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Egypt criminalizes dishonoring anthem and flag

The national anthem and flag are ‘must be respected and treated with veneration,’ the presidential spokesman said

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Egypt’s outgoing interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree making dishonoring the Egyptian flag or not standing when the national anthem is played a criminal offense, his spokesman said Saturday.

The new decree states that the national anthem and flag are “symbols of the state that must be respected and treated with veneration,” presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi told reporters, according to the Associated Press.

Violators of the law can be punished by sentences of up to one year in prison and a fine of more than $4,000, he added.

The red, white and black Egyptian flag is ubiquitous in the capital Cairo, where vendors sell the emblem on street corners and drivers fly it out of car windows.

Nationalist fervor

And Egypt is witnessing a rising wave of nationalist fervor following the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi after mass protests against him in July last year.

The decree increased previously suggested penalties from late last year, which were set at a maximum six months in prison and over $700 in fines. The decree also bans raising the flag if it was torn, its color faded, or with a distorted design.

Criminalizing disrespect of the national emblems appears rooted in recent controversies around the national flag and anthem during Egypt’s last three years of turmoil.

Turmoil

The national anthem was a subject of debate when Islamist lawmakers in the first elected parliament after the ouster of longtime strongman President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 refused to stand up when it was played. By some ultraconservative interpretation, such show of respect is reserved only for God. Others refused to stand up to the anthem, because, they said, the hundreds of people killed at the hands of the police.

The flag, prominent during most of Egypt’s recent protests, saw protesters tear it while some raised factional flags instead. After Mubarak’s fall, some also discussed changing the flag.

After a 1952 military coup toppled Egypt’s king, authorities replaced Egypt’s then-green flag with a crescent to three horizontal lines of red, white and black. An eagle was at the center most of the time since, with a brief change of two stars instead during a brief union with Syria.

At some point, Islamists appeared in protests with Islamic insignia on the flag instead of the eagle.

Interim President Adly Mansour is spending his last days in office. After three days of voting, reports show retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who forcibly removed Mursi from office, winning by a landslide. Official results are expected in the coming days.

(With the Associated Press and Reuters)