President Mansour leaves office with a legislative bang

Ahram Online, Thursday 5 Jun 2014

Outgoing interim president passes seven laws on Thursday, namely on tax hikes on the rich, parliamentary elections and penalties for sexual harassment and littering

Adly Mansour
Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour (Photo: Reuters)

Just 48 hours before he is to leave office and return to his original position as head of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, Egypt's outgoing interim President Adly Mansour signed into law a number of pieces of legislation on Thursday evening dealing with a wide range of topics, from sexual harassment to who can preach in mosques.

Mansour is due to leave office on Sunday following the swearing-in ceremony of president-elect Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

Parliamentary elections legislation

One of the most-talked about laws dealt with regulating parliamentary elections and the practicing of political rights.

According to the law, the number of seats of Egypt's House of Representatives will be decreased to 567 from the originally proposed figure of 630.

The decision comes after a cabinet meeting held by interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb on Wednesday evening in which a decrease in the number of parliamentary seats was endorsed.

Of the total 567 seats, 420 will be elected via the individual candidacy system, while as many as 120 will be reserved for party lists.

As many as 27 seats – 5 percent – will be named by the president, in accordance with the new constitution.

The law stipulates that each list of party-based candidates must include three women, three Coptic Christians and two representing farmers and workers.

The law also stipulates that each individual candidacy list must include nine seats for Coptic Christians, six for workers and farmers, six others for youth, three for persons with special needs and three for expats.

Also, 56 seats will be for women on the individual candidacy lists, in addition to the seats that will be by appointment or for absolute closed party lists.

Three-year tax on millionaires

Another law passed by Mansour as a presidential decree added a 5 percent tax on individuals with incomes in excess of LE1 million and on profits of companies in excess of the same amount, Al-Ahram's Arabic news website reported.

In early May, Mahlab's cabinet approved a draft of the law submitted by the finance ministry.

The 5 percent tax rate increase is to be applied temporarily for a period of three years.

Currently, those earning above LE250,000 a year are taxed at a rate of 25 percent.

The exceptional measure is designed to answer calls for social justice raised during Egypt's 2011 revolution – which brought down the regime of long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak – as well as alleviate the financial imbalances exacerbated by three years of economic turmoil, Finance Minister Hany Kadry Demian told reporters in April.

The tax hike is expected to boost state revenues by between LE2 and LE3 billion a year

Six-month jail terms exchanged for labour

Earlier in the evening, Mansour issued a decision amending articles of the country's criminal penal code regarding the service of prison sentences for less than six months.

One significant precedent gives defendants sentenced to no more than six months in jail a choice of supervised labor outside the prison, unless their sentences stipulate that this is not an option.

Another amendment allows prisoners to be released after completing two thirds of their prison term – down from three quarters in the old law – based on good conduct and if their release does not jeopardise national security.

Tougher sentences for sexual harassment

A new anti-sexual harassment law was also passed as an amendment to the Egyptian penal code, presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi said on Thursday.

Mansour applied the amendment after it was approved by the cabinet a month ago and legally reviewed by the State Council.

The law imposes jail terms of no less than six months and/or fines of LE3,000 to LE5,000 ($419 to 700) on those who are found guilty of sexual harassment in public or private areas, with harassment defined as gestures or words or any modern means of communication, or any other action that carries sexual or pornographic hints.

If the harasser continues the action, essentially stalking the woman before being caught, he will be punished with no less than one year in jail and a fine from LE5,000 to LE10,000.

In case the offense is repeated over time, the maximum penalties of imprisonment and fines are doubled.

Another amendment of the law states a punishment of one year in jail and a fine of LE10,000 to LE20,000 for soliciting sexual conduct.

Even stricter penalties will be imposed on those who use their authority in settings of family, work or education to commit sexual harassment, with jail sentences of two to five years and fines of LE20,000 to LE50,000. The same penalty applies to harassment conducted by two persons or more, or under the threat of a weapon.

There had previously been no specific law proscribing sexual harassment in Egypt. However, three articles in the penal code were sometimes applied in cases of sexual harassment, which were amended in Thursday's decision.

Sexual harassment has been a growing problem in Egypt in the past 10 years.

Out of hundreds of women surveyed, more than 99 percent across seven of the country's 27 governorates reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor harassment to rape, according to an April 2013 report by the United Nations along with Egypt's Demographic Centre and the National Planning Institute.

Reacting to Mansour's amendments on Thursday, Egypt's National Council for Women (NCW) described the decision as "an honour" for Egyptian woman and an important step towards eliminate this shameful phenomenon.

"(The decision) reflects the keenness of the state and the interest in the protection of women and preservation of their rights," the NCW statement said.

Cleaning up Egypt's streets

Other amendments issued on Thursday included additions to the 1967 Public Hygiene Law which toughen up both fines and jail sentences for individuals who litter or dump trash, such as construction waste on public land.

The law penalises those who dump construction waste on bridges, railways, landmarks and so forth, with fines ranging from LE20,000 to LE100,000.

The law also fines average citizens who litter LE200 to LE5,000.

Egypt has suffered for years from a crisis in garbage collection, leaving public spaces as sites for dumping trash.

Land for industrial zone

Mansour approved allocating 398.6 acres of state land to the ministry of trade, industry and investment to establish a developed industrial zone for leather tanneries.

The to-be-established zone, called Al-Robeky, is 54 km east of Cairo.

Al-Ahram's Arabic news website reported on Thursday that the allocated land includes 143.3 acres belonging to Egypt's military.

No unauthorised Islamic preachers

Finally, Mansour signed into law a decree banning all non-certified Islamic preachers, presidential spokesman Badawi said.

The law, which also applies to public spaces used as mosques, stipulates that only employees of the country's endowments ministry (Islamic religious affairs) or the senior Islamic learning institute at Al-Azhar can preach or give religious lessons.

The permission to preach or give lessons is only issued by Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh or the endowments minister. Persons outside of these two institutions can also be allowed to preach, but only according to the endowment ministry's regulations.

Those who violate the law can face from three months to one year in jail and/or a fine of LE20,000 to LE50,000.

The punishment is doubled in case of repeat offenses.

The presidential decree also states that only students, graduates and employees of Al-Azhar, the endowments ministry or Dar Al-Ifta, the main authority for issuing religious verdicts, are allowed to wear clerical uniform.

Unauthorised persons who wear clerical uniform will face jail sentences of one month to one year and/or a fine of LE10,000 to30,000.

Employees of the endowments ministry, as allowed by the justice minister, are allowed to stop and arrest those who violate the law.

In March, Egypt's Religious Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa placed all mosques and side-street praying areas under the authority of the ministry, while also including a timetable for the decision to come into effect.

He also prohibited any non-governmental organisation, certified or not, from collecting money in mosques outside the framework of the law.

A series of decisions coordinating the sermons of Friday prayers and assigning certified preachers came after "extremist ideas" were believed to have spread through informal prayer venues not regulated by the state. The ministry has thus undertaken a policy to adjust mosques' staff and sermons in a manner that is bipartisan. 

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