Egypt Approves New Controversial Protest Law

Egypt's cabinet approves a new draft law regulating public demonstrations that is slammed by rights groups as restrictive.

Elad Benari ,

Anti-Morsi protester throws a tear gas canist
Anti-Morsi protester throws a tear gas canist

Egypt's cabinet on Wednesday approved a new draft law regulating public demonstrations that was swiftly slammed by rights groups as restrictive, AFP reports.

The law, which needs the ratification of the upper house of parliament, was created "to ensure the peaceful nature of demonstrations," Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki told reporters.

The law aims "to protect the right (to demonstrate) and prevents mixing peaceful protests, which the state vows to protect, and attacks on people and property as well as disrupting public order," he said, according to AFP.

The text stipulates that organizers must inform authorities of plans to protest in advance and the interior ministry has the right to reject a demonstration.

Protests will be restricted to a specific location in each province to be decided by the governor, according to the official MENA news agency.

The law also prohibits the setting up of platforms for speakers and the use of tents during sit-ins, as well as the carrying of banners or the chanting of slogans deemed defamatory or insulting to religion or state institutions.

The draft law was criticized as restrictive by rights groups.

It "imposes restrictions on the right to demonstration" and "violates all principles of freedom of expression," charged Ahmed Ezzat, who heads the legal unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

"The role of the interior ministry goes beyond securing the event to interference in the subject of the event and its organization," he said in a statement quoted by AFP.

Egypt's revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak two years ago was largely driven by demands to end the longtime dictator's police state.

Activists have repeatedly called for a reform of the interior ministry but the draft law, if approved, is likely to spark further tensions between police and protesters.

Egypt has witnessed violence, insecurity and price hikes, fuelling political turmoil already plaguing the country.

Protests between police and protesters, who accuse Islamist President Mohammed Morsi of betraying the revolution that brought him to power, have often turned violent and sometimes deadly.

On Monday Egyptian police fired tear gas and water cannons at stone-throwing protesters outside the presidential palace as the opposition rallied to mark the second anniversary of Mubarak's overthrow.

The clashes broke out after several hundred protesters marched to the palace, the site of increasingly frequent clashes.

A wave of deadly clashes swept Suez Canal cities around January 25, the anniversary of the start of the anti-Mubarak uprising, in which dozens of protesters were killed, prompting Morsi to call in the military.

Two years ago, Egyptians had poured onto the streets to celebrate after an aide to Mubarak announced the veteran president's resignation, buoyant that democratic change was within reach.

However, two years later many are angry the main goals of freedom and social justice have not been achieved and that Egypt is polarized between Morsi's mainly Islamist supporters and a broad opposition.