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Located at the land bridge between Africa and Asia, Egypt is one of the most populous countries in the Middle East. The political situation is currently in transition, with the first elected government after decades of authoritarian rule being itself overthrown in July 2013. Major child rights issues are the age of criminal responsibility, early marriage and the prevalence of corporal punishment and violence by security forces.
The Arab Republic of Egypt is located in the north-eastern and south-western corners of Africa and Asia respectively. Whilst most of the country lies in Africa, the eastern part - the Sinai Peninsula - is considered part of Asia and is the only land bridge between the two continents. It is bounded to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, from the east by Palestine and Israel, from the south by Sudan, and from the west by Libya. The country's capital is Cairo.
Egypt has been referred to as the "Gift of the Nile" due to the river that has nourished the desert land and sustained one of the most ancient and enduring civilizations in the world.
Population and Language
The country is home to 84.5 million people, mainly Egyptians and Arabs, of whom more than 31 million are children. The vast majority of the population live around the Nile.
The official language is Arabic. The spoken Egyptian Arabic dialect is quite distinctive and differs significantly from the written and standardised forms of the language. Egypt's history as a cultural and political centre for much of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century, however, mean that it is widely understood across the region
While the majority of the population are Muslim, Egypt is also home to a significant Christian population, most of whom are members of the Coptic church.
History and Politics
After decades of political domination by the British Empire, the 1952 Free Officers movement coup saw the removal of a king who was widely perceived as being under the control of foreign interests. The resulting regime - led for a short time by General Muhammad Naguib before his replacement by Gamal Abdel Nasser, combined calls for Arab nationalism with state control of the economy and moves towards redistribution of wealth. The nationalisation of the vital Suez Canal in 1956 triggered a political and military crisis when French, British and Israeli forces conspired to remove Nasser from power. Opposition to this plan by the United States, however, forced de-escalation and allowed Nasser to remain in power.
Continued tensions Israel led to violent clashes in 1956 and 1967. The latter saw a disastrous reversal for Egypt with the loss not only of the area of Gaza they'd been left holding after 1948 but also a large part of the Sinai Peninsula. The war in 1967 also saw the introduction of the Emergency Powers law that significantly extended state and police powers, while restricting political freedoms and freedom of speech. Nasser died in 1970 and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat favoured closer ties with the United States and a shift away from state involvement in the economy. In 1973, Egypt and a coalition of other Arab states launched a surprise attack on Israeli territory. Despite early successes, the campaign to reclaim the Sinai faltered as the fighting continued. While military unsuccessful, this demonstration of strength by Egypt encouraged new rounds of peace talks and ultimately led to a negotiated return of the Sinai to Egyptian control a few years later.
Sadat's economic policies exacerbated some of the social problems Egypt had long experienced and were widely seen as removing some of the welfare and poverty alleviations programmes introduced by Nasser. At the same time, his openness to negotiation with Israel triggered condemnation from other Arab states and hostility from religious hard-liners in Egypt. In 1981, he was assassinated by members of the Islamist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad. His successor, Hosni Mubarak, continued many of the policies of his predecessor, while fighting ongoing battles against radical Islamic groups. Mubarak's reign was characterised by continued use of the emergency law to suppress dissent as well as high levels of violence by state security forces.
In 2011, frustrations with Mubarak's rule, Egypt's economic situation and violence by police led to mass demonstrations on the street in defiance of the Emergency Law. In defiance of escalating police violence, protesters occupied a number of key public spaces and resisted efforts to remove them by force. Increasingly isolated and loosing his traditional support base in the military, Hosni Mubarak had little choice but to step down in February 2011 after 30 years in power. After a period of military control, elections were held in 2012,which saw Mohamad Morsi, a candidate associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, come to power. Despite initial promises to moderate his parties platform, throughout his year in office Morsi was accused of using increasingly authoritarian tactics against opponents. Morsi also alienated many of the secular and liberal elements who had been a key part of the 2011 revolution and was accused of favouring an Islamic agenda at the expense of his former allies. Popular dissatisfaction led to renewed protests in June 2013, before the Egyptian military intervened directly to remove Morsi from office at the beginning of July. In the weeks that followed, violent clashes between the military and Brotherhood supporters have led to high numbers of civilian casualties and left the political future of Egypt uncertain.
