Egypt's protest law is same as US's: Egyptian minister

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 26 Aug 2014

US embassy delegation reportedly called for meeting with Egyptian officials after Cairo issued a statement of concern over ongoing protests in Missouri

An Egyptian minister told a delegation from the US embassy in Cairo that Egypt's protest law is no different than the one currently being applied in the US, where protests in Missouri over an unarmed African-American teenager's death at the hands of a white police officer have drawn international attention.

According to a statement released on Monday by Ibrahim El-Heneidy, Egypt's minister for transitional justice and the house of representatives, the US delegation led by charge d'affaires David J. Ranz was told that Egypt's protest law had been drafted to observe international conventions on political and civil rights.

Egypt's protest law "aims to secure a balance between political rights and the requirements of internal security," El-Heneidy's statement said.

El-Heneidy also told the American delegation that "like the US one, Egypt's protest law puts restrictions in order to not let chaos and political troubles spread across the country."

"This was clear in the United States when American forces, supported by army battalions, used force to contain recent violent protests in the state of Missouri," said El-Heneidy.

The meeting on Monday was called by the US embassy delegation led by Ranz to discuss Egypt's current political agenda, according to informed sources.

But Ranz focused in particular on Egypt's protest law – a response to what he said was a statement issued last week by Egyptian officials in which they voiced concern over the protests in Missouri and the heavy-handed tactics used by US police to contain the demonstrations.

"We came here to discuss the protest law after Egypt voiced concern and asked for restraint," Ranz was cited as saying.

For his part, the Egyptian minister did indicate that Egypt's protest law is under review.

"The government received proposals from some civil society organisations recommending that the penalties imposed by the law be softened, although these penalties are not much different from the ones enforced by the US protest law," he said.

Two Egyptian rights groups – the National Council for Human Rights and the National Council for Women – have recently asked a legislative reform committee formed by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in June and led by El-Heneidy to soften penalties on those who violate the protest law and to toughen punishments on those who commit sexual harassment.

Informed sources said that El-Heneidy and the US embassy delegation also reviewed some of Egypt's other controversial laws during Monday's meeting, such as those governing NGOs in the country and the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Egyptian rights groups have argued that the NGO law in its current state will lend the government too much control over independent organisations in the country and essentially leave only room for "regime supporters".

"All should know that as many as 36 amendments to the NGO law have been proposed and we are seeking a new one aiming to give NGOs and civil society organisations greater freedoms in line with the new constitution," El-Heneidy was quoted as saying.

The parliamentary elections law, passed in June, has also come under fire for stipulating that 80 percent of seats will be granted to individual candidates, which has left critics fearful that old guard parties from the era of toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak will sweep the house and leave no room for newer political factions formed after the 2011 uprising.

But El-Heneidy argued on Monday that the articles of the new elections law refrain from imposing any kind of discrimination or political disenfranchisement on any political faction.

He further said that there's not enough time for the law to be amended, especially as final preparations for the new parliamentary polls are under way.

The minister explained that the executive regulations of the House of Representatives Law are being revised by the State Council and that a committee will be formed in a few days for a final review of the redrawing of electoral districts.

Sources also unveiled that El-Heneidy told the US embassy delegation that the countdown to Egypt's parliamentary elections has begun.

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