Unremarkable Remarakbleness: Egyptian Legal Connoisseurs

March 25, 2010

“We need to uphold the principles upon which Egyptian legislation are founded”, says he.


The alarm went off at 7 am. As I bumped my way to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth I heard the familiar thud of newspapers slamming against our apartment door. I groaned. Usually the newspapers don’t come in until 8 or even after 8 and I was looking forward to taking the bawab’s daily dawdling as an excuse to read my novel.

And since it was already there, obviously I had to read the news, right.

I got my coffee, turned on the lights, picked up the news and slouched onto our sometime comfortable beige couch. I will fast-forward past the newspaper-skimming part of my quotidian routine to the funny little news report that is the reason behind this blog entry.

In Al Shorouk, at the very top of page 4, there is an approximately 500-word report betitled “People’s Legislative Finally Approves Law Against Human Trafficking”.

During my last semester before getting my BA, I was research-assisting a law professor with his three classes. One of those classes focused on Transnational Criminal Law and one of the main themes was on Human Trafficking. So I read the title and thought oh this is interesting.

And interesting it was.

According to this report, yesterday, March 24th, the legislative council of the People’s Assembly approved a law against Human Trafficking. This in itself is interesting (I am perhaps using a very narrow definition of the word’interesting’ here) because, until yesterday, Egypt did not have any legislation addressing one of the fastest growing illegal trades world wide, ranking third after drugs and weapons.

With that in mind, what’s funny, though not at all shocking, is how Fathy Sorour, Head of the People’s Assembly, reacted to the proposed draft.

According to the report, the draft stated that the legal sanctions for Human Trafficking entailed maximum punishment for those incriminated. This translates into imprisonment “for no less than 7 years and no more than 20 years” and for a punitive fine ranging from 150,000 LE to 200,000 LE.

Sorour’s criticism was that 200,000 was too much and that we don’t want to be blindly copying foreign legislation without taking into account Egypt’s sovereignty. And with that he proceeded to modify the draft so that imprisonment wouldn’t be as much as 20 years and so that the fine would range from 3,000 LE to 50,000.

“We need to uphold the principles upon which Egyptian legislation are founded”, says he.

So, in other words, Sorour was apparently appalled at how severe the legislation was in dealing with traffickers who exploited human beings, condemning them to an abysmal state of prostitution and servitude whilst lavishing on the colossal sums of money that they make off of their business. He thought the punishment was “excessive”.

When a representative of the Ministry of Justice, Omar El Sherif, tried to explain, Sorour laughed exclaiming that “you’re talking to a legal craftsman”. (Yeah sonny boy. A legal connoisseur you’re talking to here). The implication being that he didn’t need anyone to explain the law to him.

Instead, guided by his connoisseurship, his arrant self-trust, Sorour proceeded to drastically reduce the penalties against a crime that some in the international legal domain have argued should be considered a jus cogens – a peremptory norm prohibiting Crimes Against Humanity (Genocide for example and slavery).

Furthermore, he did that on the premise that we mustn’t deviate from Egypt’s legal customs.

Quite fascinating how he openly and unabashedly states that leniency to gruesome crimes is part of Egypt’s customs. That implementing a severe punishment for people who traffic in human beings would violate Egypt’s sovereignty. Justice and sound-mindedness fall outside of the government’s jurisdiction, is my understanding of that statement.

What is frustrating is that he doesn’t really explain his rationale (at least, nothing in the report suggests that he did), how he thought that the more severe punishment violated Egypt’s sovereignty and legal customs.

Instead he buttressed his criticism with a mass-marketable argument saying that the draft drew too much from international treaties. Of course Egypt had acceded to the UN Protocol against Human Trafficking and Smuggling on March 1 2005. And it made no reservations whatsoever on any of the Protocol’s articles. This means that, if anything, Egypt should actually abide and draw from suggestions made in the protocol without it affecting its sovereignty since it acceded to the protocol on its own free will. (Note: To see list of country’s who signed/ratified the Protocol go to ).

I put the newspaper down and stared at our suddenly too-beige room couch in our too-beige living room reflecting on the hackneyed implications of the report. Curious about why I thought it was interesting in the first place. Why I let it consume more time that it really deserved. And anticipating that it was going to consume even more time than already had, I got up and snapped my laptop out of its charging hibernating state and sat down to write about this unremarkable remarkable report.

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