Protest activity has escalated dramatically since the beginning of 2014, according to a report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued on Tuesday.
The report, entitled “Obscure and Stalled: The Democratic Path in Egypt 2014”, attempts to answer questions regarding Egypt’s democratic transition, and whether it is retreating or moving towards democracy. It also attempts to identify the indicators that affect the democratic path, whether negatively or positively.
The human rights organisation counted 1515 protest marches, either organised by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist Anti-Coup Alliance, or by students, workers and other civil groups.
“We do not rely on official figures or figures given by oppositional groups. Our statistics rely on the observation and documentation of events by the Lawyers for Democracy team during their fieldwork, therefore the numbers mentioned in it are modest figures,” said Karim Abdelrady, head of Research Unit at ANHRI.
The gathered information indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Anti-Coup Alliance were the two most active entities that organised protest events throughout the year. This activity came after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi and the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and El-Nahda Square sit-ins in August 2013.
The report identified that over 400 of the counted protests faced an attack by security forces, whereas 1,103 protests did not face security attacks. This is because organising powers “resorted to staging their protests and marches in towns and side streets to avoid the arrests that reached a great number of participants”.
The report estimates the number of imprisoned journalists in Egypt at 63 by the end of 2014, while the number of detainees in general reached 42,000.
ANHRI stated that the “violent security handling” of protests, including attacking and arresting protesters, led to a decreasing rate of protests in January and February. This later increased again, with November witnessing the largest number of protests in the year.
The Protest Law, issued by the interim government in November 2013, came at a time of frequent clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and security forces. Since the law was enacted, it has been used to build numerous cases against students and activists on charges of “illegal assembly”.
Human Rights Watch judged the law as “violating international standards”. The constitutionality of the law is currently being examined by the Supreme Constitutional Court after it was contested by human rights lawyers.
ANHRI noted an unprecedented amount of new freedom restricting legislations announced by the government, as the Protest Law and more recently the NGO Law.
“In 2014 there was a major expansion by both presidents Adly Mansour and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in their use of the legislative power that they enjoyed due to the absence of an elected parliament, they issued a torrent of laws and regulations that govern all aspects in Egypt, including a huge number of freedom restricting legislations,” the report read.
“This is a monitoring report, but it will definitely help us with providing recommendations,” said Abdelrady. “Recommendations include amending freedom restricting legislations, limiting the jurisdiction of preventive detention, releasing detained students and journalists, halting the expansion of legislative powers given to the President and taking all necessary measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary.”
Regarding ANHRI’s cooperation with other human rights organisations, Abdelrady mentioned that they regularly provide information to other organisations, including quasi-governmental human rights organisations which “express political willingness to implement change”.
However, with regards to the Interior Ministry’s Human Rights Unit, Abdelrady said: “We were hopeful that this unit would have an effective role and that we would see results, but unfortunately it has only been a cosmetic measure taken by the ministry. We have yet to see any reforms or even acknowledgment of errors by the ministry.”
Egyptian officials have repeatedly condemned reports or statements issued by local and international human rights organisations, which criticise the human rights situation in Egypt and specifically the performance of the security apparatus.
The ANHRI report is divided into five parts. The first part covers the protest events, the second reviews the trials, the third discusses democratic and anti-democratic measures, and the fourth tackles freedom of expression.
The annual report was released by the Lawyers for Democracy Initiative, launched by ANHRI in 2014, and consists of a group of lawyers across different governorates and cities in Egypt. The initiative aims to monitor events, cases and incidents, such as protests, conferences, strikes and official and non-official practices that affect the democratic path in Egypt. Lawyers are also involved in several well-known cases related to protestors like the Itihadeya Palace and other cases involving journalists.