​​​​​​​Crimes That Violate Honor in Egypt: Obscure Means for Unconstitutional Ends

2017-11-06    |   

​​​​​​​Crimes That Violate Honor in Egypt: Obscure Means for Unconstitutional Ends

On September 25, 2017, the Dokki Misdemeanor Court sentenced lawyer and former presidential election candidate Khaled Ali to three months of imprisonment and a bail of EGP1,000 [US$57] to stay the ruling’s execution. Ali was charged with committing an act of public indecency while celebrating the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling to annul the maritime border demarcation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt in January 2017.[1] Many saw the ruling as an attempt to undercut Khaled Ali’s potential candidacy for president in June 2018. Ali is one of the most prominent opponents of the current regime and led the legal efforts to secure a number of important court rulings related to the consecration of economic and social rights.[2] He has also recently played a prominent role in the political arena in the Tiran and Sanafir islands case. Consequently, he has become a potential candidate in the coming presidential elections.

Critics of the ruling, which is based on Ali allegedly committing a crime violating honor, claim it is motivated by a desire to bar his presidential candidacy. They point to Article 1 of the Presidential Elections Law, which stipulates that “[t]he candidate must not have been convicted of a felony or crime violating honor or integrity”.[3]

An obvious question arises: Why was the action of which Ali was accused considered a crime that violates honor? What are the crimes that violate honor in Egyptian law? Has the legislator defined or exhaustively enumerated them? How have the Egyptian courts dealt with this kind of crime? This article will attempt to answer these questions, opening the discussion about the legislator’s introduction of the phrase “crimes violating honor” as a barrier to candidacy in presidential elections.

What Are Crimes that Violate Honor and How Have the Egyptian Courts Dealt with Them?

The Egyptian Penal Code does not define crimes that violate honor, nor does it restrict or specify them precisely. However, the legislator uses crimes designated as such as a tool to deprive those convicted of them of certain rights, such as the right to assume certain public offices[4] or practice certain professions,[5] or to dismiss them from the offices they occupy.[6]

Considering this legislative gap, the administration has broad discretionary power to decide whether a given crime violates honor. The Court of Cassation sought to curb this power and decided in one of its rulings that “[c]haracterizing the crime and labeling or not labelling it a violation of honor is the power of the administrative judge alone, [to be exercised] based on the kind of act being punished and the circumstances of its perpetration”.[7] This means that the administrative judge may deem the same crime a violation of honor under some circumstances and not a violation of honor under others.

The Supreme Administrative Court has tried in a number of its rulings to interpret the essence of crimes that violate honor. It stated that

Neither the Penal Code nor any other law has comprehensively and exclusively defined the crimes that violate honor and integrity, and it is not feasible to establish an exclusive criterion in this regard. However, these crimes can be defined as those that stem from a weakness in moral constitution and deviation in character, taking into consideration the type of crime, the circumstances of its perpetration, the actions that constituted it, and the degree to which it reveals influence by lusts, impulses, and bad conduct.[8]


The variation in determining whether a crime violates honor appears in two Supreme Administrative Court rulings on the crime of issuing a bad check. In one, it did not characterize the crime as one that violates honor because of the circumstances and facts surrounding its occurrence: the accused had not issued the check in question in his personal capacity but in his capacity as the chairman of a company’s board, and he settled the amount owed.[9] Yet in another ruling, the court deemed the issuance of a bad check “a crime that violates honor” because the accused had been tried criminally in other similar cases of issuing bad checks.[10] The court deemed the accused’s habitual perpetration of this crime to stem from a weakness in his moral constitution and his bad conduct.

All the above attests to the absence of a clear definition of a crime that violates honor or any precise benchmarks. Hence, the matter is subject to the administrative judge’s discretionary authority and the circumstances and facts he perceives surrounding each dispute.

The Impermissibility of Imposing an Ambiguous Restriction on an Inherent Constitutional Right

In an unprecedented development, the Egyptian legislator introduced a new condition that candidates in the presidential elections must meet: he or she must not have been convicted of any felony or crime violating honor or integrity.[11] This occurred during the transitionary period that followed the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi, wherein Advisor Adly Mansour, former president of the Constitutional Court, was acting president of the republic. At that time, there was no parliament, and the president of the republic possessed legislative authority.

