Egypt: Protesting the protest law

The government is insisting on enforcing the controversial protest law despite wide opposition – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Ahmed Morsy, Dec 4, 2013.

Over the past 10 days, the recently endorsed protest law has been met with strong opposition from various political parties, public figures, political and legal activists and human-rights organisations.

Protests have been staged on a daily basis in clear defiance of the law and in order to object to the arrests of anti-law activists and politicians. The 6 April activist movement has called for a week of protests starting on 30 November. The Friday Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations were staged with acts of violence recorded and with dozens arrested.  

However, the government has said that it intends to continue with the implementation of the law, adamantly backed by the cabinet of Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi.

“There are no penalties for protesting, and the penalties in the law are only against those carrying weapons or not respecting peaceful demonstrations. The law aims to protect peaceful protesters through providing guarantees of their safety,” Al-Beblawi said on Sunday at a meeting attended by the spokespersons of various ministries.

In a statement released earlier this week, the cabinet stressed its full support for the law and for the police, saying that the latter had made significant sacrifices in order to ensure Egypt’s stability and security. It said that it respected freedom of expression as long as this was practiced within an “organised framework” and that this freedom did not lead to “chaos”.

The statement came shortly after the security forces had forcibly dispersed a peaceful demonstration held in front of the Shura Council on 26 November in order to protest against constitutional articles allowing military trials of civilians. Dozens of protesters were arrested by the police, who used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the rally.

Several security violations were reported, and activists said that several female protesters had been sexually harassed by the security forces during the dispersal.

On the same day and in response to the arrests of the protesters, hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered in Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo in order to protest against what they said were the losses of the gains made by the two popular revolutions over the past three years … //

… Protests have also been held in various governorates against the new law by civil revolutionary forces, and not only by Islamists as has been the case over recent months. Hundreds of protesters gathered on 30 November in downtown Cairo to call for the release of detainees arrested during the Shura Council protest.

The protesters raised signs reading “this is not a protest,” sarcastically defying the “anti-protest law”. They stressed their right to protest and expressed concerns that the new law would undermine the right to protest, a key gain of the 25 January Revolution.

“What is happening marks a return to [Hosni] Mubarak’s oppressive regime, in which state security made arbitrary arrests and suppressed protests,” said 29-year-old engineer Ayman Kamel, who was participating in the protest.

The new law includes the provision that protest organisers notify the Interior Ministry of any protest at least three working days prior to its scheduled date. The ministry also has the right to refuse to allow any protest.

“In cases in which the security bodies believe a protest, according to the information they have, constitutes a threat to peace and security, the interior minister or assigned police chief reserves the right to ban a public meeting or demonstration, or postpone it, transfer it to another place, or change its route… Organisers may contest a ministerial decree before the Administrative Court, and a judge must rule on the case immediately,” the law says.

According to the new law, the Interior Ministry must receive the names of the organisers of a protest, its route, its scheduled beginning and end times, and even details of the slogans that will be chanted.

Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, said that it was acceptable to have a law that regulates protests, but the question was why this law had been timed in the way that it had … //

… (full text).


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