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1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Progress on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt remains slow while the country continues to face important security, social and economic challenges. Positive developments included the announcement of the revision of the NGO law and the acquittal of 43 defendants under the foreign funding case. Cash transfer programs to mitigate effect of economic reforms on weakest strata of society have been successful. Amendments to the Inheritance Law, which guarantee women the right to receive their inheritance, were a step forward in improving women's legal status. A lot remains to be done to ensure the full implementation of the important constitutional provisions on human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The nationwide state of emergency declared in April 2017 has been renewed every three months since then. Over 470 news and media outlets remain blocked without court rulings. New cybercrime and media laws may further restrict freedom of expression on social media. Activists and human rights defenders have increasingly been tried under state security prosecution and put into prolonged pre-trial detention. Further significant challenges include increasing pressure on the LGBTI community, continuing discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, despite the adoption of a law on the construction and licensing of churches, the increase in death sentences, including by military courts for civilians, and executions, and reports of torture enforced disappearances and poor detention conditions.
2. EU action - key focus areas:
In line with the August 2013 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions, support to civil society remained a priority in EU bilateral assistance to Egypt, with a focus on women and youth. The adoption of the EU-Egypt Partnership Priorities 2017-2020 allowed both sides to reaffirm their shared commitment to the universal values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and to agree on strengthening their dialogue and cooperation on these issues as key elements for sustainable stability.
3. EU bilateral political engagements:
Salient human rights issues were raised throughout the year by the Head of Delegation as well during high-level visits by MEPs and Commissioners. During the visits, meetings were arranged with human rights organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) to discuss the human rights situation in the country, and that of civil society in particular. The EU Delegation held regular dialogue with the Human rights and Social Affairs Division at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights met with the EU Special Representative for Human Rights in February 2018 in Brussels and both sides confirmed their willingness to enhance cooperation, especially in the area of international human rights law. The fifth meeting of the EU-Egypt Subcommittee on Political Matters, Human Rights and Democracy took place in Cairo on 10-11 January. The Association Committee on 8 November, and the 8th Meeting of the EU-Egypt Association Council on 20 December allowed for a frank and open exchange on all priority areas, including human rights and fundamental freedoms. In its position for the Association Council, the EU mentioned positive developments but also matters of concern to the EU, including restrictions on civil society organisations (CSOs), freedom of expression, mass trials and the death penalty. The HRVP Spokesperson issued two statements in 2018 linked to the human rights situation and the death penalty (on 30 May and 11 September). Meetings of the EU Informal Group on Human Rights were held on a monthly basis, in which human rights and democracy developments and concerns were discussed. Human rights defenders, representatives of civil society, journalists and other relevant interlocutors were invited as guest speakers. The EU Delegation and EU Member States missions continued to monitor salient court cases from a human rights perspective. The European Parliament adopted a Resolution on executions in Egypt in February 2018 and one on the situation of HRDs in December 2018.
4. EU financial engagement:
In 2018 the EU Delegation managed 35 projects worth EUR 45 million in support of human rights. The projects directly contribute to the promotion and protection of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. The activities focus on the fight against all forms of discrimination (gender-based, religious and cultural) as well as female genital mutilation (FGM) and trafficking in human beings. They also aim at enhancing women's rights, children's rights, migrant's rights, persons with disabilities' rights, access to justice, access to culture, cultural diversity and local governance. Considering the increasing pressure on human rights defenders and civil society, the EU Delegation has been in close contact with the EU Human Rights Defenders rapid response mechanisms and referred several cases to the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) Emergency Fund and the European Endowment for Democracy. Under the EIDHR, a new project was awarded in April to the Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies to foster Freedom of Religion or Belief and inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue.
5. Multilateral context:
Egypt is serving a three year term (2017-2021) in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Egypt has played an active role as a driving force of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and is a dominant player in the African Group. In 2018 as in previous years, the EU raised concerns on the human rights situation in Egypt in its statements at the HRC under item 4. Notably, it encouraged Egypt to improve the situation with respect to civil and political rights, including freedom of association, assembly and expression both on and offline, thereby ensuring space for civil society and HRDs. Cooperation increased at multilateral level, with Egypt sponsoring the resolution on the Rights of the Child presented by the EU in cooperation with the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) at the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Egypt also presented a voluntary report on implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations.