Demonstrators gathered in Downtown Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square on Saturday evening to rally against the draft Protest Law restricting political demonstrations.
Around 100 people amassed in the square at 5pm Saturday carrying signs with pictures of activists who have been killed and chanting slogans against interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi and the interior ministry.
The protest grew in number to around 500 people as it marched east down Qasr Al-Nil Street. Protestors voiced slogans demanding “bread, freedom, and social justice” — widely used during the 25 January Revolution.
A group of a few dozen remained in Talaat Harb Square and held a candlelight vigil where they protested against toppled president Mohamed Morsi, and his political group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Widely criticised by political parties and rights groups, a draft of the 21-article law was approved by the cabinet on 10 October. The law states that citizens have the right to organise and join meetings, parades and demonstrations under certain conditions. The law defined parades as demonstrations with non-political goals.
The proposed law bans using places of worship as gathering points for protests, and demonstrators are also banned from possessing weapons, ammunition, fireworks and face-covering masks.
According to the proposed law, protest organisers must seek permission from the police station responsible for the intended site of protest 24 hours in advance. Such permission should include the location and the pathway of the protest, start and end time, the issue which the protest is concerned with, its demands and the organisers’ names.
Amid such controversial articles, commentary by political parties has recently been to the cabinet for discussion, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Cooperation Ziad Bahaa El-Din.
The National Defence Council said last Sunday that the cabinet will receive suggestions regarding the draft Protest Law for a week of “societal dialogue” and that the law would be issued after reviewing these suggestions. The draft law has, meanwhile, stirred criticism from a number of political and human rights movements.
Bahaa El-Din said on Saturday that meetings on the draft law were held with 15 political parties, reported state-run news agency MENA. He added that it is not “wrong” for the cabinet to withdraw the draft and invite political parties to a dialogue regarding it.
The State Council’s legislative section was scheduled to begin legally and constitutionally reviewing the draft Protest Law on Saturday, reported state-run Al-Ahram. The review is to aimed at determining whether the bill complies with general constitutional principles which govern the right to peaceful protesting. The bill’s review had been reportedly postponed until societal dialogue over the draft law was over.
Bahaa El-Din admitted he “had reservations” regarding “certain articles” of the draft law, reported MENA, adding that it “does not make sense” for the cabinet to discuss a draft law for seven hours and reach consensus.
The Revolutionary Front called for a protest at Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo on Saturday evening to denounce the draft law, while the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) condemned it on Thursday. The rights group said that after receiving a copy of the draft, it was “surprised that the features of the law that have been published in the Egyptian newspapers and media … don’t mention the articles that have defects.”
The draft law has already received criticism from 17 non-governmental organisations that believe the law aims to create a permanent state of emergency. There has also been criticism from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Amnesty International.
The draft Protest Law was approved by the cabinet and referred to interim President Adly Mansour for ratification on 10 October. The interim president is yet to ratify it for the law to come into effect.