state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: several previous; latest approved by a constitutional committee in December 2013, approved by referendum held on 14-15 January 2014, ratified by interim president on 19 January 2014
legal system: Based on English, Islamic and Napoleonic codes
legislative system: unicameral House of Representatives (Majlis Al-Nowaab); 596 seats; 448 members directly elected by individual candidacy system, 120 members - with quotas for women, youth, Christians and workers - elected in party-list constituencies by simple majority popular vote, and 28 members selected by the president; member term 5 years
judicial system: Supreme Constitutional Court or SCC (consists of the court president and 10 justices); the SCC serves as the final court of arbitrator on the constitutionality of laws and conflicts between lower courts regarding jurisdiction and rulings; Court of Cassation (CC) (consists of the court president and 550 judges organized in circuits with cases heard by panels of 5 judges); the CC is the highest appeals body for civil and criminal cases, also known as “ordinary justices"; Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) - consists of the court president and organized in circuits with cases heard by panels of 5 judges); the SAC is the highest court of the State Council
religion: Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%, Coptic 9%, other Christian 1%
death row: about 539 people under final death sentence, as of 15 February 2016, according to the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR)
year of last executions: 0-0-0
death sentences: 68
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty) (only signed)
The Egyptian Constitution makes no reference to the death penalty. But, in accordance with Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, as amended in 1980: "Islam is the State religion and Arabic is its official language. The Sharia is the principal source of legislation."
Capital offences number over 40 as defined by the Penal Code, the Military Code of Justice, the Arms and Ammunition Law, and the Anti-Drug Trafficking Law.
Egypt has expanded its application of capital punishment since former President Hosni Mubarak took office in 1981 as well as after his resignation in 2011 and the ouster of President Morsi in 2014.
Under the nation’s legal system, death sentences are referred from criminal court judges to the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar, the country’s top religious leader, for a non-binding review. First instance death sentences are subject to appeal in the Court of Cassation, which may decide to confirm criminal courts’ rulings, making them final, or revoke them, in which case the trial would be repeated in another criminal court that belongs to a different circuit. If the second criminal court issues a second ruling, it could be appealed at the Court of Cassation, which may accept the appeal, repeat the trial and issue a final sentence, or it may reject the appeal, in which case a criminal court’s second ruling is considered final.
The final decision goes to the President of the Republic who, by law, has the power to grant a pardon or commute a sentence. Executions cannot take place on public holidays or religious holidays in accordance with the religion of the accused.
State of emergency laws - imposed in 1981 after Islamic extremists assassinated President Anwar Sadat - allow the government to try militants in a military court without the right of appeal. Since 1981 thousands of militants have been arrested and scores put to death.
Minors under 18 years of age are exempt from the death penalty and the execution of a pregnant woman can only take place two months after birth.
Executions cannot take place on public holidays or religious holidays in accordance with the religion of the accused.
In 1999 the Government abolished an article of the Penal Code that permitted a rapist to be absolved of criminal charges if he married his victim. However, marital rape is not illegal.
In June 2003, Egypt outlawed forced labour as a form of punishment.
On 11 February 2011, following an 18-day popular uprising, Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign.
As a consequence of the “revolution” of 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took the power to “temporarily administer the affairs of the Country.” The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces maintained the state of emergency that had been in effect for three decades, and thousands of civilians were tried in military courts since the SCAF assumed power in February 2011. The special courts, which often group dozens of defendants together before a military judge, are notorious for their quick and severe sentences. Defendants are regularly denied access to legal counsel and verdicts cannot be appealed.
In July 2011, the SCAF insisted that only cases of “thuggery” associated with weapons, rape or assault of military personnel were being referred to military courts. However, military courts continue to rule on cases ranging from petty theft to violent crime, handing down sentences of six months to 25 years in prison.
The SCAF said military trials were necessary due to the spiralling crime rates that accompanied the uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster. “No civilian should be tried in front of military courts,” SCAF member Major-General Mamdouh Shaheen told reporters. “But in this emergency situation... military courts took the place of civilian courts until they were able to work.”
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces also added new offences to the already wide range of capital crimes.
On 10 March 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued a decree (Law 7 of 2011), amending the 1937 Penal Code with two articles on “Hooliganism, Terrorizing and Thuggery”, for which “the penalty shall be death if the crime is preceded or accompanied or associated with or followed by the felony of murder.”
On 1 April 2011, Egypt’s military decided to authorize execution as a punishment for convicted rapists.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would allow the death sentence for rapists whose victims are under 18 or in cases where the perpetrator has a special connection with the victim, such as being the victim’s guardian or employee.
The SCAF relinquished power on 30 June 2012, immediately after the election of Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, as the new President of Egypt. However, President Mohamed Morsi spent one year in office ending in July 2013, when the army deposed him after mass protests against his rule. On 27 May 2014, the former head of the Army, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, was elected the new President of Egypt.
