Security safeguards

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 2 Nov 2021

Laws on protecting “vital” establishments, leaking state secrets, and combating terrorism made their way through parliament this week, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Following a two-week holiday, the House of Representatives got down to business on Sunday, passing three laws that impact national security.

The two-article Law 136/2014 will see the Armed Forces fully coordinating with the police to secure “public and vital establishments” —including electricity stations and grids, gas pipelines, oil fields, railways, roads and bridges, and public utilities — on a permanent basis. Article 2 of the law allows people accused of attacking “public and vital locations” to be referred to military courts.

The law, supported by the majority Mostaqbal Watan Party, was opposed by several MPs.

Maha Abdel-Nasser, spokesperson of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, objected to the referral of civilians to military courts for attacking something as vaguely defined as “public and vital establishments”, while Wafd Party MP Mohamed Abdel-Alim argued that the law, passed just one week after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi cancelled the state of emergency, appeared particularly ill-timed.

Major General Mamdouh Shahin, assistant to the minister of defence for constitutional and legal affairs, defended the law, saying “not all establishments and buildings are considered public or vital, and decrees detail which will be protected and safeguarded by the Armed Forces.” He also pointed out that the law places on a permanent basis provisions that have been in force since 2014, and subsequently renewed at two yearly intervals.

He underlined that “when the provisions first entered the law in 2014, they were intended to safeguard facilities such as electricity pylons, bridges and roads which were being attacked by terrorist groups.”

Ahmed Al-Awadi, chairman of the House’s Defence and National Security Committee, said the law targets people who seek to sabotage public services.

“These kinds of attacks are perpetrated by terrorist elements who should face quick trials before military courts,” said Al-Awadi.

The House also passed an amendment to Article 80 of the penal code toughening penalties for those found guilty of leaking classified defence information. The amendment stipulates sentences ranging from six months to five years, and increases fines from between LE100 to LE500 to LE5,000 to LE50,000.

Abdel-Nasser again objected to the amendment, stressing that it sat ill alongside the decision to launch a new strategy of human rights two months ago, and last week’s cancellation of emergency laws. Abdel-Alim raised concerns that the changes undermined freedom of speech and could see journalists and political researchers face charges in the course of doing their jobs.

In response, Shahin said Article 80 of the penal code is clear in stating that “defence secrets primarily relate to the Armed Forces”.

Article 80 specifically targets those who “acquire defence secrets illegally, and pass them to a foreign country; who broadcast defence secrets, and who collect statistics or conduct studies on the Armed Forces, its missions, and current and previous personnel, without written approval from the Ministry of Defence.”

Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, chairman of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the amendment complies with articles 59, 86, and 200 of the constitution which allows the taking of all necessary measures to preserve national security against espionage.

Changes to Anti-Terror Law 94/2005 were also passed, imposing a fine of between LE100,000 and LE300,000 on those found guilty of filming or recording and broadcasting military trials without a prior permission from the presiding judge.

Al-Heneidi explained that “Article 53 of the law will be amended to state that in the case of a terrorism incident with environmental impacts the president of the republic shall take all measures necessary to preserve security and public order, including evacuating or isolating areas and imposing curfews,” in which respect the president is empowered to specify which authorities will oversee the implementation of the specified measures.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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