Egypt protest law will not be up for discussion any time soon: MPs

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 18 Jan 2016

Egyptian MPs told reporters Monday that the controversial 2013 protest law will not be on the agenda of parliamentary debates anytime soon

The parliament building (AP)

A number of Egyptian MPs who are members of parliament's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee stressed Monday that the controversial protest law (law no.107/2013) will not be up on the agenda of parliamentary debates anytime soon.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shoqa, chairman of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told reporters that the protest law has never been on the agenda of the committee.

"In accordance with Article 156 of the constitution, we are reviewing 341 presidential decrees that have been passed since the implementation of the new constitution on 16 January 2014, [not all laws passed since former president Mohamed] Morsi was removed from office," said Abu Shoqa.

He added that "the protest bill was signed as a law-effect decree by former interim president Adly Mansour on 24 November 2013, and as a result it is out of the scope of our current review of the 341 decrees."

Abu Shoqa said he was surprised by some evening newspapers alleging last week that the committee had endorsed the law.

"It was not on the agenda for discussion in the first place," he said.

Mostafa Bakri, a journalist and MP affiliated with the Support Egypt coalition, told reporters that Egypt's protest law is by no means harsh, comparing it to laws regulating protests in the United States and England.

"The penalties for conducting street protests without prior authorisation in these two Western countries are much higher than in Egypt, not to mention Egypt has the full right to safeguard its internal security in a region fraught with civil wars, sectarian strife and chaos," said Bakri.

The US constitution guarantees the right to protest for all citizens, with protesters required to inform authorities if marches will obstruct the flow of traffic.

Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, an independent MP and chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, told Ahram Online that even though the law is not currently on the agenda, "this does not mean we do not have the right to revise it at any time."

Sadat also stressed that "several decrees dealing with different aspects of human rights in 2014 and 2013 have to be revised because many of their articles proved detrimental to many of these rights."

Sadat also criticised on Sunday the approval of a 2014 decree regulating the use of force by police in prisons.

"The National Council on Human Rights has criticised this law, urging the House to amend it as soon as possible to improve the conditions for inmates in Egyptian prisons," Sadat said.

The exclusion of the protest law from parliamentary debates this week comes a few days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 25 January protests that led to the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. 

By Monday, the assembly approved 248 decrees passed in 2014 and 2015, with 73 laws to undergo review on Tuesday. Among the list were two decrees that aimed at fighting terrorism; the anti-terror law (94/2015) passed on 14 August 2015, and the Terror Entities Law (law no.8/2015) passed in 17 February 2015.

The first law was endorsed by 457 MPs, while deputies affiliated with the Islamist Nour Party objected.

Salah Khalifa, a Nour MP from Alexandria, said that the party objected to the decree because it "granted state authorities sweeping powers to detain citizens and many of its articles could be ruled unconstitutional."

In its two morning sessions on Monday, the House approved around 30 decrees, mostly dealing with economic issues.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al told MPs that he is aware of media criticism of parliament's debates, "but I have to bear the constitutional responsibility of meeting the requirements stipulated by Article 156 of the constitution because failing to implement it on time could lead to the collapse of the legal structure of the state as a whole."

Abdel-Al stressed that 221out of the 341 decrees, must be debated and voted on before 25 January.

"We are in a race against time because Article 156 of the constitution has pushed us into a very difficult corner; that is to review 341 decrees in just 15 days," said deputy speaker Soliman Wahdan, indicating that "while we are facing criticism from the media that we have become a rubber stamp parliament, we are also facing an obligation we have to meet before 25 January, otherwise we could face a constitutional gridlock."

Wahdan insisted that while many decrees were rejected, MPs insisted that once they meet the requirement stipulated by Article 156 they will be ready to revise all laws, including the protest law, at any time.

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