Egypt: Arts unions granted legal powers to self-police

25 January 2016


On 9 November 2015 Minister of Justice Ahmed El-Zend granted judicial police status, or “Al Dabtia Al Kadaeia”, to both the musician’s and actor’s trade unions, effectively meaning that unions members can now legally police and regulate themselves, reported news site

The controversial decision was further compounded when, on the same day, El-Zend conferred these legal powers to already-controversial Musician’s Union president Hani Shaker, who will also have the ability to appoint other union members to have the same powers, reported online news platform MadaMasr.

This new status effectively confers status to union members toact as law enforcement officers within their union, but their terms of reference remain nebulous, reported the Association for Free Thought and Expression (AFTE) in Egypt.

Intent to “protect artists”
“The judicial police status protects union members from the intruders who practice art without permits”, Shaker said in a phone call to a talk show on Al-Arabi TV. “Union members will not arrest anyone; however, we will be able to write police reports and refer them to the public prosecutor.”

On the same call, Shaker further stated that “freedom of expression is what brought Egypt to the bottom and allowed such indecent art works”.

Maestro Ahmed Ramadan, secretary general of the musician’s union, echoed Shaker’s statements on the decision’s intent to protect artists and further weighed in on the decision, telling Al Araby online that union members who have this new status will not have the “ability to control art works or enforce their artistic opinion on other artists”.

Sameh Al Suraity, a member of the actor’s union also supports the decision and explained to Al-Araby online that members who hold this judicial status will now be permitted to enterworkplaces and filming locations to search for violators – for example, artists who perform without a permit or union registration – and if a violator is found, that member with their new judicial power can go to the police station and file a report, making it possible for the police to step in and make an arrest.

Legal limbo
“This new resolution puts all independent and freelance artists in a legal limbo, particularly the independent bands and acting groups, which identify themselves as artistic unions separate from the umbrella of the State; hence, all its members are accordingly threatened, which is contrary to the right to establish a syndicate or union as per the international conventions signed by Egypt in this regard”, said AFTE researcher Hossam Fazeulaa, in a legal commentary to Freemuse.

This new development in the arts and culture arena also violates the Universal Periodic Review on Egypt issued in November 2014, along with all its recommendations requiring Egypt to amend its legislation criminalising artistic expression.

Freemuse expresses its deep concern to this unprecedented development which strangles the freedom of artistic expression.

“Providing members of the arts unions with the authority to police other artists is considered an alarming situation which threatens Egyptian artists and menaces their creativity, as well as violates Egypt’s international commitments to freedom of artistic expression,” said Freemuse Executive Director Mr. Ole Reitov.

Constitutional violations
The new permissions granting this status to the art unions’ members violate many articles of the Egyptian constitution that protect freedom of creativity and artistic expression. Article 67 of the newly approved Egyptian constitution stipulates that “the freedom of artistic and literary expression is guaranteed by the State which should help in reviving arts, culture and literature and protect creators.”

The State is obliged to follow the clauses of the ratified international covenants, including, but not limited to, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Moreover, Article 19 of the same covenant states that “every human being has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to seek various forms of information and ideas, receive and impart ideas in writing, in print form or in any art form.”

Calls for annulment of resolution
Many artists and activists are against this decision. Several non-governmental organisations and associations have taken a stance and launched an advocacy campaign calling for the annulment of this resolution. One of these activists is lawyer Malek Adly, who said that the member who will hold judicial police status will be called a “Judicial Police Officer”, meaning they can investigatecrimes and violators as per these legal stipulations.

Adly indicated that such a decision at this time might imply an intention to chase down all types of creative and artistic endeavors that can be practiced outside the remit of union authorities.

“They will be able to forbid street music bands from performing, or any other bands that do not prefer to have the union’s membership for any reason,” Adly said.

Adly warned that this development will definitely control freedom of thought, art and expression, and such a resolution might have political implications and further particular causes.


» MadaMasr – 24 November 2015:
The power of arrest and the future of music in Egypt

» Al-Araby online – 17 November 2015:
Egyptian art and judicial seizure: What do you say supporters and opponents?

» The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information – 12 November 2015:
Hani Shaker: Law enforcement officers to protect union members

» Egypt News Now YouTube channel – 11 November 2015:
Hani Shaker: Freedom of expression ruined Egypt

» AFTE Egypt – 11 November 2015:
Petition against judicial police status

» – 10 November 2015:
El-Zend gives musical professions judicial police

» AFTE Egypt – 17 September 2015:
Legal commentary on the granting of judicial police to the members of the Actors Trade Union Council

Related information

» – 14 January 2016:
Egypt: Union president suspends six singers from performing

» – 20 September 2015:
Egypt: Resolution against revealing clothing and “vulgar” lyrics

» – 23 April 2014:
Egypt should abolish censorship of the arts

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