Egypt: Protest law raises rights concerns
The government said the law is intended to curb the Muslim Brotherhood’s street protests, but some disagree
The arrest in Egypt of more than 30 demonstrators on Tuesday in the first use of a controversial new protest law has sparked anger among activists who fear the legislation will roll back their revolutionary gains.
Tuesday’s arrests prompted several members of the panel drafting the country’s new constitution to suspend their work.
The law requires those who wish to demonste to obtain prior police authorization and if a request is rejected, they can appeal the decision at a court of law.
Ahmed Naguib, a political activist, who participated in the protest outside the Shura Council said the activists refused to apply for a permit in accordance with a law they do not recognize.
“We went to say no to the military trial of civilians because this treacherous committee [drafting the constitution] has approved the article on military trials for civilians,” Naguib said, explaining his motivation for taking part in the protest.
During Tuesday’s crackdown, police fired teargas and clashed with protesters. Naguib said the security forces intervened with “excessive force.”
Among those arrested were Mona Seif, founder of a campaign against the military trial of civilians, and Ahmad Harara, a dentist who lost his eyes during protests against Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and against the military rule that ruled Egypt immediately after Mubarak’s fall.
While the government argued that the law was intended to curb the Muslim Brotherhood’s continued street protests, Naguib said it suppresses the freedom of demonstration as a whole.
“This law is not targeted at the Muslim Brotherhood, it is for the other members of the revolution and people at large,” he noted.
He said he anticipate that the law will likely escalate popular anger against the government, which he described as “vulnerable and could easily fall.”
Amnesty International criticized the new protest law saying it paves the way for increased violation of human rights.
“Granting security forces complete discretion to ban protests or disperse them using excessive and lethal force is a serious setback for human rights in Egypt and paves the way for further abuse,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director, in a statement published on the organization’s website.
Egypt’s military-backed government is engaged in an almost daily crackdown against supporters of ousted President Mohammad Mursi.
Lawyer Ahmed Ragheb said the right to demonstration is a fundamental gain from Egypt’s Jan. 25 Revolution and restricting would send a “message” to the people.
“I think the state is now sending a message to Egyptians that it is not going to be possible to do what people were able to do after January 25,” he said.
Ragheb noted that even with its drawbacks, the law would be difficult to implement due to the security forces’ lack of proper training in dealing with protesters.
“The basis of laws and upholding them also entails that society accepts them, which does not happen now,” Ragheb told Al Arabiya News.
He said the government should have waited for elections before issuing a law that organizes protests.
While criticizing the government, Wael Nawara, a co-founder of al-Dostour Party, said the law is “not an entirely negative move on its own.”
“I think that the law should be revised, this stubbornness has to end, if people are not happy with the law it should be changed and open for discussion,” he told Al Arabiya News.
He said the government’s failure to put the law up for discussion among parties and rights groups was “a mistake.”
Nawara, however, noted that the unpopularity of the law could be exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood to increase their support base against the government and its military backers.
“This is making the confrontation circle bigger, now the government is confronting many groups like the students, the Muslim Brotherhood, the anti -military groups, even the farmers,” he said.
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