Twenty Egyptian human rights organisations published a joint statement on Thursday arguing that a draft counter-terrorism bill currently under consideration would reinstate the "police state" in Egypt if implemented.
The statement claims that the counter-terrorism law, drafted by the interior ministry in September, would "serve as the legal basis for the re-establishment of the police state" which arguably controlled the country before the January 2011 popular uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Among the signatories of Thursday's statement were the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights information.
"Continuing the same practices of the Mubarak regime, such as setting aside the principle of rule of law and resorting instead to repressive security measures and exceptional laws which undermine human rights and the foundations of the rule of law, will only serve to increase the occurrence of acts of armed violence and terrorism," the statement read.
According to the statement, the current bill broadens the definition of "terrorist acts" to those activities that are not essentially related to terrorism, including "disrupting the authorities from carrying out some of their activities," "[carrying out] acts which seek to hinder the implementation of the constitution or the law" and "preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work." An "act of terrorism," as defined by the proposed bill, also extends to "any behavior which damages the communications or information systems, the financial systems, or the national economy," the statement adds.
Such broad provisions could open the way to harassment of "peaceful political opposition members, human rights activists, and a broad range of groups working to defend democracy and human rights," the human rights organisations stated.
Egypt has witnessed a volatile security situation since former president Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July amidst mass protests against his rule. Since Morsi's ouster, attacks against police stations, security forces and state installations have increased.
Militants in Egypt's restive Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks against security forces in the north, prompting the army to launch a major counterinsurgency operation in the region. Churches have also come under attack nationwide, as extremist Islamists often hold Christians responsible for Morsi's overthrow.
In an unprecedented act of aggression, a car bomb detonated in September near interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim's convoy as he was leaving home in northeast Cairo, killing one person and injuring at least 20 others. In October, assailants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a satellite communication dish in Cairo's upscale district of Maadi, which had been previously spared from this type of violence.
Critics worry that authorities will use such acts of violence as a pretense to clamp down on hard-won freedoms gained after Mubarak's ouster.
A draft protest law announced by the Egyptian government in October was also attacked by rights defenders, who say that the law, if passed, would allow authorities to heavily restrict the right to hold protests.