By Farah Yousry
CAIRO: The results of a recent US report that indicated that Egypt is “not free” came as no surprise to political pundits, who criticized the country’s lack of political and civil liberties.
Egypt is listed as one of the world’s most repressive countries in the latest report issued by the US watchdog group Freedom House, entitled “Freedom in the World 2011.”
The report rates the level of political rights and civil liberties in countries around the world, and accordingly rates countries as ‘free,’ ‘partly free,’ or ‘not free.’
According to the report, “A not free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied.”
Scoring 5.5 on a scale of 1 to 7 — where 1 represents ‘free’ and 7 represents ‘not free’ — Egypt is a mere half point ahead of Tunisia, which received a score of 6 in the same report.
Due to Tunisians’ civil unrest, concerns are mounting in Egypt. over the latent anger directed towards the government.
“The report [was compiled] before the sectarian events that happened in the beginning of this year,” Ashraf Kolaly, a political analyst and journalist, told Daily News Egypt. “Had these events been taken into account, Egypt would have gone downhill with the report’s results.”
Kolaly added that he expects that “next year’s report will be worse.”
The report explores civil liberties, such as freedom of expression and belief, independence of the media, associational and organizational rights, independence and respect of the judiciary, personal autonomy, and individual rights. It also analyzes political rights, such as the freedom and fairness of elections, the level of political pluralism and overall political participation.
Egypt received a ranking of 6 for its political rights and a ranking of 5 for its civil liberties. The latter score is particularly alarming, as it matches the civil liberties ranking given to countries like Congo or Cote d’Ivoire.
“What happened in the 2005 elections and the parliamentary elections in 2010 is enough of an indicator of how lacking political rights are in Egypt,” Ayman Nour, head of Al-Ghad Party, told Daily News Egypt. “Political representation and pluralism are almost absent in Egypt.”
Nour added that certain ministers are present to protect the current regime. “It sometimes feels like they have another job description than the one we know about,” he explained.
Wael Abbas, an Egyptian activist and blogger, said that Egypt “is surely not free” and that corruption “is running [so] rampant that it is becoming hard to remain silent.”
As for the independence and respect of the judiciary system and the court rulings, Aya Batrawy, a journalism professor at the American University in Cairo, explained that the courts’ rulings are usually not absolute and are frequently overridden by the executive branch and “by the presidency, to be specific.”
“The court ruled that police would be restituted with civic security on university campuses,” Batrawy said. “However, the ruling is yet to take effect in all campuses.”
Freedom of the press
On the other hand, the report stated that Egypt’s media status improved from ‘not free’ to ‘partially free’ thanks to the courage of Egyptian journalists to cross “red lines” that previously restricted their work.
The report added that “this progress occurred in spite of the government’s ongoing — and in some cases increasing — harassment, repression, and imprisonment of journalists.”
The report also said that press freedom has continued to suffer, owing to the government’s repressive laws and the extralegal intimidation of journalists.
Activists have expressed their concerns over the fact that the Emergency Law, the Press Law, and other provisions of the penal code circumscribe the press, despite constitutional guarantees of press freedom.
After the 2006 amendments to the Press Law, dissemination of “false news,” criticism of the president and foreign leaders, and publication of material that constitute “an attack against the dignity and honor of individuals” or an “outrage of the reputation of families” remain criminal offenses that are prosecuted opportunistically by the authorities.
The report comes after a year in which Egypt’s government-controlled satellite broadcasting operator, Nilesat, blocked the transmissions of 12 different television stations.
The report listed press freedom in Kuwait, Lebanon and Morocco as ‘partially free.’ The rest of the Middle East region lies under the ‘not free’ category.