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A Look at Four New Laws Currently Being Discussed by Egypt's Shura Council and Cabinet

By Nancy Messieh - Atlantic Council

While protests continue throughout Egypt, several laws are currently under discussion - whether in the Shura Council or the Cabinet, all of which could play a significant role in shaping the coming months and years in Egypt. The most pressing of these laws is the electoral law, with President Mohamed Morsi stating that parliamentary elections will go ahead as planned in April. Other laws currently being discussed include laws regulating protests, combatting thuggery, regulating NGO operations in Egypt, and lastly, a law to combat sexual harassment. 

The Electoral Law

Before the latest wave of protests, one of the most pressing issues being discussed in the Shura Council was the Electoral Law [2]. The Shura Council had approved the law and referred it to the Supreme Constitutional Court in January, but further amendments are expected.

Not only has the main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front (NSF) been critical of the law, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has also called for amendments in what was described as an effort to calm political tensions. FJP chairman, Saad al-Katatny submitted [3] amendments to the law, but did not elaborate on the nature of the changes.

The Shura Council had already approved the following:

1. Approved unanimously, the law prevents members of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Hosni Mubarak’s defunct party, from participating in political life – including their participation in parliamentary elections. While this was not a source of controversy within the Shura Council itself, it does however enshrine political isolation.

The Political Isolation Law passed by parliament which attempted to exclude Mubarak-era officials from the presidential elections was overturned by the Supreme Constitutional Court the same day parliament was dissolved, and allowed for Ahmed Shafiq to come within 3% of the winning vote for Egypt’s presidency. Where the new law is concerned, however, Egypt’s constitution does support this amendment, with Article 232 banning “leaders” of the NDP from participating in presidential or legislative elections for the next 10 years.

2. Salafist members of the Shura Council were opposed to an article stipulating that at least one female candidate must appear on the top half of each party-based list. While this article appeared in the previous electoral law, and was likely the only reason Salafi parties included women in their party lists, the Shura Council eventually elected to remove this stipulation from the latest draft. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party were among those pushing to include this article.

3. Citizens who have not performed military service can now run in the parliamentary elections, provided that they have served a penalty.

4. Political detainees can now run in the parliamentary elections.

5. The electoral law once again adopts a closed party-based list system. Two thirds of the seats will be contested by party members, while the remaining third are set aside for independent candidates. As was the case before, the lists can include candidates from more than one political party, allowing for electoral blocs and alliances, but with it being a closed system, candidates appearing on the bottom half of the list are less likely to earn a seat in parliament since voters are selecting an entire list rather than individual candidates.

6. Voting will take place from 9am to 9pm.

7. The law retains the 50 percent quota allotted to workers and farmers – as is mandated by the constitution – but the law adds additional stipulations: candidates cannot change their affiliation if they are elected, otherwise they will be expelled from the parliament.

8. Despite the stipulation placed on worker/farmer candidates, the same will not be applied in terms of political ideologies. If an independent MP joins a political party after earning a seat, they will not be expelled if they choose to join (or re-join) a political party. (It’s worth noting that the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament in June 2012 on the grounds that the electoral law was unconstitutional because it allowed party members to contest seats set aside for independent candidates.)

9. An attempt to introduce a fixed quota for Christian members of parliament was rejected by Salafist members of the Shura Council and did not make it into the final draft.

Protest and Thuggery Law

A new protest law which we have examined in-depth [4] on EgyptSource would place extremely strict restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom to peaceful protest.

The law:

1. Prohibits the disturbance of security and public order.

2. Prohibits the hindrance to citizen interests, blocking roads and other means of transport, obstructing traffic, attacking personal and public property.

3. Prohibits the hindrance to freedom to work.   

4. Prohibits the use of banners and slogans that are deemed insulting to religions or may provoke sectarian strife, and that insult governmental bodies and organizations. Protesters cannot wear black masks.

5.  The Ministry of Interior must be notified 5 days in advance of any protests, and has the right to designate the route taken by rallies or protests. The Ministry of Interior can submit a request to the courts to have the protest postponed, relocated or cancelled.

6. Protests cannot take place within 500 meters of governmental headquarters and public institutions, and podiums/stages and sit-ins are prohibited in these areas. The government is at liberty to expand prohibited areas.

