The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Egypt is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Egypt is not a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Egypt is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Egypt is a signatory but not a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Egypt is a signatory but not a State Party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 73 of Egypt's 2014 Constitution:
Citizens have the right to organize public meetings, marches, demonstrations and all forms of peaceful protest, while not carrying weapons of any type, upon providing notification as regulated by law.
The right to peaceful, private meetings is guaranteed, without the need for prior notification. Security forces may not attend, monitor or eavesdrop on such gatherings.
According to a 2013 Law issued by the interim president, organisers of an assembly expected to contain ten people or more must notify the government at least three days in advance. The 2013 Law allows the Ministry of Interior to ban protests or impose terms of imprisonment for a range of acts such as “violating the public order”; “impeding the interests of citizens”; or “obstructing traffic”. The 1914 Illegal Assembly Law also remains in force, which is often used to bring additional charges against individuals detained in the context of protests.
Under amendments to the law approved in March 2017,Law No. 14 of 2017, amending the Law on the Right to Public Meetings, Processes and Peaceful Demonstrations promulgated by Law No. 107 of 2013.the Ministry no longer has an unfettered authority to ban protests but the power to do so has been transferred to the judiciary. If a court refuses to accept a notification of intent to protest, the organiser may appeal.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
A range of legal provisions govern police use of force in Egypt. The 1971 Police Act limits police use of force to that which is "necessary as needed to carry out one’s duty, be the only means of performing such duty in case of an assembly or demonstration that threatens public security and only after warning those concerned".Art. 102, 1971 Police Act (Law 109 of 1971 as amended).
Rules on the use of firearms are extremely permissive and do not comply with international law. Article 102 of the 1971 Police ActLaw 109 of 1971 as amended.further stipulates that firearms can only be used when strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate aim and such use is proportionate to the aim. It explicitly permits police officers to use firearms, however, to apprehend a convicted or accused and wanted individual if they resist arrest and if their conviction or accusation can lead to a prison term exceeding three months. It also permits police officers to use firearms to disperse gatherings or demonstrations of at least five people when public order is under threat and after warning the protesters to disperse.
A 1964 decree stipulates that in dispersing public gatherings or demonstrations of more than five people that endanger “public security”, the following must be applied:
(a) The head of the security operation must provide audible verbal warnings to the gathering or the protesters ordering them to disperse giving them appropriate time to do so, and showing them the directions/roads they should take, warning them that he will be obliged to fire on them if they do not submit to such an order. The warning must be made in a way that is audible and by a means that allows it to reach protesters or the gatherings and to facilitate means for their dispersal within the time given.
(b) If demonstrators refuse to disperse in spite of the warning and after the time given to them has elapsed, the force is allowed to fire at them, in an intermittent manner, to allow them to disperse.
(c) When firing, shotguns with small pellets must be used first. If this did not succeed in dispersing the crowds, firearms with live ammunition should be used; then automatic rifles if needed.Art. 1(3) Decree 156 of 1964.
Excessive force is regularly used against protesters, and hundreds of assembly participants have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned. In its 2017 National Report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Egypt stated that the
Ministry of the Interior is already taking a number of steps to ensure that law enforcement agencies comply with the criteria set for the use of force, which include a gradual enforcement of the law by extending the warning period for violators through the use of water canons in protests to allow for dispersal of the majority of protesters, and to ensure that tensions are not escalated until after exhausting the means of negotiation.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Rules on the use of firearms are extremely permissive and do not comply with international law. Article 102 of the 1971 Police ActLaw 109 of 1971 as amended.stipulates that firearms can only be used when strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate aim and such use is proportionate to the aim. It explicitly permits police officers to use firearms, however, to apprehend a convicted or accused and wanted individual if they resist arrest and if their conviction or accusation can lead to a prison term exceeding three months. It also permits police officers to use firearms when they are guarding prisoners or to disperse gatherings or demonstrations of at least five people when public order is under threat and after warning the protesters to disperse.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Egypt has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years.
In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned in a press statement that the 2013 Law could lead to serious breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and must be amended.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has not yet published its Concluding Observations on Egypt's latest report on implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
George Iyanyori Kajikabi v. Egypt
This case concerned the excessive use of force by the police against some 2,500 Sudanese protesters in front of the offices of UNHCR in 2005 leading to some 30 deaths (the exact number was contested) and several hundred injured. The African Commission found that the police had violated both domestic law provisions and international legal obligations requiring necessity for all police use of force, noting that the authorities "had not exhausted less harmful ways of de-escalation, and that the use of force was thus not necessary or unavoidable". The decision to establish a cordon around the protesters and to fire water cannon at them had led to a stampede, with many people seemingly being crushed. But there were also allegations that many protesters were beaten, some to death, by the police.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Egypt:
According to the constitution, freedom of assembly should not be restricted. However, a 2013 decree regulating protests severely constrained such rights, giving police great leeway to ban and forcibly disperse gatherings of 10 or more people, prohibiting all protests at places of worship, and requiring protest organizers to inform police at least three days in advance. Thousands of people have since been arrested under the law. The Interior Ministry can ban, postpone, or relocate protests with a court’s approval. In July 2018, 75 protesters were sentenced to death for their role in a 2013 demonstration against the overthrow of former president Morsi. The severity of the crackdown on assembly rights has made protests extremely rare.