Egypt/ 5.2 Legislation on culture  

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates: "Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

 (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author".

All international agreements, particularly the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, focused its attentions on two levels: the right of education and right of participation in cultural life.

Thus the 1971 Egyptian constitution contained around 10 articles (previously mentioned) that address cultural rights in the broad meaning of the concept (articles 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 46, 47, 48 and 49).

However, a number of articles (12, 47 and 48) contain restrictions on exercising these rights and freedoms such as the need to reorganize this right by a law issued by the legislator, which has been undermining the actual exercise of this right over the past thirty years given the rift between the rights of individuals and groups on the one hand and the desires and judgment of the executive, and sometimes legislative, authorities on the other. This rift is manifested in the confiscation of books and newspapers or the banning of films under such phrases as "preservation of national structure", protection of national security" or "safeguarding public morals".

Human rights organizations monitoring freedom of opinion and expression in the country reported many incidents of book and newspaper confiscation and cultural suppression practiced no only by official censorship authorities but also the religious establishment, such as Al Azhar and the Orthodox Church. Many books and TV dramas were banned by the Egyptian Judiciary, which fell under the influence of the extreme religious culture currently dominating the Egyptian society.

A notable example of that is the shameful verdict issued by Judge Farouk Abdel Alim (Cairo's Appeal Court) convicting Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid of being an apostate and ordering him to divorce his wife.

Another example is the verdict issued by a Cairo court against film director Inas al-Deghidi in the case filed by some Islamic lawyers in which the sentence was unprecedented in the judicial history stipulating that the defendant shall be lashed in public pursuant to Sharia rules.

Article 2 of the Emergency Law (Law 162 of 1985) was imposed upon the Egyptian people up until 14 November 2013 for more than 30 years

Article 2 stipulates: "The president of the republic or his deputy is entitled to take whatever exceptional measures deemed fit against freedom of the press and freedom of expression, such as censoring, confiscating, suspending and closing the printing facilities of messages, newspapers, publications, documents and all means of expression, publicity and advertising before being published. Censorship on newspapers, printed materials and the media shall be entrusted to the Interior Ministry".

As a member of the African Union, Egypt ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights in 1984.

As regards freedom of opinion and expression article 9 of the Charter stipulates:

  • Every individual shall have the right to receive information.
  • Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.
  • As regards discrimination article 2 stipulates:
  • Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.

As regards obligations of member states article 1 stipulates:

  • The Member States of the Organization of African Unity parties to the Present Charter shall recognize the rights, duties and freedoms enshrined in this Charter and shall undertake to adopt legislative or other measures to give effect to them. Despite that many international agreements that underline the freedom of participation in cultural life and freedom of expression and invention were ratified by Egypt, most of the country's cultural institutions have censorship committees, not to mention the legislative structure with its laws that restrict freedom of invention, particularly article 718 of the Penal Code which stipulates:
  • A prison term not exceeding two years and/or a fine not less than 5000 pounds and not exceeding 10000 pound shall be imposed on any person who made or possessed, with the intention of dealing, distributing or posting, printed materials, manuscripts, plans, drawings, advertisements, engraved pictures, hand drawings, photographs, symbols or any other pubic item if contradictory to public morals.

The problem with this text is that it generalizes the legal rule without distinction between the works intended to violate public morals and the works aimed to discuss social, political or artistic issues that include, within their contexts, some printed or electronic pictures considered, according to social culture, violating public morals.

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

In addition, article 5 of 2nd Paris Declaration pertaining to cultural rights issued in November 2001 states: "Cultural rights are an integral part of human rights".

Thus all international declarations, particularly the International Covenant for economic, social and cultural rights, have focused most attention in the field of cultural rights on two levels:

  • The right to education.
  • The right to participate in cultural life.

Thus, as mentioned earlier, the 1971 constitution included ten articles that may be listed under the concept of cultural rights in the broad sense of the term (articles 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 46, 47, 48 and 49).

However, some of these items (12, 47 and 48) included certain restrictions on exercising these rights and freedoms represented in re-regulating the exercise this right by virtue of a law enacted by the legislator (parliamentary or regulatory legislator), which has been disturbing the actual exercise of this right for more than 30 years now in terms of the balance between the rights of individuals and groups on the one hands and the desires and discretion of the executive, and sometimes the legislative, power on the other.[1]



[1]              Violation of cultural rights, Dr. Abdel Khaleq Farouk 


Chapter published: 01-04-2016


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