Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Wiping clean the rubber stamp

New legislation provokes bitter argument in the Shura Council, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Shura Council’s Legislative Affairs and Human Rights Committee on Monday began discussing the government-drafted protest law. Members of the committee promised the controversial legislation would be the subject of “national dialogue” before it is ratified in a Shura Council plenary meeting though what form the promised consultations will take, and when, remains unclear.
The 26-article law, approved by the council of ministers on 13 February, gives the police sweeping powers to disrupt and disperse street protests. It also stipulates that the Interior Ministry must be notified of the time and venue of any protest at least five days in advance. The ministry can prohibit any protest gatherings it deems a threat to public order and demonstrations must keep a 500 metre cordon between protesters and vital state institutions — though these are not defined by the law — at all times.
In the initial debate of the draft law on Sunday non-Islamist MPs launched a scathing attack on the proposed legislation which, it said, seeks to muzzle freedoms and clamp down on anti-government protests.
Nagui Al-Shehabi, chairman of the Geel (Generation) Party and an appointed member of the Shura Council, predicted that, as always, “the draft law will be rubber-stamped by deputies of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.”
“There will be no serious national dialogue on this law,” argued Al-Shehabi. He went on to draw parliamentarians’ attention to the fact that “although there was a national dialogue on the election law the recommendations it produced were all ignored by Brotherhood MPs when it came up for debate before the Shura Council.”
Mohamed Mohieddin, of the liberal-oriented Ghad Al-Thawra (The Revolution’s Tomorrow) Party and another appointed Shura Council member, noted that the draft “looks like an emergency law”.  
“It gives the police unlimited powers to arrest citizens and blatantly contradicts the chapter on Freedoms and Civil Liberties in the new constitution which gives the judicial authorities — rather than the police — the right to order the arrest of citizens.”
The new law, he concluded, was an attempt to turn back the clock and reduce Egypt to a police state.
Sobhi Saleh, deputy chairman of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, argued that while “there could be a national dialogue on the protest law, the final draft must be left to Shura Council.”
“There is a pressing need,” he insisted, “for the protest law in order to combat the wave of criminal activity that in recent weeks has swamped demonstrations.”
On Tuesday the chairman of the Shura Council ordered an ad hoc committee to be formed to discuss the draft legislation.
“This committee will be required to ensure the draft law strikes a balance between guaranteeing protest rights and safeguarding public property,” he said.
The Shura Council is also awaiting a government-drafted law regulating the activities of non-government organisations (NGOs). Reports of what the law will contain have provoked concern among human rights activists.
Mohamed Zarie, who recently resigned from the Islamist-dominated National Council of Human Rights (NCHR), said that in seeking to impose a minimum of LE250,000 to be held by NGOs rather than the LE10,000 under the current law, the government was seeking to dramatically reduce the number of operating NGOs. Zarie also objected to provisions which, he said, give employees at the Ministry of Social Insurance judicial powers to investigate NGOs and refer their staff to trial.
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat argued that the draft was being tailored to undermine NGOs and civil society. “It imposes strict bans on civil society and human rights organisations, prohibiting them from seeking any foreign funding or conducting opinion polls,” said Al-Sadat. The law, he added, was being drawn up to a Muslim Brotherhood dictated agenda. “Don’t people find it odd,” he asked, “that an unlicensed group which has consistently rejected any kind of financial scrutiny or oversight of its own activities wants to impose them on everyone else?”
On Sunday, Minister of Social Insurance Nagwa Khalil appeared to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood will have to meet the conditions included in any new NGO legislation.
“Should the Brotherhood win a majority in the coming parliament,” warned Al-Sadat, “it will use it to issue a new NGO law tailored exclusively to its own needs.”
“We all know the group has huge financial assets, mostly deposited in Qatari Banks, and that it has armed militias which have been used more than once in recent months, not least in the attack against protesters before Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace on 5 December,” said Al-Sadat. He revealed he had sent a letter to Mohamed Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, a week ago, demanding he “unveil the truth about the group’s financial deposits in Qatari banks”.
The Shura Council is also expected to discuss a draft law aimed at reaching financial settlements with a number of Mubarak-era businessmen and at recovering funds smuggled outside Egypt under the Mubarak regime. The law, submitted by the Wasat Party and approved by the Shura’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs last week, provoked heated disputes.
Some Shura members, including those from the Muslim Brotherhood, rejected any kind of settlement with Mubarak-era businessmen. “They have to face criminal trial first. Some of them were involved in bloody crimes,” said Ezzeddin Al-Komi, a Brotherhood member and deputy chairman of the council’s Human Rights Committee.
Freedom and Justice Party’s Essam Al-Erian, however, argued that “it is useless to keep corrupt former officials in prison when they could be set free in exchange for the return of the billions they embezzled.”

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