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Egyptian government criticized over draft protest law - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Egyptian Army soldiers block a road leading to the Rabaah Al-Adawiya mosque as supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Mursi protest in Cairo, Egypt on October 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Egyptian Army soldiers block a road leading to the Rabaah Al-Adawiya mosque as supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Mursi protest in Cairo, Egypt on October 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Egyptian government, with support from the army, has approved a controversial draft protest law.

The legislation, which awaits the approval of interim President Adly Mansour before becoming law, is facing harsh criticism by lawyers and activists, who say it represents a return to the times of the Islamist-dominated parliament, led by former President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A source with knowledge of deliberations over the law, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that there had been contentious debates in ministerial meeting which decided on the draft legislation. Despite the objections of many of the ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din, the law passed with a wide margin.

The government, led by prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi, claims that the country faces a battle against terrorism, referring to the bloody clashes between supporters of the ousted President Mursi and security forces from across the country, in which hundreds have been killed.

The law, composed of 21 articles, would prohibit protesters from “gathering or camping in protest areas, or overrunning the scheduled times of the protest or to cause any breach to security or general public disorder deriding public interest, harming or exposing them to danger, or to closing off roads or causing any disturbances to traffic and public transport.”

Furthermore, Article 10, which has been the focus of much of the criticisms allows the “Interior Minister or the relevant security officer to take the decision to cancel public gatherings or protests, or postpone them or change their location, however protesters have the right to request the judiciary annul the order of the interior minister.”

In a press release by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the organization criticized the new anti-protest draft law, stating that they prejudice the civil rights of Egyptians.

The press release described the minister of justice of acting in a way that was “antidemocratic, as usual.” The organization argues that the legislation mirrors previous efforts to tighten the grip of security forces, for example the law to extend temporary imprisonment, as well as extending the definition of terrorism.

Since the removal of Mursi on July 3, the Muslim Brotherhood led numerous demonstrations across Egypt. The demonstrations have become increasingly violent, with frequent clashes between Brotherhood supporters and security forces. The most recent during the commemorative celebrations of the October 6 1973 Israeli-Egyptian war, where 60 people were killed.

Supporters of the law cite the worsening security situation in the country as justification for its adoption, arguing that demonstrations can hinder security and invite terrorist operations, which grant the state the right to restrict some civil rights.

Egypt has witnessed an increase in terrorism in its capital, including an incident in which armed men stormed the satellite station in the south of Cairo with shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets. In addition, terrorist operations in the past few months have been concentrated in the Sinai and the cities surrounding the Suez Canal, for example Port Said, Ismailia and the Suez, east of Cairo.

Analysts say fact that these same laws were ratified by Mursi prior to the mass demonstrations held against him, and they did not prevent millions of Egyptians from demanding his departure.

In August, following the ouster of Mursi, Egyptian authorities imposed a state of emergency, which has remained in place for two months.

An evening curfew remains in place in 14 provinces. While authorities have relaxed these measures on a number of occasions, Fridays remain the exception, as this is usually the day Mursi supporters choose for their demonstrations.