While the Egyptian army faced a massive attack by Islamist militants in Northern Sinai Wednesday, the government decided to toughen laws aimed at fighting terrorism.
According to Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim Al-Heneidy, Egypt's cabinet approved in a plenary meeting Wednesday a number of legislative amendments aimed at countering a new wave of terrorism.
Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that first and foremost a tougher anti-terrorism law would be introduced. "The final draft will be referred to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to be officially ratified and implemented," said Heneidy. In the absence of a parliament, the 2014 Constitution gives to El-Sisi legislative powers.
The move comes after Egypt's prosecutor-general, Hisham Barakat, died following a bomb attack on his motorcade Monday. A number of terrorist attacks also hit the country Tuesday and Wednesday. Hundreds of militants affiliated with the Islamist jihadist group Ansar Beit Al-Magdis attacked several army checkpoints in Sinai Wednesday, leaving a record number dead.
Leaving Bakarat's military funeral Tuesday, El-Sisi vowed to amend laws within days to ensure "rapid justice" against militants.
Heneidy said the new 55-article anti-terrorism law was discussed intensely in a three-hour cabinet meeting Wednesday. "I think we are in a war against terrorism and this law comes as a new harsher measure aimed at stemming the tide of terrorist organisations," Heneidy said, adding that, "The new package of anti-terrorism measures are quite enough that there is no need at the moment for any extraordinary or emergency measures to stand up to terrorism."
Heneidy said while the new anti-terrorism law will be sent to President El-Sisi, it will also be referred to the State Council and the Higher Council for Judges for revision in legal and constitutional terms.
Heneidy said the new law gives police officers and prosecutors added powers for clamping down on terrorists. "The penalties imposed on terrorists and terrorist activities will be also hardened, with most of them fluctuating between either a death sentence or a life term," said Heneidy.
Heneidy indicated that the new stricter penalties will also cover different forms of funding for terrorist activities. "Those convicted of funding terrorist activities or terrorist-labeled organisations, or directing terrorist operations, will face the death penalty or life in prison," Heneidy said in a thinly veiled reference to jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Heneidy also indicated the Criminal Procedures Law was amended to cut trials of militants and terrorists short. Heneidy said a convoluted appeals process means it can take years for a final verdict to be handed down.
"Under the current law, defendants are allowed to appeal verdicts twice, but under the amended draft, this process will be shortened to give defendants the right to appeal the verdict just one time," said Heneidy, indicating that "If an appeal by a defendant was accepted, he or she would face a retrial but before the Court of Cassation" – Egypt's highest judicial authority whose rulings are final and binding to all.
Heneidy also explained that the amendments establsh that appeals in terrorism cases will take priority. "I mean that the Court of Cassation will make sure that appeals submitted by defendants facing trial under the new terrorism law be reviewed and settled in a short time, not exceeding three months," said Heneidy.