This condition did not appear in the laws that regulated previous presidential elections during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak[12] or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.[13] The previous long-standing law on the exercise of political rights,[14] which regulated the conditions for and barriers to participation in political life, including running for president, had exhaustively stipulated specific, well-known crimes – such as bribery, theft, and fraud – as a barrier to candidacy in the elections.[15] The legislator had thus maintained that the right to run in the presidential or even parliamentary[16] elections is one of the protected constitutional rights that cannot be revoked for unclear or ambiguous reasons.

At the time when the legislator should have been curbing the use of the term “crimes that violate honor” in the laws on public offices and civil service, it expanded the term’s usage to the extent that it became a restriction on an inherent, non-derogable constitutional right, namely the right to run in presidential elections. The legislator thereby violated one of the most important established constitutional principles, namely equality,[17]. Discrimination could now occur between two people who have committed crimes that some might consider a violation of honor. One’s candidacy application could be rejected and another accepted simply because the National Electoral Commission, without relying on any considered, objective criterion, deems only the former’s crime to be an actual violation of honor. This opens the door wide for discretion and selectivity in excluding or retaining candidates and, in practice, constitutes a tool for political isolation.

Moreover, when the legislator establishes any penalty in the law, such as deprivation of the right to run in presidential elections, it should base that penalty on specific, clear, and widely known actions so that anyone wanting to assume this high office can avoid them. However, this law bases the penalty of deprivation of this right on “circumstances” surrounding the action, for they are what render it a violation of honor. There are many question marks surrounding the legislator’s intent in adopting this obscure means of deciding such an important punishment. Furthermore, the broader legal principle of “no punishment without a crime” also means that no punishment – not even a complimentary one such as deprivation of specific rights and freedoms – may be imposed without a clear, unambiguous definition of that crime.

Given all the above, the ruling on Khaled Ali will likely open a broad debate about this issue, a debate that will probably not stay out of the courts for very long.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


[1] See “Al-Hukm ‘ala Khaled Ali bi-l-Habs: Muhakama Ghayr ‘Adila Mu’addaha Tafrigh al-Intikhabat al-Ra’isiyya min Madmuniha”, The Legal Agenda, September 27, 2017.
[2] These rulings include, for example, the ruling compelling the state to adopt a minimum wage and rulings to recover a number of previously state-owned enterprises after they had been privatized.
[3] Presidential Elections Law no. 22 of 2014.
[4] Article 14 of Civil Service Law no. 81 of 2016 stipulates that “whoever is appointed in one of the offices must: … 3. Not have been sentenced to a felony punishment or a custodial punishment in a crime that violates honor or integrity unless he has been rehabilitated”.
[5] Article 13 of Law no. 17 of 1983 (On the Bar Association) stipulates that “whoever asks to register his name in the general roll must … 4. Not have been convicted with a final ruling of a misdemeanor infringing honor or integrity or with a felony punishment, unless he has been rehabilitated”.
[6] Article 69 of Civil Service Law no. 81 of 2016 stipulates that “the employee’s service ends for one of the following reasons: … 9. He is sentenced to a felony punishment or custodial punishment in a crime that violates honor or integrity or that causes him to lose trust and esteem”.
[7] Egyptian Court of Cassation, appeal no. 1413 of year 07, Technical Office 10, page 1113, issued on April 24, 1965.
[8] Supreme Administrative Court ruling no. 5086 of judicial year 24, issued on September 22, 1996.
[9] Appeal no. 5086 of judicial year 24, issued September 22, 1996.
[10] Appeal no. 3648 of judicial year 47, issued May 26, 2007.
[11] Presidential Elections Law no. 22 of 2014, Article 1, Para. 5.
[12] Presidential Elections Law no. 174 of 2005.
[13] Law no. 12 of 2012.
[14] Law no. 73 of 1956.
[15] See Article 2 Para. 2 of Law no. 73 of 1956.
[16] See Article 8 of Law no. 46 of 2014 (On Issuing the Parliament Law).
[17] Article 53 of the Egyptian Constitution: “Citizens are equal before the law, and they are equal in rights, freedoms, and public duties.”

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