A new purge: Firing opponents from their jobs using a law bill

Hardly a week passed since Egyptian Transport Minister Kamel Al-Wazir, the former army official, claimed that Muslim Brotherhood members were behind the disasters afflicting the country, before two deputies announced two draft laws to fire the group’s members from their government jobs. The MP described his bill as a step to purge the state authorities from the MB’s members.

The Secretary of the Manpower Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, Representative Abdel Fattah Mohamed, announced that he had submitted a draft law requiring the dismissal of employees of state-affiliated agencies who prove their affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood or sympathisers with them. The bill states that if an employee working in any government institution suspects that he is an MB member or sympathised with them, he will be temporarily excluded. The new bill did not require any court conviction, which means it may be a gate to fire many employees. The regime used to charge all opponents of being a member of the MB.

Abdel Fattah explained that if it is proven after the investigation of the government employee that he belongs to that group, he will be permanently dismissed, according to newspaper statements he made. However, he did not mention the authority that has the right to investigate the employee and fire him without any trial or conviction.

According to the presenter of the project, the concerned authorities will participate in searching and investigating these employees. He called on the private sector to search for and fire them to “purge” all state institutions of any Brotherhood element. During his hearing session before the House of Representatives, the minister had called to introduce amendments to the Civil Service Law, which would allow the dismissal of employees opposed to the regime, which the deputies responded to. During the parliament session, the minister said that he had a list of 162 employees, which later rose to 257, most of whom belonged to the MB. The rest of them were political activists who were classified by the security services as “instigators.”

The Egyptian authorities are already firing many from their jobs in the various sectors, institutions, and ministries of the state since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi assumed the reins of power in mid-2014. This policy coincided with that of the increasing state of societal division and inciting against opponents on the pretext that they belong to “prohibited” groups.

In March 2014, the Ministry of Endowments dismissed many of the ministry’s leaders and announced what it called “the end of the MB’s era in the ministry forever.” Since then, it has fired various imams and preachers from mosques and prevented them from ascending the pulpits because of their political views or affiliations.

One of those affected by the job firing policy is the former official spokesperson for the Ministry of Endowments, Salama Abdul Qawi. He described the dismissal decision as a “punitive policy” and “the cloak on which the military regime comments on its failure in its management of the country, by accusing some employees of foiling the ministries’ development and reform plans.” He added that this is defective logic. He stressed that the dismissal of employees due to their intellectual, political, and religious orientations and affiliations, whatever they are, is not found in custom or law. Still, it is a corrupt administrative system that sticks its failure to others. Abdel Qawi warned against the consequences of arbitrary dismissal of employees’ rights and the consequent displacement of thousands of Egyptian families who are already suffering from difficult economic conditions.

In another ministry, there was one of the largest mass firing operations; Egyptian Minister of Education Tarek Shawky decided to dismiss 1,070 teachers in October 2019. He claimed that they have extremist ideas and have judicial rulings, pointing out that legal measures have been taken to ensure the validity of the allegations. These decisions and amendments come despite the approval of Law No. 10 of 1972 that allows the dismissal of employees without a disciplinary method after the last parliament introduced amendments to the law in November 2020.

Firing by other than disciplinary means direct dismissal by an administrative decision, without referring to the investigation authorities concerned with dealing with employees. It is also without the decision being issued by the administrative prosecution and even without bringing the matter before the judiciary.

The law permits dismissal without a disciplinary method if the worker breaches the duties of the job, causes serious damage to production, or if he threatens the security and safety of the state, or he loses the reasons of validity for the position he occupies, or if he lacks confidence and prestige, or if he is listed on terrorist lists. All of which are loose reasons (according to the opposition) targeting the abuse of opponents. The law faced criticism at the time, as the former Egyptian Minister of Manpower, Kamal Abu Eita, affirmed that the law “aims to harm employees with political opinions opposing the government.” At the time, he warned, “Some corrupt managers may use this law to achieve their personal ends to overthrow employees.”

However, the presenter of the bill at the time, Representative Ali Badr, confirmed that the law completes the series of laws aimed at drying up the sources of terrorism, indicating that the aim is to “purify the state’s administrative apparatus from terrorist elements, to preserve the Egyptian state,” as he claimed. At that time, there were reports of a “case examination” of state employees being conducted in many agencies affiliated with the administrative apparatus. It aimed to exclude employees who were found to be affiliated with extremist and terrorist groups or to adopt declared positions and opinions that incite violence, discord, or chaos.

The specialist in transitional justice affairs, Muhammad Affan, believes that the allegations of dismissing employees and holding them responsible for problems and disasters come within the framework of evading responsibility. It is far from talking seriously about the problems of competence and policies. He pointed out that turning any technical problem into a security crisis “neither serves the state nor helps its development.”

Affan wonders about how to judge who belongs to and sympathises with the Brotherhood, and “will those who voted for the Brotherhood while they were in power be followed up, or follow the social media pages of government employees and hold them accountable for previous posts?” He adds that “dismissal from office due to party, political or social movement affiliation is a fascist, unconstitutional and not even logical method.”

Amr Al-Shobaki, an advisor to Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, agrees with him and said that there is no need to amend the law or issue a new law. The existing legislation already punishes those who belong to terrorist groups and punishes those who incite violence.

Al-Shobaki believes that the two projects are unconstitutional, “just as all the experiences that were based on the idea that people follow news of some of them or judge others open the door to snitching and personal revenge.” Anyone may report that his colleague belongs to the MB because he disagrees with him in thought or competes with him at work. This is a great danger to society,” he said. He points out that this is the task of the prosecution and the security services, not ordinary individuals or workplaces, “if there is a person who carries out inflammatory propaganda or presents extremist and inciting ideas the security services will follow through investigations. People cannot do this.”