Hundreds of Egypt State Employees Face Prosecution after Drug Tests

In early May, over 550 Egyptian state employees were referred to the public prosecution office after being forced to take a drug test, under a new law.

On May 5, the Ministry of Social Solidarity announced that 15,877 state employees had recently been drug tested, and that 555 had been referred to the Administrative Prosecution Authority (APA) for consuming illegal drugs. The APA is a government body that investigates government employees, and has the mandate to refer alleged offenders to criminal courts.

The sudden crackdown follows the government approving a bill in March that authorised the required drug testing of all state employees, from the ministerial to the local level. Alongside members of the civil service, employees working for public transportation, hospitals, and other state-run institutions must also be drug tested. Anyone who refuses to be drug tested will have their employment terminated.

The new law was brought in with explicit support from Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouli, following a deadly train crash in Cairo after which the train driver later tested positive for drug use.

Egyptian law does not specify the punishment for someone who tests positive for drug use, but the director of Egypt's Fund for Drug Control and Treatment - Amr Osman - has warned that any state bus or rail drivers testing positive for drug use face imprisonment for at least two years, and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($582).

University students and employees will also be subject to mandatory drug testing, the education minister has announced. In this case, people who test positive will be offered "treatment", and will be sacked or expelled from the university if they refuse to comply.

Egypt has some of the world’s harshest drug policies. Someone apprehended while using drugs faces a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison – a penalty that is doubled if the substance involved is cocaine or heroin. Numerous drug offences require the perpetrator to be punished with the death penalty, including "inducing any other person to take any narcotic substance", and possessing drugs with the intent to supply.

Although no one was executed for drug offences in Egypt in 2018, at least 23 were sentenced to death for such crimes. Harm Reduction International has described the “abysmal” conditions faced by these prisoners, including “[being] kept in solitary confinement for over 23 hours a day, and [enduring] beatings and other forms of physical and psychological violence”.

A 2018 proposal by John Talaat, an independent MP and deputy governor of Cairo, to decriminalise the personal use of drugs failed to gain traction among legislators.