7. Protests can be dispersed by a variety of means: beginning with a verbal warning, police can follow it with the use of tear gas, fire hoses, plastic truncheons and warning shots. With court approval, the police can use more powerful weapons.

8. Punishments for breaking this law include prison sentences of at least 3 months and fines ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,000 - $7,500).

An Islamic Coalition, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist Call, renewed calls [5] for criminalizing “disruptive political activity.” Items addressed in the protest law were included in the call – including addressing the issue of protesters obstructing traffic, with specific reference to Tahrir Square – with all roads leading in and out closed off by protesters taking part in an on-going sit-in.  

The protest law is expected to be discussed by the Shura Council’s National Defense Committee.  The majority of the articles in the protest law address protest methods currently used by Egyptian protesters and opposition. The law would have a direct effect on sit-ins taking place at the presidential palace, as well as affecting the newly emerged Black Bloc.

The government has also been working on an anti-thuggery law, which according to Muslim Brotherhood and Shura Council member Sobhi Saleh “gives police forces the right to arrest criminals who join street protests or stand near clashes with police, even if they refrain from committing any violent acts."

It is, however, unclear how this law would define ‘criminals’ or ‘thugs,’ and if the law resorts to vague language employed in Egypt’s constitution, it could be easily manipulated.

NGO Law

The Ministry of Social Insurance is currently finalizing a new NGO law. With former Minister Faiza Abul-Naga, who was responsible for the raid on several foreign NGOs replaced in Morsi’s cabinet, the situation has seen little improvement [6], which doesn’t come as a surprise since her replacement worked alongside her. The NGO trial spawned from that crackdown has seen continuous postponements, the most recent putting off the next session until July [7].

Local NGOs have spoken out [8] against earlier drafts of the law, but few of their suggestions have been taken on board, and many of their criticisms are still applicable to the current draft.

The latest draft [9] of the NGO law which has been sent to the Cabinet, stipulates the following:

1. New NGOs must include at least 20 founding members (up from the original 10) and must have at least 250,000EGP (up from 10,000EGP) in capital.

2. Foreign funds and donations would be regulated by the government, with the draft law stating that donations, subsidies, and funding have to be listed as ‘public funds.’ In practice, the government could (and does) restrict funding.

3. A committee formed of stakeholders in the field will oversee foreign funding-related issues.

4. Foreign organizations that receive any kind of government funding, or that promote a political party’s policies cannot operate in Egypt.

5. NGOs can work in the fields of development and social welfare but are prohibited from any practices that may threaten national unity, that are in violation of public order or morals, or that discriminate against citizens based on gender, race, language, religion or creed.

6. NGOs are prohibited from any political or union-related activities. Locally funded NGOs can participate in activities related to promoting awareness of legal, constitutional and human rights.

7. NGOs cannot conduct surveys, polls or do field research without prior approval from the appropriate authorities.

As was the case with articles in the constitution, and in several laws currently being drafted, the use of vague language, such as the violation of public order and morals, could allow for a restrictive interpretation of the law, and the law does allow for governmental interference in organizations’ activities.

Sexual Harassment Law

The Egyptian presidency announced, on Twitter [10] no less, that a sexual harassment law is to be ratified by the Cabinet shortly. The next day, more details emerged [11] on the forthcoming law. Prime Minister Hesham Qandil’s cabinet is working with women’s organizations, including the National Council for Women (NCW) on the law.

The NCW has been particularly vocal on increasingly violent and systematic attacks on women, particularly in Tahrir Square. Amnesty International published a briefing [12] in which it warned that continued impunity would only lead to more attacks, detailing the brutal attacks that some women have faced in the recent months.

Among Amnesty International’s recommendations were to ensure that investigations were conducted into all cases of sexual assault, to introduce legal provisions combating sexual harassment, and to amend legislation to ensure that the definition of rape in Egyptian legislation is in compliance to international law and standards.

While few details have emerged on the law itself, Mervat Tallawy of the NCW stated [13] that the law would:

1. Ensure a clear definition of sexual assault as a crime.

2. Increase the severity of punishments for sexual harassment and assault crimes.  

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The Atlantic Council (via POMED); www.acus.org/trackback/74203

 

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