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last updated Mar 04, 2014

Current Profile Status: August 2011

Table of Content

  1. Background Information

  2. Situation of Torture

  3. Documents & Resources

Key Facts


1,001,449 sq km

Total Population

80,100,000 (UN 2007)

Prison Rate

89 (per 100,000 of national population)1

Capital Punishment

retained, including for ordinary crimes


acceded, individual complaints procedure not accepted


not signed/ratified



Background Information

Following a 60-year period of de-facto British rule, Egypt formally gained full sovereignity in 1936. British influence remained considerable until the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which ended the constitutional monarchy and marked the beginning of the republic. President Gamal Abd Al-Nassirr. established a corporatist-authoritarian state, pursued selected socialist policies, and cooperated economically with the USSR, which included Soviet military support, until his death in 1970. Between 1970 and 1981 the country was ruled by President Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat (1970-1981) who led the country towards the pro-Western camp from 1972 onwards. Al-Sadat´s presidency was marked by authoritarian rule too. After his assassination in 1981, Husni Mubarak (1981-2011) took over the presidential office. Mubarak´s domestic policies had thus far been marked by a tight political control of opposition forces. The country’s most important oppositional movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned from open political activity for a long time.

The political landscape was completely overthrown during the so-called Arab Spring after mass demonstrations against the regime of President Mubarak started on 25 January 2011. The protests were triggered both by the revolution in Tunisia and by a men who set himself on fire near the Egyptian parliament in an apparent protest against poor living standards. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to call for democratic transition, the end of police violence and political change. Security forces carried out mass arrests and up to 300 people died (according to U.N. estimates) and thousands were injured in an attempt by President Mubarak to suppress the movement. The situation eased after the army announced that it would not use force against Egyptian protesters. On 11 February President Mubarak resigned and handed power over to the military. The country awaits new elections and still finds itself in an unstable situation in which renewed waves of protests against the slow transitional measures continue. It remains to be seen how the political future of Egypt will develop during the near future.

Under the constitution of 1971 (amended in 1980, 2005, and 2007), Egypt is a democratic presidential republic with a bicameral parliamentary structure and, since 1977, a multi-party system. Parliament and, since 2005, the president as the head of the executive authority are to be elected by popular vote. There are, however, controversial laws regulating party formation and presidential candidate eligibility. Plausible allegations of systematic election irregularities have been brought forward by local civil society organization, the Egyptian judges association and international observers. Independent judicial oversight of elections is not fully guaranteed. While three small oppositional parties and a considerable number of independent canditates are represented in the current parliament, the presidential party, the National Democratic Party (Hizb al-Dimuqratiyya al-Wataniyya), has won all parliamentary elections by a clear majority from 1978 onwards. (Information in this paragraph might change soon due to the political transition caused by the Arab Spring.)

The Egyptian economy heavily depends on crude oil and liquefied natural gas exports, migrant worker cash remittances, Suez Canal revenues, tourism, foreign credits and development aid. Both the large agricultural and the limited industrial sector mainly serve the domestic market. Egypt´s GNI per capita in 2008 was 1.800 USD. In 2009, the HDI for Egypt was 0.703, which gives the country a rank of 123rd (medium human development) out of 181 countries. The country runs a structural deficit on its trade balance, and struggles with high unemployment, in particular among youth, and widespread poverty.

The human rights situation in Egypt has been and continues to be a source of local and international criticism. The constitution provides for the seperation of powers, yet the judiciary is only relatively independent. A major concern in his regard is the just recently extended (2008-2010) state of emergency, which has been in force since 1981. A number of provisions in the Emergency Law, which have been partly integrated in the constitution in 2007, give the police and security services wide powers of search and arrest. In 2002, the Committee against Torture recommend Egypt to ”reconsider the the maintenance of the state of emergency.” (CAT 2002) Seven years later, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism noted that article 179 of the amended constitution (2007), intended to regulate the combat against terrorism, “carries features of a permanent state of emergency” and urged the government “to repeal the Emergency Law (…), which includes far-reaching restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms (…)” , in order to restore the rule of law in full compliance with human rights standards (UNSR Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, 2009) . Regarding the existence of a parallel judicial regime, he furthermore noted that military and Supreme State Security Courts “undermine the strict distinction between the judiciary and the executive.” Concerning the freedom of religion and belief, expression, association and peaceful assembly, and the right to participate in public and political life, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review noted in 2009 that it had received communications “(…) regarding cases of lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, members of human rights organizations, and members of the judiciary some charged with defamation or disturbing public order, who were harassed; intimidated; attacked; arrested, including without a warrant; held in detention, including incommunicado detention; and at risk of torture or ill-treatment by Police and SSI Officers, in relation to their legitimate activities in defence of human rights (…)” (UPR 2009) . Other human rights issues inter alia concern the equality and non-discrimination of women, violence against women , the right to a fair trial, the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, minority rights, the right to strike, or the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. For instance, in 2002, the HR Committee critizised the large number of offences entailing the dealth penalty under Egyptian law.

