Egypt's parliament passed on Tuesday legislative amendments imposing the death penalty for using explosive materials in terrorist operations.
Both opposition and majority MPs agreed that the amendments are necessary to help the state win its battle against terrorist movements – particularly in North Sinai.
The government-drafted amendments of Egypt's penal code (law no.58/1937) were approved first by parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee in a morning meeting.
Head of the committee Bahaaeddin Abu Shoqa said the amendments to Article 102 of the penal code go in line with the state's strategy to toughen penalties on terrorism-related crimes.
"The new amendments address a wave of new crimes; that is the use of explosive materials by terrorist groups to cause as much damage as possible," said Abu Shoqa.
The MP said that the amendments also aim to impose penalties on those who do not report the illegal possession of explosive materials before they are used in terrorist attacks.
Abu Shoqa argued that the amendments come at a crucial time to serve the army and police's comprehensive campaign – dubbed Operation Sinai 2018 – against terrorist groups in North Sinai.
"We know that terrorists in this part of Egypt were able to acquire huge quantities of highly explosive materials that have led to killing tens of army and police personnel," said Abu Shoqa.
The first paragraph of the amended Article 102 of the penal code now states that "those who acquire, possess, import or manufacture bombs or explosive materials or the like without getting a prior licence will be sentenced to life imprisonment, and are to face the death penalty if the bombs and explosive materials are used for terrorism-related purposes."
The article says that the "interior minister will issue a decree outlining the materials that could be used in manufacturing bombs or explosives."
The fourth paragraph of the article received mixed reactions from MPs. It states that anyone "who knows about those who acquired explosives or bombs illegally and fail to report this to the concerned authorities in advance will be sentenced to prison."
The government and the State Council decided to exempt spouses who fail to report these crimes. Leftist MPs including Diaaeddin Dawoud said that such a provision would cause familial divisions and great rifts within families.
Other MPs, however, insisted that the article should cover spouses.
"It will be very difficult for wives or husbands of terrorists to report the latter's criminal intentions to authorities," said Dawoud.
Abu Shoqa, however, said that since the main objective of the amendments is to toughen penalties on these types of crimes to prevent terrorist acts, it would be illogical to exempt spouses from punishment.
"I want to point out that all members of the legislative and constitutional affairs committee have agreed that the new tough penalties should cover all those who [fail to report these crimes]... even if they are wives and husbands of the criminals," said Abu Shoqa.
Independent MP Mohamed Abu Hamed said that "in many terrorist crimes that have caused great and wide-scale damage, wives and parents of those who committed these crimes claimed that they had not known of the intentions of their husbands or sons beforehand, but prosecutors later found out that they had known in advance but refused to report them."
Abu Hamed argued that "as a result, we should view this amendment as a deterrent that aims to prevent some young people who join extremist groups from carrying out terrorist crimes."
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al said that although "in some tribal communities, such as in Upper Egypt, this issue will be a very sensitive one," penalties should still be imposed on family members who knew of the crime.
"As we have seen in recent years, many have used explosives and bombs to cause wide-scale damage and kill as many people as possible, and we have seen that relatives of most of these terrorists and criminals played a role in covering up their crimes," said Abdel-Aal, "so as a deterrent measure I see that it will be important to stiffen penalties to include close relatives to force families to report these crimes and thwart such dreadful attacks."
Abu Shoqa said that "the last paragraph of the amended Article 102 gives authorities the right to sequestrate means of transport, tools, lands, and buildings or any other things used to carry out these crimes."
"This is another deterrent measure, because it was discovered that most terrorists and terrorist movements were using desert farms or secluded buildings to hide weapons, bombs and explosives," said Abu Shoqa.
Speaker Abdel-Aal said that it is good that both opposition and majority MPs have voted in favour of the amendments.
"It is good that when the matter comes to supreme national interests, all agree to put these interests above any partisan or political considerations," said Abdel-Aal.