Toward the Emancipation of Egypt:
A study by CIHRS on the Assembly Law
Egypt’s Assembly Law illegally imprisons thousands of Egyptians,
89 years after its official repeal
CIHRS Human Rights Lawyers challenge the Administrative Court
“Toward the Emancipation of Egypt,” a report issued on January 30th by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies “CIHRS,” exposes an egregious miscarriage of justice. The report reveals that thousands of peaceful Egyptian demonstrators from across the political spectrum – from secularists to moderate Islamists- continue to be illegally imprisoned under the colonial-era ‘Assembly Law’ that was discovered to have been repealed nearly a century ago. Although invalidated through a unanimous repeal by the Egyptian Parliament on January 30, 1928, Law 10 /1914, known as the Assembly Law, continues to be unlawfully exploited in tandem with the notorious Protest Law, passed in November 2013.
The Assembly Law astonishingly constitutes the principal legal basis for the mass imprisonment of thousands of peaceful demonstrators since Egypt’s revolution of 2011. Based on this finding, CIHRS filed a suit today with the Administrative Court seeking the official promulgation of the law that repealed the Assembly Law. “It’s time President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi takes the initiative to immediately renounce this historic and legal indignity by abolishing the British colonial administration law, originally designed to suppress Egyptian resistance to occupation,” said Mr. Bahey eldin Hassan, Director of CIHRS. “Every citizen deprived of their freedom under this unjust, obsolete law must be immediately released, with apologies and reparations for their families.”
An official repudiation of Egypt’s illegal Assembly Law would be a welcome change from the Egyptian government’s intensifying crackdown on the public sphere thus far. Mr. Hassan notes that this colonial relic, deemed so repressive that even the “British occupation authorities renounced the law and saw its continued enforcement as a disgrace inappropriate for the 1920s” is still currently deployed to subjugate the Egyptian people; but this time it is deployed neither by an imperialist power nor external enemy but by Egypt’s own government officials, who ironically “represent themselves as nationalists and anti-imperialists,” as Mr. Hassan asserted. Not only is the Egyptian government mimicking Egypt’s former imperialist administrators, they are in fact surpassing the British colonial administration by strengthening the repressive capacities of a law that the British, in their official correspondence in 1928, deemed as too despotic to be justified to the British public. Mr. Mohamed Zaree, Egypt’s program manager at CIHRS, remarked upon the absurdity of Egyptian officials’ continued use of a draconian colonial legislation: “The British colonial administration could not justify the continued application of this law to their own people after World War I. But post-independence Egyptian leaders blithely imposed it on their citizens, and they continue to cling to it 103 years later, and 89 years after its repeal.”
Mr. Zaree continued, “Post-colonial national governments found a strong repressive weapon in the Assembly Law, rejected by the Egyptian parliament 89 years ago. Perceived as a gift from an age that ‘nationalist’ leaders described as ‘oppressive’, Egypt’s successive national governments went even further than the colonial authorities, adding more draconian provisions to the law in 2013. They relied on it as a reference for supplementary repressive legislation and codified even the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators.”
Without question, subsequent national governments in Egypt did adopt increasingly repressive legislation with the formally obsolete occupation-era Assembly Law as the legal foundation. Law 109/1971 regulating the police authorized the use of lethal force to suppress demonstrators while Interior Minister Decree 156/1964 sanctioned the use of live ammunition to disperse any assembly of five or more people. In post-revolutionary Egypt, the Assembly Law has only gained greater saliency. In 2013, the framers of the Protest Law did not hesitate to cite the Assembly Law in the preamble, explicitly noting that the two laws were complementary.
Mr. Mohamed al-Ansary, a legal researcher at CIHRS, explained how the Assembly Law is such a disturbingly efficient weapon in smothering peaceful demonstrations: “The Assembly Law saves courts the trouble of finding a basis for criminal liability for every citizen, which is a core part of their work in realizing justice. Proving ‘crowding’ is enough to establish the liability of every citizen who participated in the assembly or called for it, even if they did not take part. Courts can then issue mass sentences indiscriminately against all demonstrators, in utter disregard for the principle of the personalization of punishment.”
The Egyptian Government’s deployment of the Assembly Law comes in the context of an intensifying crackdown on the public sphere; a long history of colonial powers and Egyptian governments alike using any means at their disposal to suppress citizens’ rights to assemble, demonstrate, or form civic associations. The restriction of assembly formed the legal basis upon which to withdraw the right to peacefully protest and demonstrate, as well as to ban other groups essential to a functional democracy, including political parties, trade and labour unions, and civic associations.
Based on numerous historical documents, official correspondence, and the minutes of both chambers of Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate), some of which were obtained from the British National Archives in London, the ‘Emancipation of Egypt’ traces the Assembly Law’s colonial origins and its applications throughout modern Egyptian history until the present time. The legal and historical research detailed the exceptional colonial and wartime context in which the law was originally passed. As Mr. Hassan noted, “Despite the formal detail of the non-promulgation of the repeal of the Assembly Law, it is an incontrovertible historical fact that this law was midwifed by the British occupation authority on illegitimate grounds and to confront an exceptional condition—the World War that ended a hundred years ago—until the elected Egyptian legislature repealed the law 89 years ago.”
Nearly a century ago both the British colonial administration and Egyptian Parliament acknowledged that the Assembly Law was no longer fit for post-colonial Egypt. In his 1926 explanatory memorandum on the Assembly Law’s repeal, Youssef Bey, a member of the Egyptian parliament, described the law as “exceptional…tantamount to martial law. It…..has been terminated under the constitution, which upholds freedom of assembly, as well as the freedom of free individuals to come and go, individually or together.” Two years later, after the law’s repeal, the British occupational authorities acknowledged that the law “was written in a draconian spirit and cannot be justified to the democratic English public.”
It is self-evident, from CIHRS’s exposé of the Assembly Law’s origins, evolution, and current application, that the law, as Mr. Hassan emphasized, has “lost all historical, political, and moral legitimacy.” Its continued illegal implementation 89 years after its formal repeal is “an immoral act, legislatively, politically, and historically,” and represents a shameful continuum of repression from Egypt’s colonial past to its post-revolutionary present. CIHRS’s challenge to the Assembly Law seeks to break this chain and honourably move forward, toward the emancipation of Egypt.
Note for Editors:
CIHRS intended to publish this report last year; however, due to the continuous security prosecutions against CIHRS under a legal pretext, the publishing of this report was delayed. These prosecutions included a death threat to CIHRS’ director as well as imposing travel bans on other staff members and prosecuting them for security reasons. Moreover, the court adhered to demands from the security apparatus by freezing the assets of CIHRS and its director without any legal justification or consideration of the judicial procedural formalities. This was implemented within the context of the so-called “foreign funding case” against human rights organizations.
This report is an opportunity to inform readers of the positions and strategies of independent human rights organizations juxtaposed with the position and strategies of their oppressor – the Egyptian state and its apparatuses. It will also demonstrate who is working to free Egyptians from both conventional prisons and the large prison that Egypt is becoming (in specific reference to the state’s use of travel bans), as well as who is oppressing, imprisoning, and killing them every day using the psychology and legislations of the foreign colonizer.
For CIHRS documentary about the report, click here
For the Full Report in English, click here
This post is also available in: Arabic