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Human rights experts weigh in on new declaration

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Mixed reactions as freedoms remain under threat

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi holds a meeting with the country’s political leaders in Cairo on 8 December. (Photo via Egyptian Presidency)

A new constitutional declaration has evoked differing responses from human rights experts.

Haggag Nael, director of the Arab Programme for Human Rights Activists, said that the president is simply circumventing the demands of the people, and civil and revolutionary groups. Nael says that the effects of the previous declaration remain in place, “on the political ground, everything is as it is,” he said.

Article 1 of the new declaration states that the 21 November constitutional declaration is cancelled but its practical consequences will not be reversed.

Nael explained that this means the dismissal of the prosecutor general and the retrials of people implicated in killing protesters under the former regime, remain in place. These retrials are set to happen under a new law, the revolution protection law, which also remains in place.

“That is why it is circumvention, the declaration itself does not exist anymore but all its effects are still in place,” he said. Nael feels that the president is trying to please the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than the people.

“[The president] offered no concessions and this is an indicator that the crisis is entering a new phase. We do not know where it will lead,” Nael said.

Heba Morayef, director of Human Rights Watch Egypt, said that the new declaration revokes Articles 2 and 6 of the 21 November declaration, the most concerning two articles from a legal perspective.

The previous decree stated in Article 2 that the president’s decisions since he came to power are final and not subject to appeal. Article 6, stated that the president can take necessary measures, within the law, if he feels that there is a threat to the nation or the revolution.

“Even though it has not solved the political crisis and it has not postponed the referendum so that there is real dialogue with the opposition… one of the opposition’s demands was responded to,” Morayef said. The new declaration spells out the two possible scenarios that will be followed, based on the results of the 15 December referendum on the constitution.

Mohamed Lotfy, researcher at Amnesty International Mena Programme also feels that the new declaration offers a somewhat positive step because the previous one “put the president above the law by making his decisions final.”

However, Lotfy said that he fears that the revolution protection law could be used to limit freedoms. It gives the new prosecutor general the right to keep people in precautionary detention for up to six months for crimes like insulting the president or publishing false news, in addition to crimes like disrupting traffic. Lotfy said that this makes it possible to use the law to suppress protesters or the press.

The 8 December declaration was read out in a late Saturday night press conference after dialogue between many public figures.


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