The war on terror
The ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 has triggered a wave of attacks on the security forces in North Sinai and further west in the towns and cities of the Nile Valley and Delta. The army-ruled Government has blamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies for orchestrating the violence and plotting against the country. The Muslim Brotherhood itself was dissolved by the supreme administrative court in September 2013 and was designated a terrorist group in December 2013. Therefore, all its activities were banned.
On 9 August 2014, the supreme administrative court also dissolved the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The court’s ruling excludes the Brotherhood as a whole from formal participation in electoral politics, potentially forcing the movement underground. The FJP was established in June 2011, in the aftermath of the uprising that removed Hosni Mubarak from power after 30 years.
On 3 April 2014, the Egyptian Government approved a new anti-terrorism law, in the wake of a terrorist attack outside Cairo University on 2 April. The counter-terrorism law had been amended as it went through the House, and that it had been referred to interim President Adly Mansour for ratification. The new law increases the punishment for terrorism-related crimes and expands the scope of crimes that fall into this category. The amendments called for the death penalty for any person convicted of terrorism-related crimes, in addition to expanding the powers of security officers to enforce counter-terrorism laws. The law also reportedly mandates harsher prison sentences for those found guilty of the crime of promoting terrorist organizations, including on the Internet.
On 17 January 2016, the Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a controversial anti-terrorism law that sets up special courts and increases authorities’ power to impose heavy sentences, including the death penalty, for crimes under a definition of terrorism that is so broadly worded it could encompass civil disobedience, potentially criminalizing even private expressions of opposition to the government. The law will affect any person or group designated under Egypt’s Terrorist Entities Law, issued in February 2015, which created a procedure for courts to approve prosecutors’ nominations of individuals or groups as officially designated terrorists. The new law shields the military and the police from legal penalties for what it considers “proportionate use of force” and gives prosecutors greater power to detain suspects without judicial review and order wide-ranging and potentially indefinite surveillance of terrorist suspects without a court order. It also makes anyone judged to have facilitated, incited, or agreed to a vaguely defined terrorist crime liable for the same penalty that they would receive if they had committed that crime, even if the crime did not occur.
An unprecedented number of death penalties have been meted out in Egypt following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi. In response, a group of public figures in Egypt, including renowned writer Ahdaf Soueif, human rights lawyers Gamal Eid and Emad Mubarak, writer and director Khaled al-Khamissi and political figure Amr Hamzawy, have launched a campaign against capital punishment. The group decries “the apparent deterioration in the justice and legal system in Egypt,” as well as the use of torture to extract confessions in several cases, which is “worrying when it comes to a penalty that cannot be reversed,” their statement said. Other human rights organizations, including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, also issued a joint statement expressing fear “of expanding the use of the death penalty in light of the recent escalation of repressive measures against political opposition.”
Since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, Egypt’s military-backed government has waged a relentless crackdown on political dissent – largely targeting Morsi supporters – which has seen hundreds killed and thousands detained, and an unprecedented number of death penalties that have been meted out.
From July 2013 to 3 February 2016, out of a total of about 1,700 preliminary death sentences for violence-related charges referred to the Grand Mufti, more than 1,000 did not see a confirmation and the defendants were instead given sentences other than the death penalty or acquitted. Out of the 687 people initially sentenced to death, more than 500 have been re-tried after their verdicts were examined and rejected by the Court of Cassation. The others remained under examination, and only one was finally sentenced, as of 3 February 2016.
Death sentences that were subject to appeal in the Court of Cassation included President Mohamed Morsi and Spiritual Guide Mohamed Badie, who were convicted in the jailbreak case of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in January 2011 (all death sentences were upheld on 16 June 2015).
The United Nations and several international human rights organizations expressed concern and questioned the fairness of proceedings against so many defendants lasting just few hours. Human Rights Watch described the trials as a “blatant and fundamental violation of the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and international law.”
In 2015, 7 people were executed for terrorism or political violent acts.
Top secret death
There is very little official data available on death sentences and executions in Egypt, where news of executions rarely filtered through to the local media.
Condemned prisoners are not told the date and time of their execution, and in practice their families are not made aware of the execution until they are called to collect the body – despite claims by the Egyptian authorities that relatives are permitted to visit the condemned person on the day appointed for execution.
The authorities never disclose how many people are awaiting execution.
After a de facto moratorium dating back to 2011, in 2014 Egypt carried out at least 15 executions, of which only 8 were reported by local newspapers.
The last known executions were carried out in 2011 (at least 1), in 2010 (at least 4) and 2009 (at least 5).
At least 538 death sentences were imposed in 2015, according to Amnesty International.
In 2015, Egypt carried out at least 22 executions, including seven people hanged over violence that followed the 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
As of 15 February 2016, there were about 539 people under final death sentence, according to the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR).
In November 2014, Egypt was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. The Government rejected those to consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
On December 19, 2016, Egypt voted again against the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.