Thursday,27 July, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)
Thursday,27 July, 2017
Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

When the dust settles

As the horror of Palm Sunday’s terror attacks sinks in MPs approve legislative amendments that may help prevent a recurrence

THE NATION was shaken by the twin blasts in St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, and in St George Church in Tanta, at the start of Holy Week. Yet, the defiance of Coptic Christians in the face of adversity startled the world. Egyptians are in mourning, but they are resolved not to allow terrorism to break their unity. (photo: Reuters)
THE NATION was shaken by the twin blasts in St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, and in St George Church in Tanta, at the start of Holy Week. Yet, the defiance of Coptic Christians in the face of adversity startled the world. Egyptians are in mourning, but they are resolved not to allow terrorism to break their unity. (photo: Reuters)

In a plenary session on Tuesday parliament approved President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decree — a response to this week’s bomb attacks on churches in Tanta and Alexandria — imposing a nationwide state of emergency for three months.

The four-article decree (No 157/2017) stated that “in accordance with Article 154 of the constitution a state of emergency will be imposed nationwide for three months, beginning at 1pm on Monday” and mandated the prime minister “to exercise all the powers necessary” to implement the state of emergency.

Article 4 states that anyone guilty of violating the decree will face penalties stipulated in the state of emergency law (Law 162/1958).

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that the decree conforms to both Article 154 of the constitution and Article 132 of the House of Representatives’ internal by-laws.

In a televised address on Sunday evening Al-Sisi said the state of emergency will protect the country and prevent any targeting of its capabilities. He used the speech to announce the setting up of a new body, the Supreme Council of Combating Terrorism and Extremism, which will be charged with developing a long-term counter-terrorist strategy.

“The council will be responsible for reforming religious discourse and fighting extremist ideas in addition to combating terrorism and drying up its sources of funding,” said Al-Sisi.

Abdel-Aal told MPs that Palm Sunday’s church attacks, which left 45 dead and 100 injured, “are part of a wider conspiracy that aims to destabilise the country and disrupt national unity”.

In a short address to parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the suicide attacks on churches in Tanta and Alexandria represented a new wave of terrorist crimes. “President Al-Sisi was forced to declare the state of emergency on Monday in order to stem these crimes and uproot terrorism,” Ismail said.

The emergency law, said Ismail, will give the authorities the flexibility needed to stand up to terrorism and help uproot it. He told MPs that the latest attacks had made it clear that extremists still have access to billions of pounds to fund their campaigns of terror.

Emergency Law 126/1958 allows civilians to be tried before exceptional “emergency high state security courts”, permits the authorities to regulate movement in public places and grants the government greater controls over media outlets. According to Article 12 of the law the verdicts of security courts cannot be appealed.

MPs approved an amendment to the emergency law, drafted by independent MP and security expert Tharwat Bekheit, under which anyone suspected of any involvement in terrorist activities can be detained in custody for seven days with the prosecution’s prior approval. Those deemed “highly dangerous” by the “emergency high state security courts” can be detained one month.

Abdel-Aal told MPs similar provisions featured in many European anti-terrorist laws. He also said he hoped the media would respect the state of emergency. “As in European countries which have imposed a state of emergency following terrorist attacks the media should refrain from stirring unrest or harming national interests,” said Abdel-Aal.

He also revealed that social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter will be subject to emergency law provisions.

Three regulatory press and media councils officially formed on Tuesday will help oversee the media and ensure it acts in the national interest or — in Abdel-Aal’s words — “in a more disciplined way in the coming period”.

MPs also approved amendments to the laws of criminal procedure (Law 150/1950), terrorist entities (Law 8/2015) and anti-terror (Law 94/2015).

Changes to the criminal procedures law, drafted by MP Salah Hassaballah, seek to shorten the trials of suspected terrorists by eliminating loopholes that allow defendants to drag out the process.

“The amendments, which cover four articles of the law, will restrict defendants to a single appeal and set limits on the time the court allocates to witness statements,” said Hassaballah.

Following the December 2016 bombing of the Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiya the majority of MPs voted to amend the criminal procedures law, stiffen penalties for terrorist crimes and expedite the trial of terror suspects. Some MPs were also in favour of changing the 2014 constitution to allow suspected terrorists to stand trial before military courts. That change is no longer necessary following the imposition of a state of emergency.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan said the government was preparing further amendments to the criminal procedures law which are expected to be ready within 15 days.

Mohamed Al-Ghoul, deputy head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, claimed “leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and related terrorist groups who are currently in jail or living in Turkey and Qatar were able to send messages to their followers in North Sinai telling them to mount attacks against Christians.”

He demanded the anti-terror laws be amended to help close such channels of communication and ensure speedier justice for terrorists.

The North Sinai-based Beit Al-Maqdis, which has declared allegiance to the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Tanta and Alexandria.

According to Al-Ghoul, the two church bombings showed that money is still being channelled from countries such as Turkey and Qatar to fund terrorist crimes in Egypt.

“The terrorist cells, which call themselves by different names, still have access to the financial resources necessary to mount their attacks. Without first draining these sources of funding it will be difficult to defeat terrorism in Egypt anytime soon,” said Al-Ghoul.

Abdel-Aal told parliament that “an international conference on terrorism will be convened very soon and Egypt will seize the opportunity to name states suspected of funding terrorist activities.”

Monday also saw MPs approve changes to the terrorist entities and anti-terror laws. The amendments give the prosecutor-general greater power to designate groups as terrorist organisations and to prevent suspected members of proscribed groups from preaching in mosques and other public places. The prosecutor-general will also be empowered to confiscate the assets of groups suspected of funding terrorist activities.

Independent MP Hussein Abu Gad told Al-Ahram Weekly that the amendments will cut off the Muslim Brotherhood’s funding and help prevent its members from using pulpits to further the group’s agenda. “Some remnants of the Brotherhood still preach in mosques and issue highly provocative fatwas against the state,” said Abu Gad.

Meanwhile, parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee began discussions this week of new legislation fighting “electronic crime and on Monday the Religious Affairs Committee approved a new law preventing unlicensed clerics from issuing fatwas. Independent MP Osama Al-Abd, a former president of Al-Azhar University, said the new law is part of an ongoing campaign to moderate religious discourse.

“This is an important front in the battle against extremism and terrorism,” he said.

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