Egypt's government defends protest law, political groups lash out

Ahram Online, Sunday 24 Nov 2013

New law regulating public demonstrations has sparked criticism from a number of political groups; government says it respects the right to protest

File photo: Protesters of Egyptís April 6 Youth Movement clash with Egyptian riot police in Mahalla, 125 kilometers (about 77 miles) north of Cairo (Photo: AP)

The protest law regulating public demonstrations issued by Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour on Sunday sparked anger from political parties and human rights groups and justifications from the government.

Controversial articles include requirements on protest organisers to notify authorities three days in advance of their aims and demands as well as heavy jail terms and fines for individuals who break the law.

Supporters of the new law say the legislation is necessary to allow the police to ensure that demonstrations are peaceful and do not disturb public life in order to achieve a semblance of stability in a country that faces continuous demonstrations.

Following the announcement of the law, the presidency organised a press conference to elaborate on their motivations for implementing it.

Presidential Spokesman Ehab Badawy said the law gives organisers the right to seek quick decisions from the courts, so that protests are not delayed or cancelled.

The regular judicial system is the entity that will be responsible for prosecuting those who do not comply with the protest law, Badawy added.

Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi told AFP on Sunday that the new law protects the rights of protesters.

"It is not a law that limits the right to demonstrate, but it aims at protecting the right of protesters," he said.

El-Beblawi also said the law does not stipulate that protesters need permission before staging demonstrations, but they must give advance "notice".

Conversely, the Islamist Nour Party in a statement Sunday maintained the law “provides a legal basis for suppression,” adding that it has ignored the demands of Egyptian civil society and political groups and is in contradiction with international standards.

The 6 April-Democratic Front Movement announced Sunday its intention to demonstrate in front of the Shura Council on Tuesday to denounce the new law and demand its cancellation.

The movement’s Spokesman Mostafa El-Hagary affirmed that his group will continue to protest “without hesitation or fear of the new law,” and that the movement will strive to be more effective.

El-Hagary said the law signifies a “strong return of the security state,” and the elimination of citizens’ rights of expression.

He added, El-Beblawi’s government has “stood in the face of the revolution, wasting effort and money to develop laws that fight the demands of citizens and place a muzzle on them.”

El-Hagary insisted the government should have worked on projects and laws to achieve Egyptians’ economic, social and political demands and aspirations.

The 6 April-Democratic Front initially stated they will participate in the Tuesday movement to support the 'No to Military Trials' group, who demand the end of military trials for civilians. They have now added the cancelling of the protest law to their official demands.

The 'Egyptian Movement for Change' (Kefaya) - which spent years organising against ousted president Hosni Mubarak - declared on Sunday that the protest law is a “clear annulment of the gains of the revolution,” and another step towards “security state thuggery.”

Kefaya, in a statement via their official Facebook account, announced plans to protest against the law, stating that the government “has not yet learnt its lesson.”

The statement added that the “protests will give the [government] lessons on freedoms,” asserting that the “fear barrier between the people and [the state] has been broken.”

The coordinator of the The Free Front for Peaceful Chance, Essam El-Sherif,  for his part rejected the new protest law, describing it it as as "an oppression machine" legalised by the regime to oppress citizens.

"I wonder how a regime that came to power through a popular peaceful movement [of 30 June] could draft a law to suppress protesters," said El-Sherif via his official Facebook page.

El-Sherif said his front will never accept a step backwards given that peaceful protesting is one of the main gains of the Egyptian revolution.

"My message to the regime, you're running out of credits ... wake up and understand that security solutions are what toppled Mubarak and Morsi," he added.

Meanwhile, a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Ahram Arabic website there’s a space to apply the spirit of the law in times of disasters.

The official said that if a train accident or another disaster took place in a village or a city, inhabitants of the area can take to the streets to express their pain.

“The law is not aimed at suppressing people and preventing them from expressing their pain, especially in disastrous times when people protest spontaneously,” the official added.

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