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Is Egypt’s New Protest Law Good for Democracy?

Is Egypt’s New Protest Law Good for Democracy?

Hossam El Hamalawy

Ashraf Ramelah - published on 12/12/13

Egyptians now have to have a permit to protest. It might help keep order, but will it stifle legitimate dissent from the government?

Egypt’s new protest law went into effect last week. The law has been divisive.  Muslim Brotherhood thugs and Islamists are flat-out against it preferring chaos and spontaneity. Families are pleased because it safeguards their well-being. Pro-democracy protesters see the value in a law to protect citizens and don’t appear to be threatened, but there is disagreement.

Once Egypt’s interim government submitted their new protest law to the country’s interim president, Adly Monsour, and received approval on November 24, supporters and opponents of this law collided in the streets. The new law sparked a new wave of protests on November 26, two days later, when opponents, mostly Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi advocates, clashed with supporters who demanded the new law to be enforced.

The new law was immediately enforced when the military and police cleared out protesters on the basis of Article 8 of the new protest regulation, which requires organizers to submit a written request to the local police at least three days in advance stating proposed location, time, purpose and estimated number of participants. Opponents of this law consider Article 8 to be an obstacle and a violation of their right to protest. Despite the current Islamist-leaning government, Brotherhood protesters fear the non-issuance of permits because on  their record of violence and use of weapons during protests.   

The first article of the thousand-word protest regulation just signed into law states that no weapons are allowed. Article 5 forbids protests at places of worship or to use them as gathering points. So, in the future, gathering from mosques to attack churches can be curtailed by this law. Article 7 keeps roads clear and uninterrupted, which means that protests will not conflict with routine traffic and conflict with the livelihood of others. Article 14 allows veto powers for the Interior Minister to potentially “forbid” demonstrations in front of Parliament buildings, foreign offices, military compounds, hospitals and airports.

Egypt’s critical post-Morsi transition period acquired through massive and continuous uprisings is a struggle for democratic principles against an embedded Islam. Regulating protests by use of permits as practiced in civil, democratic countries may serve now in Egypt as a hindrance to the democratic process considering that the power of freedom fighters completely resides in this method. In fact, Egypt’s freedom coalition movement will likely protest again against the recently released constitution draft — a less than perfect model for democratic rights.   

During the Mubarak era, protests were held in spite of the President’s permanent emergency law. Dissent was limited and violence was practically nonexistent. When the uprising against Mubarak began by freedom fighters in January 2011, it was peaceful as well. When the Muslim Brotherhood galloped camels and horses into the crowds protesting on February 2, 2011, it marked the turning point for nonviolent protests in Egypt.

A second tragic incident followed on October 9, 2011 when Egypt’s military and Brotherhood-influenced SCAF (the governing power) attacked with armored cars and tanks the Maspero organization of Christians protesting peacefully in Tahrir Square. For nearly three more years, protests occurring against the corrupted SCAF and then the Morsi presidency were marked by vandalism, sexual harassment, injuries and murders.

Law abiding citizens and freedom fighters who have been critical of the current interim government’s incapacity to control street violence now welcome this new law, long overdue since the arrest of Morsi on July 3 this year when violence increased severely. During a TV program on December 1, Interim President Monsour said, regarding the new protest law, that it was “designed to be executed and be respected, and there is no way that it will be reversed.”

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The Muslim Brotherhood’s claim of holding nonviolent, peaceful protests is belied by their complaints of the new protest regulation which now injects law and order. Pro-democracy supporters of the new law consider it a weak attempt by an interim government that should have taken bolder steps earlier to shut down the dangerous Brotherhood gangs. Gangs run rampant unchecked by law and for some time the freedom coalition movement has considered the government’s delay suspicious.  

The interim government formed within weeks of Morsi’s arrest allowed to remain Morsi’s removal of the country’s 32 year-old emergency law needed so desperately to restrain the Muslim Brotherhood backlash. Egyptians, worried about their safety, blame the interim government and the military and police forces unable to keep up with the outbreaks of violence.

It was not unreasonable to expect the newly instated temporary leadership of the interim government to target Brotherhood thugs and round up the criminals released from jails by former President Morsi. Yet this did not happen. Freedom fighters would have been heartened to see the outlawing of religion-affiliated political parties en route to establishing a modern secular state.

The banning of the Muslim Brotherhood organization — reverting to past policy — coming as late as three months after Morsi’s removal turned out to be a hollow gesture coming from a government body comprised of religionists. Sympathy alive in the interim government for the El Noor party (Salafists holding the strictest fundamental Islamic religious views) is also evident in the makeup of the select constituent assembly chosen by this government to draft the new constitution.  (At the same time, this assembly’s lack of experts in constitutional law weakened its purpose.)

In the five months since Morsi’s arrest in the name of liberty and the pursuit of a secular state, there has been no real effort to rid Egypt of the effects of Morsi’s rule and the Brotherhood’s hyper-religious focus to further Islamic supremacy. The reason for this is that following General Al Sisi alignment of the military with freedom fighters and arrest of Morsi in early July in accordance with majority sentiment, he appointed Egypt’s High Constitutional Court president, Adly Monsour, to lead the country. Al Sisi took his direction from Egypt’s former Sadat-Mubarak constitution ignoring Morsi’s constitution as a debacle.

Monsour then appointed Dr. El Baradei, a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer, as his vice-president. The two proceeded to appoint the president of the new interim government, Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi — another Islamist sympathizer. The Prime Minister chose his cabinet – the majority with roots in the Islamic cause. They are insiders doing the bidding inside the government for the Muslim Brotherhood and are receptive to foreign interference pursuing the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to power.  

The one question no one seems to be asking is what will happen if a protest permit is denied. Will the courts function to provide timely recourse upon appeals of the denials and fairness regarding the right to assemble and protest or will the courts be tied to the Islamist viewpoint held by the interim government and the President of Egypt? Monsour is also currently the president of the High Constitutional Court. The risk is that no permits will be issued for political protests in the future.  

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