Egyptian interim president Adly Mansour has passed a new protest law that, according to right-wing groups, could severely restrict freedom of assembly and prohibit the kind of mass demonstrations that ousted Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi from power.
The law will force potential protesters to obtain seven separate permits to take to the streets and ban overnight sit-ins like the protests in Tahrir Square in early 2011. Activists must go to court to appeal rejected petitions – a restriction attorneys argue that a legal demonstration will be nearly impossible.
The law also prohibits unauthorized public or private gatherings of 10 or more people and gives the police the final say on whether a protest can take place. As a result, the law is considered to be as restrictive as a similar protest law that was debated and later discarded under Morsi, whose authoritarian instincts contributed to its demise. His version – which was drafted by the same official – would have led protesters to request five separate permissions instead of seven, but outlined more draconian penalties.
“This law brings back Mubarak’s era,” said Gamal Eid, director of the Arab human rights information network and one of Egypt’s leading human rights laws. Eid even argued that the new law was unfavorable compared to repressive laws drawn up when Egypt was a British protectorate.
“It is strange that the colonialists have a law that is more just than what is supposedly post-revolutionary,” he added.
The law has been the subject of heated debate in Egypt, where activists see its passage as a litmus test for post-Morsi democracy.
Nineteen Egyptian rights groups signed a joint statement last week condemning the law while it was being debated.
Human Rights Watch said the law “would effectively give police permission to ban protests in Egypt”. HRW added that it “could severely restrict the freedom of assembly of political parties and non-governmental groups” and “is an important indicator of the extent to which the new government will give political space in Egypt”.
In the short term, the law will particularly affect pro-Morsi supporters who, since its removal in July, have carried out disruptive demonstrations in many Egyptian cities almost daily. In Cairo, traffic was brought to a standstill in several parts of the capital on Sunday after protests against Morsi led administrators to cordon off important areas.