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Fears expressed over Egypt's new 'terrorist entities' law, despite 'need for it'

Egypt is facing mounting militant threats locally and regionally, but some fear that terrorism in a new law issued Tuesday is defined too broadly

Reem Gehad , Wednesday 25 Feb 2015
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Egypt's new Terrorist Entities Law has raised fears among some over its effectiveness while others believe it is necessary in the face of local and regional terrorism.

The law, signed by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Tuesday, defines terrorist groups, persons and crimes. It also stipulates the penal procedures applicable if a group or person are implicated in terrorist crimes.

Legal experts say the law is not completely new, as Egypt's penal code includes articles on terrorism. However, the new law lists more crimes under the umbrella of terrorism.

Saeid Median, professor of criminal law at Cairo University, told Ahram Online that the new law has "broadened the scope of the crime of terrorism."

"It has included a lot of things that should not have been taken in," he said.

The law defines terrorist entities as groups that "through any means inside or outside the country, seek to call for the disabling of laws, or prevent state institutions or public authorities from functioning, or seek to attack the personal liberty of citizens, or other freedoms and rights granted [to citizens] by the law and constitution, or to harm national unity or social peace."

Median believes this will "increase accusations" made under the name of terrorism, saying this can be "terrifying" in society.

Critics point to articles that include vague phrases that could open the door to persecuting persons and groups that do not necessarily pose a real terrorist threat.    

"For example, harming social peace is an open door for a lot of crimes. This could also create confusion for prosecutors when investigating events," Median says.

Chairperson of the liberal Constitution Party Hala Shukrallah made similar points when speaking to Al-Ahram Arabic news website Tuesday, saying the fear of terrorism is already reflected in laws that restrict protests and peaceful demonstrations.

She added that the "way state institutions deal with such concepts makes us concerned over the new laws issued one after the other."

The Constitution Party is highly critical of a strict protest law in force since November 2013, accusing the government of taking measures to clamp down on constitutional freedoms.

Meanwhile, Judge Mohamed Hamed El-Gamal, former head of the State Council, commented on fears around the law, saying that in cases where people or groups believe they were wrongly labeled "terrorist" by the law, they could appeal in court.

"National need"

El-Gamal believes the law is necessary in the face of the "daily" threat of terrorism in the country.

He says, however, that putting implementation of the law in the hands of the prosecution makes procedures "lengthy" when they should be faster, suggesting the presidency instead should execute it.   

Similarly, head of the Nasserist Tagamuu Party Sayed Abd El-Aal said the new law reflects a "national need," especially in light of Egypt's foreign relations and regional and international efforts to cooperate against terrorism threats in the region.  

Egypt's government has launched an anti-terrorism campaign in the face of mounting violence in Sinai and elsewhere — mainly against police and army personnel, but where civilians have also been targeted.

Last week, Egyptians were shaken when the Islamic State (IS) group released a video online showing 20 Egyptian Copts being murdered in Libya. Egypt launched airstrikes quickly after against IS targets in Libya.  

Last year, an Egyptian court listed the Sinai-based jihadist group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis a terrorist organisation. The group has claimed responsibility for several attacks against police and army and pledged allegiance to the IS group last November. 

Egypt's formerly ruling Muslim Brotherhood was also labeled a terrorist group in 2013, but insists it has no links with violence.

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