File photo: Egyptian parliament (Photo: Reuters)
Egyptian parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee approved in an urgent meeting on Saturday new amendments to the law regulating the state of emergency (162/1958).
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of the committee, told committee members that the amendments give the president new powers necessary to contain critical health conditions such as the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"It was unthinkable when the emergency law was drafted many years ago that the country might face such critical health conditions as the outbreak of the coronavirus," said Abu Shoka.
He explained that "the current emergency law focuses on granting the president powers to fight terrorist threats and drug trafficking crimes, but it comes short of standing up to pandemic threats such as the coronavirus."
As a result, Abu Shoka said the amendments give the president such powers as closing schools and universities, shutting down certain ministries and authorities entirely or partially, postponing the payment of water, electricity and natural gas bills entirely or partially, and compelling Egyptian expatriates returning home to undergo necessary health and quarantine measures.
"The amendments also give the president the right to allocate cash and in-kind assistance to individuals and families, offer financial support to medical research, provide financial and in-kind support to damaged economic sectors, postpone the payment of certain taxes, and turn schools and youth centres into field hospitals," he said.
The amended law grants the president the right to ban all kinds of private and public assemblies, processions and festivals.
"The amendments give the president the right to impose restrictions on exports and the handling of certain goods, commodities, and services and to regulate the methods of collecting financial and in-kind donations necessary to contain certain critical health conditions," said Abu Shoka.
He added that "the new presidential powers comprise imposing control on research, scientific and laboratorial works related in particular to biological material, and toughening measures regarding the possession, use, handling and disposal of such material."
Egypt's current state of emergency will expire on 27 April, but it is expected to be renewed for another three months when parliament meets on Tuesday.