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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Egypt parliament to discuss amended protest law Sunday

The session will also discuss a draft law aimed at forming a 10-member commission to supervise all national elections and referendums

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 25 Mar 2017
Egyptian parliament
File photo: Egyptian parliament (Photo: Reuters)
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Egypt's parliament is scheduled to discuss on Sunday an amended version of the country's controversial protest law after one of its articles was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court

According to a joint report prepared by parliament's committee on legislative and constitutional affairs and the committee on defence and national security, the government-drafted 25-article bill amends Egypt's 2013 law on the "regulation of public assemblies, processions and peaceful protests."

The amendment comes after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled in December that Article 10 of the protest law is unconstitutional as it "grants the interior minister and security chiefs an absolute right to violate a basic freedom that is guaranteed by the new constitution," as stated in the committees' report.

"As a result, the amendment submitted by the government changes Article 10 to be in line with the Supreme Constitutional Court ruling and make sure that citizens have the right to organise street protests," the report said, adding that the amendment gives judicial authorities the final say over whether protests would be allowed. 

The report said the new amended text states that "if the interior minister or security chiefs decide that a certain street protest would disrupt public peace... they should inform judicial authorities in advance so that they can decide whether the street protest should be banned, postponed or allowed." 

"As a result, administrative authorities (the interior ministry and security directorates) will no longer under this amendment have the prerogative of deciding whether a street protest should be banned," said the report, "because administrative authorities – as decided by the Supreme Constitutional Court – cannot be neutral in this respect, [the matter] should be supervised and regulated by judges, who are more objective and unbiased."

Judges affiliated with first circuit courts will be entrusted with upholding the constitutional right to public protest, according to the report.

"The judges will be more objective and will make sure that this constitutional right is observed by the interior ministry and that it is exercised in line with national security and public peace considerations," the report said.

If a first circuit court judge decides that a street protest should be banned, the protest organisers will still have the right to appeal the decision.

The report argues that the amendment aims at satisfying two objectives: guaranteeing the right of citizens to organise peaceful public protests while observing national security and public order considerations.

"Many citizens have complained that street protests lead to disrupting public peace and even lead to national disasters and catastrophes," said the report, adding that "the amendment comes to secure a balance between the two rights."

Alaa Abed, head of parliament's human rights committee, said "the amended protest law aims to ensure that citizens exercise the right to protest without disrupting public life."

"Not only does this go in line with the Supreme Constitutional Court's ruling, but it also reflects what happens in most countries," said Abed.

"We have just seen how police in many countries – especially in the United States and Western Europe – imposed bans on certain protests and even move to disperse them by use of tear gas."

"We saw this after the election of Donald Trump as the new US president, as well as in France and Germany," said Abed.

Abed added that parliament's human rights committee will meet on Sunday to discuss the US State Department's recently released annual report on the human rights situation in Egypt, which was critical of the state of human rights in the country.

"This report is rife with lies and flawed statements about Egypt's protest law, torture in Egyptian prisons, and the exercise of religious rights," said Abed, adding that "the committee will also discuss a report that was submitted by foreign minister Sameh Shoukri to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Egypt."

Parliament will also discuss on Sunday a long-awaited law aimed at creating a "national election commission."

According to a report prepared by the parliament committees on legislative and constitutional affairs, labour force and the budget, the 37-article draft law aims to implement Article 208 of Egypt's 2014 constitution.

"This article states that an independent national election commission is to be formed to exercise the exclusive right of supervising all public referendums, presidential elections, parliamentary elections and municipal elections," the report said.

According to the report, the National Election Commission will be formed of 10 senior judges; two senior deputies of the head of the Court of Cassation, heads of two appeal courts, two deputies of the head of the State Council, two senior judges affiliated with the State Cases Authority, and two with the Administrative Prosecution Authority.

These judges will be selected by the Supreme Council of Judges and half of them are to be changed every three years.

The delay in presenting a law on the National Election Commission has led to the government postponing local council elections more than once.

While local council elections were scheduled to be held at the end of 2016, MPs said the discussion of the law and the formation of the commission could again make the holding of local council elections in 2017 impossible.

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