While Egypt is currently ruled by a military backed interim government, under normal circumstances the President is the Head of State and, under the Egyptian Constitution, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Head of the Executive Authority (the Egyptian Cabinet). Under the system created by the 1980 constitutional amendments, the President names the Prime Minister, who chooses the Ministers and manages day-to-day affairs including the economy. The Parliament has the power to enact laws, approve general policy of the State, the general plan for economic and social development and the general budget of the State, supervise the work of the government, ratify international conventions, and the power to vote to impeach the President of the Republic or replace the government and its Prime Minister in a vote of no-confidence.
The Egyptian legal system is built on the combination of Islamic (Shariah) law and Napoleonic Code.
The economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism and cash remittances from Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Egypt's teeming cities - and almost all agricultural activity - are concentrated along the banks of the Nile, and on the river's delta. Deserts occupy most of the country. However, rapid population growth and the limited amount of arable land is straining the country's resources and economy.
Media and Civil Society
Non-governmental organisations in Egypt are active in the defence of various human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, children's rights, women's and minority rights, right to education, and refugee rights. Civil society has long complained about the restrictive burden of the political environment as well as the existing law governing associations and foundations. Recently, a new NGO Bill has been drawn up granting the Minister of Social Solidarity unchecked authority to deny registration to or repeal registration and liquidate any organisation. Human rights defenders are therefore subjected to acts of harassment, restrictions on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, restrictions on freedom of movement, restrictive legislation, stigmatisation, ill-treatment, torture and violent attacks. Many are detained and it has been reported that some were subjected to harassment and ill-treatment while in detention. In February 2011, a number of human rights defenders were released.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
The current human rights situation in Egypt is very difficult to assess due to continued instability and a rapidly changing situation. Violence by state security forces, including the use of torture and extra-judicial killings, has been a constant feature of all recent governments, including that of Mohamed Morsi and the current interim government. Violence against women - particularity sexual assault and female genital mutilation- is also frequently cited as a persistent problem. Egypt has a large population many of whom also face poverty and lack access to adequate government services.
Egypt was one of the first signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC entered into force in Egypt on 2 September 1990. Egypt acceded to the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in 2002, and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2007. The country has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Resolution on the Situation of Women and Children in Africa.
Some of the main issues of concern for children are the age of criminal responsibility (currently set at seven years), early and forced marriage and corporal punishment. Low rates of birth registration and the attendant lack of access to vital services is also a problem, as is the unequal status of children born to Egyptian mothers and non-national fathers. Sexual abuses and exploitation is also a concern, particularly the number of girls who are victims the "summer bride" system. This form of sex tourism relies on Egypt's status as a major tourist destination for visitors from the Arabian Gulf, some of whom will pay money to poor Egyptian families in exchange for temporary non-legal "marriages" to their daughters. By framing the transaction as a marriages, outwardly pious visitors to Egypt feel they have circumvented religious prohibitions on extra-marital sex. Many of these girls are under-age and some are forced into these arrangements, while others comply out of a need to provide for their family.
- Hauser Global Law School Program, "An Overview of the Egyptian Legal System and Legal Research"
- World Bank, Egypt Country Profile
- UNICEF Egypt Statistics
- Frontline Defenders Egypt Country Profile
- BBC Egypt Country Profile
- Population: 83,958,400 (UNDP, 2012)
- Population under 18: 30,537,000 (UNICEF, 2011)
- Number of internet users: 29,809,724 (35.6% of the population) (Internet World Stats, 2012)
- Human Development Index: 112 (UNDP, 2012)
- Happy Planet ranking: 91 (Happy Planet Countries: Egypt, 2012)