Situation of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Legal Framework

Egypt is State Party to the ICCPR and has ratified the CAT, but does not recognise the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive individual complaints (art. 22 CAT) and is not Party to the Optional Protocol to the CAT. Torture is prohibited under article 42 of the Constitution and article 126 of the Egyptian Penal Code, with a punishment of “hard labour or imprisonment for a period of three to ten years” (Art. 126). Under the same article, the acts of ordering torture and/or personal torture of a culprit or suspect, as well as compelling confessions are criminalised. Under Article 42 of the Constitution any confession proven to be have been made under duress or coercion is to be considered invalid. The Committee against Torture has repeatedly remarked on the restrictive definition of torture under Article 126, and reiterated in one of its latest Concluding Observations (2002) the recommendation to “adopt a definition of torture which fully corresponds to the definition in article 1.“

Practice of Torture and Ill-Treatment

The CAT Committee Concluding Observations of 1989, 1994 and 1999, the 1996 CAT Article 20 Examinations, and the fourth CAT consideration of the Egyptian State Party report of 2001, all suggest that torture is widespread and systematically applied by Egyptian police and security service forces. These documents support the continuous claims brought forward by international and Egyptian civil society organisations that practices prohibited under the CAT and Egyptian law have not significantly decreased over this period of time. During the past few years reliable international and local non-governmental human rights organisation, such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Amnesty International, have repeatedly stressed that the Egyptian government is using its struggle against terrorism as a pretext to repress the local political opposition, in particular – but not exclusively – the Muslim Brotherhood and other non-militant Islamist groups. They assert that the methods of repression continue to include torture and the threat of torture. This assessment has been confirmed by international bodies. In 2002, both the CAT and the Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the “persistence of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” applied in a systematic manner by law enforcement personell and, in particular, by the security services. The latters´ practices include, inter alia, beatings, suspension in painful positions for long periods, electric shocks including on the genitals, rape and threats to kill the victim or members of the family, all of which aim at intimidating the victim and compelling him to confess to any charges brought against him/her. In 2003, the CAT Committee reiterated similar concerns and also explicitly stressed its worry about the “absence of measures to ensure effective protection and prompt and impartial investigations“, in particular relating to reports about numerous cases of death in custody. Concomitant problems include the absence of clear-cut regulations for the compensation of torture victims. Furthermore, considering the large number of torture allegations made, only small numbers of the alleged perpetrators have been prosecuted and sentenced, a situation that amounts to a general culture of impunity. In 2009, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism again drew attention to the 2002 CAT and HRC comments and recommended the adoption of a mechanism allowing for unrestricted and unannouced inspection of detetention facilities, including official and unofficial facilities operated by the SSI (State Security Investigations) and the military.. He also criticised the ongoing practice of widespread administrative dentention without trial and incommunicado detention, and recommended Egypt to ratify the OPCAT. According to a 2007 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Egypt has been involved in secret transfers and temporary detention of several terror suspects at the request of the CIA. HRW claimed that a number of suspects have been tortured while in U.S. costudy. Similarily, The Special Rapporteur on terrorism and human rights , criticised “Egypt’s leadership role, particularly in the region, in regard to the international fight against terrorism and expresses concern regarding the use of extraordinary renditions.” While the Egyptian government has authorised the 2009 mission of the Special Rapporteur on terrorism, the 2007 request by the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country has not been responded to as of yet.

Sources: BBC Country Profile; Economist Intelligence Unit, Human Rights Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, OHCHR, Amnesty International: "Egypt: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Seventh Session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council, February, 2010" , A/HRC/13/37/Add.2 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism: Mission to Egypt, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (2008), “From Exporting Terrorism to Exporting Repression: Human Rights in the Arab World, Annual Report, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/mar/22/middle-east-protest-interactive-timeline