Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Key laws climb the parliamentary agenda

Laws aimed at regulating media activities and the construction of churches will soon be ready to refer to parliament, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Several laws necessitated by the 2014 Constitution will soon be referred parliament, including new legislation regulating the media and governing the construction of churches, reports Gamal Essam El-Din. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati made the announcement at Monday’s meeting of the House of Representatives’ Human Rights Committee.

Al-Agati said a unified draft law regulating the media and the press will be discussed by the cabinet in its weekly meeting on Wednesday and “if endorsed will be immediately referred to the State Council for legal and constitutional review”.

The law has been drafted to conform to the 2014 Constitution. “The draft consists of 222 articles that seek to grant journalists greater freedoms. It will allow them to retire at the age of 65 instead of 60 and abolish custodial sentences for publication offences,” Al-Agati told the committee.

“The elimination of prison sentences for publication crimes will automatically lead to their being deleted from the Penal Code,” he said.

The sixth chapter of the 2014 Constitution — which includes articles 211, 212 and 213 — states that three bodies should be formed to regulate the press and media in Egypt: a Supreme Council for Regulation of the Media and the Press, a National Press Authority and a National Media Authority.

The cabinet discussion of new media and press laws will follow this week’s decision by the prosecutor-general to refer Press Syndicate head Yehia Qallash and board members Khaled Al-Balshy and Gamal Abdel-Reheim to trial on charges of spreading false news and allowing two fugitives to hide in the syndicate’s downtown Cairo headquarters.

A new law on the construction of churches has already been finalised by a government committee, in consultation with representatives of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches, said Al-Agati.

“After four months of intensive preparation the law won the approval of Pope Tawadros and representatives from the other two churches. It is now ready to be endorsed by the cabinet, after which it can be referred to the House,” said Al-Agati.

Al-Agati added that the law has also gained the support of Egypt’s security apparatuses and local councils in provincial governorates.

Article 235 of the constitution stipulates that in its first year of sitting the House of Representatives must pass a law regulating the construction and restoration of churches in a way that guarantees Christians can exercise their religious rites freely.

Discussion of the construction of new churches prompted some MPs to question Al-Agati over the recent violence in Al-Minya during which houses belonging to Christian villagers were torched and an elderly Christian woman was stripped naked by a mob.

“The Minya attack was not the first and will not be the last,” said MP Samir Ghattas.

Al-Agati responded that a new transitional justice law is being drafted which will help tackle “sectarian strife”.

“These incidents cannot be solved by reconciliation. We need legislation that complies with the constitution and guarantees justice for all citizens regardless of their religion.”

Al-Agati warned, however, that “the drafting of a new transitional justice law” will take time.

“We are studying similar laws passed by South Africa and Chile,” he said. He added that there is an urgent need for “MPs, members of local councils and Muslim clerics to play a greater role in spreading religious tolerance in Egypt’s 27 governorates”.

Said Al-Agati, “Laws alone cannot end these incidents. Local leaders must intervene to enlighten people about the importance of unity and tolerance.”

 Al-Agati stressed that “the new transitional justice law will lead in any way to reconciliation with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood”. He continued, “No one — ordinary citizens, government officials or elected MPs — can accept a law that leads to reconciliation with a group deeply involved in the killing of Egyptians and whose leaders’ hands are stained with the blood of policemen and soldiers.”

Al-Agati also announced that a draft law overseeing the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has also been finalised.

“The main objective of the law is to grant the council greater independence. It will allow a number of bodies, including the Higher Council for Universities, to submit nominees for membership of the NCHR.”

Al-Agati also explained that “the law obliges the NCHR to prepare regular reports on the state of human rights in Egypt to be discussed by parliament”.

MPs took the opportunity to ask Al-Agati about the mistreatment of Egyptians working in Arab Gulf countries under what is called al-kafeel (or employer sponsorship) system. Several cases have recently hit the news.

Al-Agati said that the government is in contact with officials in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and said that “through our good relations with these brotherly Arab countries we can put an end to this system”.

Human Rights Committee Chair Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat told Al-Agati that Egypt’s failure to become a member of the Arab Council for Human Rights has hampered reform of the system.

“If we had been members of the council we would have directly asked Arab Gulf countries to cancel the kafeel system,” said Al-Sadat.

Laila Bahaaeddin, deputy foreign minister for human rights, responded, “Egypt has already submitted a membership request and we hope to receive a reply very soon.”

 

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