an Al Azhar preacher after accusing him of membership in the banned Muslim Brotherhood and calling for violence.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Challenges to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector include uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. For example, there is no national minimum wage in the private sector, but the government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment. In April the International Labor Organization Cairo Office commended the country’s efforts to combat COVID-19. The Egyptian Medical Syndicate, however, criticized a lack of personal protective equipment in hospitals and blamed a lack of COVID-19 testing for the spread of the virus among doctors. In April an international human rights organization accused private-sector garment factory owners of forcing workers to work without providing sufficient protections from contracting COVID-19 and urged the government to ensure that private-sector companies provide personal protective equipment at no cost to workers. In May a trade union NGO criticized the Ministry of Health for not providing sufficient polymerase chain reaction tests for health-care personnel and placing doctors, nurses, and their families at risk of contracting the virus.
The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.
The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The ministry did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Penalties include imprisonment and fine but were not sufficient to deter violations, as they were often unenforced. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions and did not face a moratorium on inspections during the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance with the law.
By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. In March employees at the Port Said Investment Zone warned of the spread of COVID-19 and criticized restrictions against working from home. Following the circulation of a video depicting hundreds of factory workers working in close proximity, the governor ordered the closure of five factories for 15 days. Workers continued to protest the decision not to close all factories in the investment zone.
According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In North Sinai, workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups.
The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million Egyptians in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. In March the Ministry of Manpower announced that workers in the informal sector who registered with the ministry were eligible to receive three monthly payments because of wages lost due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. The minister of manpower stated that 400,000 informal workers had registered with the ministry.
Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitive conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents.