Shura Council discusses laws 'to control protests and confront thuggery'

Gamal Essam El-Din , Sunday 3 Feb 2013

The government is set to give the police sweeping powers to disrupt protests and combat 'saboteurs and provocateurs'

demonstrations please Shura Council to discuss laws aimed at controlling street protests and confron
Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi flee from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes along Sheikh Rihan street near Tahrir Square in Cairo January 25, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil is currently in the process of drafting two new laws aimed at regulating the right of street protest and combating the proliferation of thuggery. According to Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki, anti-protest laws have become a necessity to stem the tide of violence in the street and to regulate the right of organising demonstrations.

A draft anti-protest law is expected to be discussed by the Islamist-dominated Shura Council's Committee on National Defence in the coming days. Informed sources told Ahram Online that "if approved by the committee this week, the law could be discussed by the council in a plenary meeting next Sunday."

In its meeting held today, the Committee on National Defence launched scathing attack against private TV satellite television channels, taking them to task for alledgely inciting protesters to launch violent attacks on several state buildings in recent days, notably Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo's district of Heliopolis on 1 February. Deputy Interior Minister Major General Abdel-Fattah Othman complained that "police forces have not been able to fight violent street protests in recent days because there is no law that gives us the authority to do this."

The government's new draft law would grant police forces a free hand to use force to disrupt and disperse streets protests, especially in the vicinity of Al-Ittihadiya Palace and other significant state institutions, such as police stations, parliament, and state ministries. The 26-article law also makes it obligatory that the interior ministry be notified of any given protest or demonstration's date, objective and site. The notification request must be submitted to the ministry five days in advance of the date of the demonstration. The interior ministry reserves the right to forbid "demonstrations" or "public gatherings and meetings" if they risk "disrupting public peace and security."

The draft law also stipulates that demonstrations or street protests be organised between 7am to 7pm, and public gatherings from 7am to 11pm. The law gives police forces rights to disrupt demonstrations or public gatherings by use of force if they are found to threaten public order.

Additionally, the draft law prohibits protesters and demonstrators from chanting slogans that "might sow the seeds of sedition," or wearing black face coverings. Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdallah recently ordered police forces to arrest citizens who wear black face masks or coverings or who belong to new revolutionary groups known as "Black Bloc." The law threatens violators with one year in prison and a fine of no less than LE30,000 (around $4,000) and no more than LE100,000 (around $14,000).

Ihab El-Kharat, chairman of Shura Council's Human Rights Committee, told Ahram Online that "The government tried last month to send the anti-protest law to the Shura Council to discuss it but our response was that this is not the right time to discuss this law."

"I, like any ordinary citizen, knew about this anti-protest law from information in the media and I think that this is a new repressive measure aimed at pouring oil on fire rather than finding a political solution to the current crisis in Egypt," said El-Kharat, an appointed Coptic MP who belongs to the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. El-Kharat warned: "It is quite a dangerous development that the Shura Council becomes a tool for Islamists imposing repressive laws on Egyptians." "These are the same authoritarian techniques of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak," said Al-Kharat.  

Unlike El-Kharat, Islamist MPs, who mostly belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafist El-Nour Party, are exerting pressure on the government to send the anti-protest law to the Shura Council as soon as possible.

Sobhi Saleh, a leading firebrand of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), told parliamentary correspondents today that the Shura Council — currently endowed with legislative powers until a new House of Representatives (formerly People's Assembly) is elected — has sent messages to the government twice, urging it to refer the new anti-protest law to the Shura Council as soon as possible.

"We expect this law to be sent to the Shura Council to be discussed at once," said Saleh.

Saleh revealed that the government has also finalised drafting a new law aimed at fighting thuggery and hooliganism. Saleh said the law will toughen penalties for acts of thuggery. "This law gives police forces the right to arrest criminals who join street protests or stand near clashes with police, even if they refrain from committing any violent acts." According to Saleh, "at the moment there is a pressing need to impose an iron fist on armed thugs and stand up to saboteurs and provocateurs."

Responding to a question about the negative impact of repressive laws on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, Saleh insisted that "the popularity of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have skyrocketed in recent days." "We were not defeated as the opposition claims, and President Morsi will continue fighting violence and corruption," he added.

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