Egypt’s parliament on Monday voted in favour of amendments to six laws covering security and economic activities.
Topping the list are four laws on prison regulation (396/1960), drug trafficking (182/1960), anti-terrorism (94/2015) and money laundering (94/2002). The first three laws were approved in principle on 23 February but a final vote was postponed until they were revised in legal and constitutional terms by the State Council.
The laws impose a ban on the conditional release of defendants convicted of organising illegal public gatherings, carrying out terrorist acts and trafficking drugs.
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the amendments to the laws “will fill a legislative loophole that has allowed some criminals to win judicial rulings in favour of their conditional release. The new amendments will no longer allow courts to issue such rulings and at the same time will help protect society from serious crimes such as staging illegal public gatherings,” Abu Shoka said.
The amendments, however, caused controversy when Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal warned they could be used to criminalise peaceful and random gatherings. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Alaaeddin Fouad said the right to gather peacefully is enshrined in the constitution but violations happen “when citizens do not have the prior legal permit required to organise such a gathering.”
Consequential amendments to the anti-money laundering law were also approved on Monday. Abdel-Aal said the amendments, approved by the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 2 March, were necessary and aim to target terrorist crimes which are funded through new forms of money laundering activities such as selling smuggled oil, natural resources, artefacts, securities and cryptocurrency.
Parliament also gave the thumbs up Monday to amendments to a law aimed at criminalising foreign trade in smuggled Egyptian artefacts. The amended Antiquities Protection Law 117/1983, approved in principle on 9 February, will toughen penalties on acquiring or selling Egyptian artefacts in auction halls abroad.
Tough penalties — one month in prison and LE1 million fine — will also be imposed on individuals caught trying to smuggle artefacts.
In socio-economic terms, parliament approved a law drafted by a number of MPs regulating the legal framework of the post of deputy provincial governor. The four-article law defines the post, its tasks, salaries and insurance.
Tarek Al-Khouli, deputy chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Weekly that the approved amendments came after a cabinet reshuffle last month named nine young people as deputy provincial governors for the first time. “So I and other MPs decided to draft this law to regulate this official post,” Al-Khouli said.
Parliament’s legislative debate this week also encompassed approving a 36-article law regulating scholarship missions and grants.
A committee will be set up by the minister of higher education to investigate the needs and conditions required in this respect.
Meanwhile, parliament voted in favour of new amendments to the Construction Law (119/2008).
A report said the amendments regulate construction activities and urban development. A higher council for planning and urban development shall be set up to take charge of licensing construction works. The law gives complete powers to the Ministry of Agriculture to use all legal means to stop building on cultivated lands. “The ministry will demolish these violations at once because of their negative impact on Egypt’s agricultural areas,” said the law’s explanatory note.
Meanwhile, controversial amendments to the law on terrorist entities (8/2018) and anti-terrorism (94/2015) were ratified on 8 March by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The two laws were approved by parliament on 24 February.
Amended Article 1 in the terrorist entities law states that “associations, organisations, groups, and institutions that are established by individuals, companies, institutions, gangs and cells or others regardless of their legal or actual form will be designated as terrorist as long as they are involved in any way — in Egypt or abroad — in harming citizens, spreading terrorism, and endangering lives, freedoms, rights and security.”
As for the amendment of the anti-terrorism law, it also aims to clamp down on sources of funding for terrorist crimes and toughening penalties to include execution.
Article 3 of the law is amended to widen the scope of the definition of sources of funding for terrorist acts. It now states that “the crime of funding terrorism shall take any of the following forms: collecting, obtaining, acquiring, supplying, transferring, and providing money or weapons, ammunition, explosives, equipment, statements, information, or material or others — directly or indirectly — and using any means, including digital or electronic forms, to be used in carrying out terrorist crimes or in providing a safe haven for one terrorist or more.”
The amended law defines terrorist activity as any act that includes raising funds, collecting, possessing, supplying or transferring of funds or other financial assets, weapons, explosives, equipment, data, information, or other materials that can help in the activities of any terrorist individual, group or entity operating inside or outside the country.
It also considers terrorist activity as providing any kind of assistance to terrorist individuals, groups or entities whether technological or online or through providing them with safe havens, places to train and financing.
President Al-Sisi also ratified new amendments to the Tax Dispute Settlement Law 79/2016. Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait told MPs on 24 February that the law seeks to facilitate the settlement of tax disputes and fines estimated at LE19.5 billion.
The two legislations were published in the official gazette on Sunday.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly