A prominent Egyptian court has issued a verdict criminalising sit-ins by employees at public municipalities.
The High Administrative Court (HAC) ruled on Tuesday that public employees who take part in sit-ins on the job could be punished for impeding the ability of public institutions to deliver services "which constitute a right for citizens."
In a Tuesday ruling, HAC upheld management's decision of compulsory retiring three employees at a provincial public municipality in the Delta governorate of Menoufiya, and ordered the postponement of mandatory promotions and raises of 14 others for "striking and preventing their institutions from serving citizens," the statement added.
The court reasoned that sit-ins by civil employees constitute in actuality a form of illegal strikes, and must be treated as such.
"A sit-in should not be [simply] treated as a protest, meeting or assembly, but [it should be viewed] rather as an [illegal strike] by employees who disrupt services without officially declaring a full work-stoppage," the court said in its reasoning.
The court said strikes at places where they are prohibited must be considered a "criminal act", adding that "obedience to superiors is the backbone of any administrative system".
The case dates back to June 2013 when employees at a provincal service department in a village in Menoufiya arranged a sit-in to demand the dismissal of their boss.
"The employees interrupted their work duties to protest against their boss [...] which violates the principle of proper functioning at public offices, inflicts the heaviest social and economic damage and contravenes requirements that public employees perform their work duties full time," the statement read.
It is not yet clear how the court's ruling would apply to various labour actions by other public empployees across government branches.
Egypt's 2014 constitution enshrines "the right of peaceful strikes," but stipulates that the government can issue laws to regulate such actions.
The court said it based its legal opinion on an Islamic Sharia tenet which ordains that "warding off harm takes priority over procuring benefits."
The Egyptian constitution stipulates that Islamic Sharia is a main source for the formulation of laws and requires that all laws must not contradict religious rules.
Egypt has regularly signed on United Nations treaties which state that strikes by workers constitute a basic human right.