Planned Egypt ‘coronavirus tax’ sparks online criticism

Updated May 23 2020

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“All governments across the world give out money to their people except for Egypt.” — AFP/File
“All governments across the world give out money to their people except for Egypt.” — AFP/File

CAIRO: Egypt’s cabinet has preliminarily approved a bill that taxes one percent of citizens’ salaries to cushion the impact of coronavirus on strained government finances, sparking online criticism.

The draft law — due to come into effect from July, pending parliamentary approval — imposes the deductions across the public and private sectors on employees with monthly net incomes above 2,000 Egyptian pounds (around $125).

“All governments across the world give out money to their people except for Egypt” to help cushion the effects of coronavirus, said one Twitter user.

Instead, the Egyptian government “reaches into the pockets of Egyptians to take 1 percent.” The bill also stipulates a 0.5 percent effective tax on state pensions to help “confront some of the economic repercussions resulting from the spread of coronavirus,” the cabinet said in a statement this week. On Facebook, some citizens alleged that depriving pensioners of part of their income was “unconstitutional”.

The draft law provides for a possible exemption of those “working in sectors that were economically harmed due to the coronavirus spread,” the statement said, without elaborating.

The legislation has yet to be scrutinised by parliament and it will also require presidential assent to become law.

Dissent in Egypt is rare under President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, whose government stands accused by observers of stifling legitimate scrutiny.

An estimated 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, according to rights groups.

Egypt’s economy, like elsewhere, has been hit hard by the Covid-19 illness which has so far officially killed 696 out of 15,003 confirmed cases in the country. Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund approved a $2.8 billion aid package to help the country meet rising external imbalances.

In a bid to support the economy, the Egyptian government has begun to ease some confinement measures, including relaxing curfew hours and partially reopening some hotels.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has arrested at least 10 journalists since the coronavirus was detected in the country, a local human rights group said, accusing authorities of seizing on the pandemic to accelerate a long-running campaign against dissent.

The wave of detentions comes even as authorities across the world release inmates in a scramble to curb the spread of the virus in prisons, where social distancing and other preventative measures prove impossible, said the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.

The government has not released political detainees to prevent an outbreak, and instead put an end to family visits in prisons as a precautionary step.

The health conditions in Egyptian prisons have deteriorated, and inmates are not receiving necessary health care, the network said, pointing to the case of Shady Habash, a young Egyptian filmmaker detained for two years without trial who died suddenly this month.

Habashs death prompted accusations of medical negligence and raised fears about unhealthy conditions in prisons. Egypt’s public prosecution released a postmortem report saying he mistakenly poisoned himself by drinking hand sanitizer in his cell.Earlier this week, security forces detained Lina Attalah, the editor of Egypt’s most prominent investigative media outlet when she was conducting an interview. She was fined and released later that night. Other reporters continue to languish behind bars without trial.

Journalist and photographer Sameh Hanin, the group said, was also arrested this week and accused of helping a terrorist group, a frequent charge leveled at all sorts of critics of el-Sissis government.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2020