The Egyptian Parliament, on July 13, passed almost unanimously a law aimed at “purging state organs of extremist and terrorist elements” to preserve national security. Through this law, the Egyptian government will be able to suspend and then dismiss any civil servant suspected of being a danger to the State, a move explicitly targeting the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood, classified by the Egyptian State as a terrorist organization since 2013, has been the subject of a massive crackdown that has forced thousands of its members into exile, while countless suspected Brotherhood members and opposition activists have been jailed and executed in the country. For example, Mahmoud Ezzat, leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood until 2020, is currently serving a life sentence.
This decision comes after a series of train accidents that have struck the country by their magnitude. First, a train collision in Upper Egypt took the lives of more than 32 passengers in March 2021, while the following month, a train derailment caused the death of 23 individuals and injured 100.
Facing calls to resign, Minister of Transport Kamal al-Wazir – who is close to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – blamed these tragedies on the presence of employees affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the National Egyptian Railway Industries. He recommended the Egyptian government amend the law on public service to allow the dismissal of employees suspected of having political orientations deemed “extremist.” Though other sources reported that the transport network has suffered for years from poor infrastructure and questionable maintenance.
A Controversial Law
The law passed by Parliament is an amendment to the Disciplinary Law No. 10/1972, which allows the state to discharge an employee who is deemed as posing a threat to national security. The changes made to the original text extend the state’s discretionary powers and clarify the terms of dismissal.
According to the new text, the government has the right to fire an employee if he or she neglects his or her duties purposely to harm the state; has lost the “trust and consideration” of his or her superiors; or constitutes a danger to national security, including being affiliated with any entities and individuals that are designated as terrorists. Similarly, the law states that any civil servant who incites hatred or spreads lies about the State institutions through social networks may be fired.
The Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament, Hanafi Gibali, justified the law by invoking Article 14 of the Constitution, which specifies that civil servants “cannot be dismissed except by disciplinary procedure, except in cases determined by law.” According to him, the State is therefore acting within the framework of the Constitution, especially since the terminated employees will retain their rights to a pension and financial compensation. Thus, the Egyptian government has rejected any accusation of arbitrariness, citing Article 237 of the Constitution which obliges the state to fight against terrorism in all its forms.
Still, many observers remain unconvinced.
“This law is unconstitutional,” Mohammad Kamal, an Egyptian researcher for Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), told Inside Arabia. “[It] falls under the category of societal polarization and discrimination among Egyptians, which is inconsistent with Article 53 of the 2014 Constitution, [that] stipulates all citizens are equal before the law, with no distinction between them in form, color, sect, and political affiliation,” he added.
“This law is unconstitutional. [It] falls under the category of societal polarization and discrimination among Egyptians.”
In Kamal’s view, the law would also be inconsistent with the respect for human rights and individual freedoms, enshrined in Article 5 of the Constitution, and the obligation of the State to protect the rights of workers, enshrined in Article 13. Thus, he assessed, such stipulations indicate that the State cannot legally sack a civil servant on the grounds of his political orientation.
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Dismissals Based on Suspicion
Indeed, the law has generated many concerns about the protection of workers, who would be subject to the whims of the hierarchy that is now able to discharge them without serious justification.
On this basis, Maha Abdel-Nasser, spokesperson for the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party (ESDP), was the only Member of Parliament (MP) to vote against the law. She said that the legislation opens the door to abuse by employers against workers who voice objections to their hierarchy or policies. She said that despite her strong opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, she cannot accept a law that she considers to be liberticidal.
“The dismissal [can be] based on suspicions, as it is very difficult to prove that someone is from the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“The dismissal [can be] based on suspicions, as it is very difficult to prove that someone is from the Muslim Brotherhood if he does not belong to the leadership,” explained Mohammad Kamal, who believes that the bill is an additional tool for the arbitrariness of the state. To his point, the law does in fact provide that a mere “suspicion of membership in the Muslim Brotherhood” will result in an immediate six-month suspension, during which the employee will receive half of his initial salary. Following a security investigation to verify the employee’s political affiliation, his removal will either be confirmed or not.
MP Ali Badr, Secretary-General of the House’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, refuted the accusations of arbitrariness, asserting that the law guarantees civil servants the right to appeal the decision before the competent authorities. He also reiterated the importance of the law, which gives ministries and state agencies the legal tools to fight terrorism within their departments.
This is not the opinion of several lawyers and human rights activists, who believe that under the current conditions, the right to appeal to the administrative court is not guaranteed for the incriminated civil servant. “Even in the case that the person can appeal, it will be denied in any case,” said Mohammad Kamal, adding that no appeal procedure to have his name removed from the list of terrorist individuals has been successful so far.
Activists Turn to International Organizations
This law constitutes the legalization of a practice that has been conducted for several years by the Egyptian State. Already in October 2019, the Ministry of Education announced the dismissal of 1,070 teachers because of their affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. This measure has been decried by the International Labor Organization, which placed Egypt in its observation list between 2017 and 2021 because of repeated violations of workers’ rights.
Furthermore, over 30 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a joint statement on March 12, 2021 expressing their deep alarm over “the trajectory of human rights in Egypt” and sharing “the concerns expressed by the [UN] High Commissioner for Human Rights and [UN] Special Procedure mandate holders.”
Sixty-four organizations signed a tribune detailing their worries over the exceedingly broad legal definition of terrorism in Egypt.
As the repression intensifies inside the country, local human rights activists and organizations are turning to international platforms to make their voices heard. Indeed, 64 Egyptian and international organizations signed a tribune on June 1, 2021, detailing their worries over the exceedingly broad legal definition of terrorism in Egypt, which allows for the criminalization of acts that would otherwise fall under the scope of the rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
The text, passed by Parliament, will soon be referred to the State Council to be revised in constitutional and legislative terms, and then will require presidential approval to be implemented. The law was passed at the same time as the extension of the state of emergency for three more months, which has been in force since April 2017 and grants Egyptian security forces extended powers to carry out arrests and searches without warrant. Both moves appear to indicate a long road ahead in terms of ensuring and upholding human rights in Egypt.