A group of political activists announced they would submit a notice to a protest they will hold in the vicinity of Tahrir Square next week under the banner “down with the Protest Law”.
The Protest Law was issued by interim President Adly Mansour on Sunday. The version Mansour passed is close to the final version approved by the cabinet and passed to the presidency on 12 November, drawing wide criticism from domestic and international human rights organistations.
The law necessitates that organisers of any public assembly, be it a political meeting, protest, or march, should submit a written notice to the nearest police station with the settings of the planned assembly and the organisers’ contact information.
Mohamed Adel, 6 April Youth Movement leading member, and Al-Dostour Party member Ali Assem prepared the notice and were scheduled to lead a procession to Qasr Al-Nil Police Station in downtown Cairo to submit the notice on Monday evening.
Adel said the gesture is to “mock” the newly passed law.
“We’re using non-violence war tactics,” Adel said. “We’re reminding the cabinet that they came through protests; they cannot issue a law banning protests.”
Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim met with his deputies and with security leaders on Monday to “look into the mechanism of applying the Protest Law”, according to a statement released by the ministry.
Ibrahim asserted that the law does not “detract” people’s right to peacefully express their opinions. “It guarantees the citizens’ right to organise and join public assemblies according to the law,” he said.
His statements echoed those of Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, who told AFP on Sunday that the Protest Law is “not a law that limits the right to demonstrate, but it aims at protecting the right of protesters.”
The Minister of Interior stressed the importance of committing to “accurately implementing the articles of the law and immediately dealing with the notices police stations receive.” He also called upon security directors to coordinate with governors on allocating areas within each governorate where citizens are free to hold peaceful assemblies without a prior notice, as the law stipulates.
The ministry’s different sectors will prepare the necessary plans to secure protests without halting traffic, Ibrahim said. He added that security forces will stick to the procedures and means outlined by the Protest Law in dealing with protests, should they deviate from peacefulness.
The law allows security forces to use water cannons, batons and teargas to disperse protests. If the aforementioned prove fruitless, security forces have the right to the “gradual use of force”, where they can fire warning shots or sound bombs, use rubber bullets and then use birdshots. If the protesters resort to firearms, Article 13 entitles security forces to respond in proportionate measures according to their right to “legitimate self-defence”.
Ibrahim reiterated his “confidence in the citizens’ cooperation with security apparatuses to implement all the law’s articles.”
Criticism to the law swiftly evolved as soon as it was issued on Sunday. The 6 April Youth Movement accused El-Beblawi’s cabinet of only caring about “legalising its oppression”.
The movement rejected the “notorious” law, pointing out it was issued amid the absence of elected institutions which represent the people.
“The law was individually and arbitrarily released despite the opposition and guidelines put forward by political and human rights movements,” 6 April’s statement read. “We weren’t intimidated by previous oppressive laws and we won’t be intimidated now.”
Hassan Shahin, founding member and official spokesman of the Tamarod (rebellion) campaign, announced on Sunday the campaign’s rejection of the Protest Law, especially that the National Council for Human Rights did not amend the draft law before it was passed. Shahin added that Tamarod especially rejects two articles; one which gives security forces the right to attend political meetings and another which gives the Ministry of Interior the right to cancel protests.
“We aren’t against organising the right to protest,” Shahin said in a statement released by the campaign. “We will also not allow terrorist movements … to commit systematic acts of violence and sabotage against the state in a manner which will take us back to the pre-2011 revolution or the pre 30 June revolution eras.”
Al-Tayar Al-Shaaby (the Popular Current), founded by Hamdeen Sabahy, also condemned the issuance of the Protest Law. The movement said the law failed to take into account international standards regarding the right to peaceful assembly. The movement called on Mansour to use his legislative authority and amend the law in a manner which “protects the gains of the 2011 revolution … and simultaneously guarantees holding perpetrators accountable.”
“The law deals with the right to protest as if the protesters have criminal intent,” the movement said in a statement released on Monday. “We understand the need for the state and its security institutions to possess a tool when facing rioters and acts of violence … yet we stress that the Egyptian Penal Code includes sufficient articles to face such acts if it is properly implemented.”
The Protest Law was also condemned by Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) Party, which said it was not surprised that the current regime put the “security vision” above other visions and issued a law “which bans protests instead of organising them.”
Talaat Marzouk, Al-Nour Party leading member, said the law “offers a legal cover for oppression.” Abdel Ghaffar Taha, member of the party’s media committee, said that there is “abundance in issuing repressive laws by the current, unelected regime.”
The same notion was reiterated by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which said in a statement released on Monday that such laws must be issued by an elected parliament after societal dialogue is held over them.
“How could the current, putschist regime claim its legitimacy stems from the protests [of 30 June] then issue a law barring its opposition from protesting?” the party asked.
Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya condemned the Protest Law for “going against democratic values and principles and breaching all international treaties and conventions.”
The draft version of the Protest Law received wide criticism from a number of domestic and international human rights organisations. Human Rights Watch said the draft law gives the police “carte blanche” to ban protests in Egypt, while Amnesty International warned the draft law would “pave the way for further bloodshed”. A group of 17 domestic civil society organisations said that the draft law aims to normalise the state of emergency and turn it into a permanent state.
After passing the law on 10 October, the cabinet retracted it for societal dialogue when it was widely criticised. The amended version of the law, submitted to the presidency on 12 November, included few amendments.