Human rights take a beating as Egyptian president flaunts law

Despite promises of reform, the rule of law in Egypt is far from guaranteed. President Hosni Mubarak continues to suppress political opposition as he has for many years, and his opponents face intimidation and arrest.

However, recent demonstrations in support of two judges whose calls for judicial independence and corruption-free elections have angered the government and Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party.

One of the judges, Judge Ahmad Mekki, was exonerated last month (19 May) by a Supreme Judicial Council disciplinary tribunal after facing charges that he had “disparaged the Supreme Judicial Council” and “talked to the press about political affairs”. However, on the same grounds, the council also issued a rebuke and denied a promotion to Judge Hisham al-Bastawisi, who is in hospital after suffering a heart attack last month (17 May).

Hundreds of members of Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood and leftist demonstrators in Cairo and Alexandria have been arrested during the protests, claims US-based charity Human Rights Watch, and were kicked and clubbed by security forces.

Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, said: “People are trying to gather peacefully to support critics of the government, which responds by putting them behind bars or beating them into silence.”

In a separate development, a Cairo appeals court last month (19 May) upheld the December 2005 conviction of former presidential candidate Ayman Nur. In what many argue are politically motivated charges, the government claimed Nur had forged signatures on the application to register his
l-Ghad (Tomorrow) political party.

A former member of parliament, Nur was Mubarak’s leading challenger in Egypt’s first contested presidential election in September. Human Rights Watch monitored his trial, which it says “was characterised by serious irregularities and did not meet the standards for a free and fair judicial proceeding”.

Following the protests, Egyptian authorities said they had arrested 240 Muslim Brothers and 14 activists with the Kifaya (‘Enough’) opposition umbrella group formed prior to the general election last year, which many international observers claim was rigged. However, the Muslim Brotherhood put the number arrested in Cairo at around 400 and said many more arrests also took place in Alexandria.

For further information on the situation in Egypt, contact Urmi Shahat at Human Rights Watch London (020 7713 1995;