Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

MPs focus on demonstrations and church building

Amendments to the protest law and new legislation governing the construction of churches are due to be discussed by parliament, reports Gamal Essam El-Din 

Al-Ahram Weekly

Representatives of political parties said on Monday the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has agreed proposed amendments of the controversial protest law must win national consensus before they are submitted to parliament.

According to Mohamed Fouad, parliamentary spokesman of the Wafd Party, the government has accepted that representatives of political forces meet to review the proposed changes. “This is a very positive step and should guarantee the amendments strike a correct balance between the right to protest and national security concerns,” said Fouad.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told reporters that the government’s decision to revise the protest law reflects its wish to implement the constitution and grant citizens the right to protest. “We also want to seek the opinion of political forces rather than impose our amendments,” said Al-Agati.

The Free Egyptians and the Conservative Parties say they have submitted their own proposals for amending the protest law. On Monday parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Aal decided ten amendments proposed by the Conservative Party be referred to the National Security and Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committees for discussion.

Akmal Qortam, chairman of the Conservative Party, said the proposed amendments were supported by 61 MPs.

“The amendments mainly aim to implement article 73 of the constitution which gives citizens the right to organise peaceful protests,” said Qortam. “The amendments are in line with recommendations proposed by the National Council for Human Right (NCHR) which has asked the government to abandon the severe penalties imposed by the current protest law.”

Qortam said the changes would restrict the use of force by the police to disperse protesters. It would limit police to using water cannons and tear gas, and prohibit the use of batons and cudgels which, says Qortam, have caused severe, and sometimes fatal, injuries in the past. Proposed amendments to article 13 of the law will also limit police to the use of rubber bullets against unlicensed demonstrators.

Suggested changes to article 10 will limit the interior minister and general security commander’s ability to prevent already licensed protests on the grounds that should they go ahead they will threaten domestic security.

“The Interior Minister or security commander should not be allowed to prevent already licensed street protests. What they should be allowed to do is to delay the protest or ask demonstrators to alter their planned route, though they must do so at least 48 hours in advance,” said Qortam.

Qortam also said article 8 should be amended to allow activists to inform the Interior Ministry of three proposed venues for their protest.

“The Interior Ministry can then choose between the three options rather than rejecting just one. We will also insist in the amendments that CCTV cameras monitor the routes of all protests, recording any possible infringements by either the police or protestors.”

Amendments also propose that provincial governors allocate specific venues for peaceful protests. “In this case article 15 of the law should also state that the venue be covered by closed-circuit cameras,” said Qortam. “This is the only way to prevent police forces from trumping up charges against protesters.”

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) supports the Conservative Party’s proposals, saying they will allow for peaceful street protests in line with the constitution.

“The most important thing about these amendments is that not only do they stand against the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters but will help prevent policemen from fabricating charges,” said a NCHR statement. “A lot of young protesters were acquitted from charges last month after courts found out that the evidence against them was fabricated by the Interior Ministry.”

The leftist 25-30 group of MPs also supports Qortam’s amendments. Diaaeddin Dawoud, an MP from Damietta governorate, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “while we acknowledge the security challenges facing the government in this critical period we also stress that the protest law must be amended in line with the constitutional principle because protesting is a right rather than a crime”.

The Free Egyptians Party announced that it had submitted its own proposals for regulating the construction of churches.

“The draft law, which already has the support of more than 137 MPs, helps implement article 235 of the constitution which states that parliament must issue a law on the construction and restoration of churches in its first session to guarantee that Christians can perform their religious rituals freely,” says Mahmoud Al-Alieli, chairman of the Free Egyptians Party’s committees.

The 18-article proposed law, according Al-Alieli, will compel provincial governors to reply to applications for the construction or restoration of churches within four months. “If the governor fails to give an answer within this period the request will automatically be considered successful”,” said Al-Alieli. “If the request is rejected, the governor must give detailed reasons for the refusal.”

Pope Tawadros issues a statement this week expressing hope that a new law on the construction and restoration of churches will be passed this year.

“The law should state, in clear cut terms, that Christians have the right to build churches without facing undue administrative bureaucracy or complexity,” said Pope Tawadros. “The number of Christians in Egypt has increased in recent years and as a result we need more churches.”

Pope Tawadros also argued that decrees regulating the construction and restoration of churches in place since 1936 are discriminatory. “We hope these decrees will change so that Copts in Egypt feel that they have equal rights in their country,” said Tawadros.

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