Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

New law, new crisis

The government’s ill-judged draft law regulating demonstrations meets with widespread opposition, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

The interim cabinet has been subjected to a wave of criticism from human rights groups and political factions who say draft legislation that purports to regulate protests is in fact an attempt to reverse revolutionary gains. The extent of public opposition forced the interim government to backtrack, with the cabinet pledging the draft law will not be passed unless it wins public consensus.

For the first time since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi political forces presented a united front, accusing the government and interim President Adli Mansour of seeking to reinstate the repressive policies of the Mubarak regime.

Tamarod, which spearheaded the mass protests that led to Morsi’s removal and has been vocal in its support of the interim regime, said the proposed law was an “unjust” attempt to curb peaceful protests.

Under the draft legislation protest organisers must secure advance approval from the Interior Ministry. The new law gives police and senior officials the right to postpone or cancel protests at their discretion.

After the furore over the draft, and following a meeting with the interim president, the government issued “a statement insisting it is “committed to protecting freedom of expression and human rights and accordingly the new law regulating protests and assembly will be referred to national dialogue for a week”.

The controversial draft law bans public assembly and demonstrations at places of worship, and prohibits the wearing of any cover hiding the face. It remains unclear whether or not women wearing niqabs will be allowed to participate in protests. The draft also bans any compromise of citizens’ interests — a clause sufficiently vaguely worded it has led to major concern.

The law gives the minister of interior and senior security officials the right to cancel or postpone public assemblies and dictate alternative venues. It also stipulates the way demonstrators can be dispersed — allowing the use of water cannon, tear gas and batons. Security forces are allowed to use other means only in cases of “legitimate self-defence”.

Under the new law, a 50 to 100 metre zone in front of state institutions deemed vital will become protest free zones. Such institutions include presidential and parliamentary premises, the offices of the cabinet, ministries, governorate buildings, prisons, courts and police stations. Combined with then prohibition of traffic disruption it effectively criminalises the kinds of protests that first brought down Mubarak and then Morsi.

The new protest law states in Article 9 that “the right to public assembly, or to procession, or to demonstration shall not entail a strike, or sit-in at the places of demonstration, disrupt security or public order, obstruct citizens’ interests or expose them to danger, prevent them from exercising their right, including the right to work, block roads or obstruct the movement of any mean of transportation or flow of traffic, or encroach upon lives or public and private properties.”

“Any law that limits the right of peaceful demonstration which Egyptians won in the 25 January and 30 June revolutions is an unjust law. Non-peaceful protests must be dealt with without laws being used to restrict them,” said Tamarod spokesperson Mohamed Abdel-Aziz.

“Three months ago President Mansour told me during a meeting that 30 June mass protests brought him to power. Now I want to remind him that had the new protest law been in effect he would have never become a president and we would have never ousted an autocrat like Morsi.”

The National Salvation Front has demanded the presidency halt issuing the new legislation to allow time for it to consult with political forces, youth movements and legal experts.

“We are against this law. It will be impossible to implement and place the government and the people in direct confrontation at a critical period,” said leading NSF member Wahid Abdel-Magid.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party has also criticised the new law as a “dangerous setback from the democratic path carved out since the 25 January 2011 Revolution”.

The statement added that rather than issuing laws which limit freedoms and restore the oppressive practices of a police state the authorities should be more concerned with reforming the security apparatus.

The Nour Party urged the interim president to open a dialogue before approving the law.

“The protest law is sensitive and dangerous. It must be preceded by dialogue. One of the most important gains of the revolution is that the Egyptian people recovered their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” the party said in a statement.

Domestic and international human rights groups slammed the law. Amnesty International said the interim government was “ignoring the lessons of past crackdowns”.

“The law treats peaceful protesters like criminals and grants security forces additional powers to crush them,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights Director Hafez Abu Seada accused those who drafted the law of attempting to ban protests. By criminalising sit-ins and allowing the authorities to cancel demonstrations the law, he said, violated international standards of human rights and freedom of expressions.

“The protest law is part of the same project pursued first by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, then Morsi, and now the interim government,” charged Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. “We said from the very beginning that it is anti-freedom.”

“Recourse to security and police solutions will lead to more failure and worsen the political conflict in Egypt,” he warned.

But is the draft law even constitutional?

Some legal experts say in its current form it is not, and would quickly be overturned.

“The law contradicts the current interim constitutional declaration and all past Egyptian constitutions,” says legal expert Mohamed Nour Farahat.

Farahat predicts the government will not have the chance to implement the new law because of the number of lawsuits that will be filed against it.

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