Egypt protest restrictions: rights groups criticize new draft law


Egyptian protesters throw stones during clashes with riot police in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on Feb. 1, 2013, as thousands of Egyptians flooded the streets in a show of opposition to the Islamist President and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian security used water cannon and fired shots into the air as protesters threw petrol bombs and stones into the grounds of the presidential palace.


Khaled Desouki

Rights groups are criticizing new restrictions on protests approved by Egypt’s cabinet on Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

If ratified by the upper house of parliament, the new rules would require demonstrators to notify officials of their protests three days in advance with a formal filing of their demands and the entity they are protesting, the Egypt Independent reported.

Egypt's Interior Ministry would have the right to cancel a protest. Security forces would be allowed to postpone an event or change a demonstration’s location or marching route.

The draft law also forbids protesters from covering their faces or carrying weapons during demonstrations, according to the Egypt Independent. Speaker platforms, tents and signs that are judged to be defamatory or insulting to religious or state institutions would also be banned, AFP reported.

In some ways, the new draft law is even more restrictive than the rules under former dictator Hosni Mubarak, says GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Cairo, Erin Cunningham.

The proposed law was drafted in the wake of weeks of violent protests in Egypt that included attacks on police, government institutions and state buildings.

"Government officials say they want to strike a balance between allowing peaceful expression and safeguarding institutions and public property. But it seems unlikely the law will be enforced. Police already have trouble containing demonstrations that turn violent, often engaging in clashes with protestors or simply withdrawing from their posts outside government buildings," said Cunningham.

Egypt’s revolutionaries launched their uprising two years ago to roll back the violations of a far-reaching and abusive police state. When President Mohamed Morsi announced a military-enforced curfew in the restive Suez Canal provinces last month, the population embarked on a widespread defiance of the order — taking to the streets to march, play soccer, and eat at restaurants.

"It seems like until the underlying causes of the political malaise — including police reform and the legitimacy of the Morsi government — are solved, then any new laws, however strict, will mean next to nothing," Cunningham said.

The draft law “imposes restrictions on the right to demonstration” and “violates all principles of freedom of expression,” Ahmed Ezzat, head of the legal unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said in a statement, according to AFP. “The role of the Interior Ministry goes beyond securing the event to interference in the subject of the event and its organization.”

Heba Morayef, Egypt director of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters the law "seems designed to actually increase restrictions." She said: "If one protester commits a crime, it gives the police the right to disperse the entire protest.”

At a press conference in Cairo, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky said the new law “protected the right to demonstrate,” the Egypt Independent reported. “Demonstrations have recently become contaminated and shocking to the public,” he said. “The bloodshed has become ugly. Therefore the bill restores the peacefulness of protests.”

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