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Protest law bans sit-ins, allows harsh security measures

The newly passed Protest Law imposes strict limitations on the right to assemble, including an article banning the right of protesters to continue their demonstration throughout the night, reported the independent daily newspaper Al-Shorouk on Thursday.

Sit-ins have been the most powerful tool of the street protest movement for the past two and a half years. The 18-day sit-in protesters held in downtown Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square was a major tool of public pressure that forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down back in 2011.

The current military leadership backing the interim government that wrote and passed the Protest Law supported the three-day sit-in that started on June 30 calling for former President Mohamed Morsi’s resignation. The Armed Forces called that sit-in an expression of the people’s will, and took it upon themselves to execute that will by forcibly removing the president from office.  

However, since then, the state has condemned sit-ins as a threat to national security and a haven for armed militias.

In August, two six-week-long sit-ins staged by Morsi supporters in Cairo were violently dispersed by security forces, killing over 600 demonstrators and injuring thousands over the course of the 12-hour long operation.

The new law obliges protest organizers to inform the nearest police station of the place of the protest, its start and finish time and its goals and demands, in addition to the names and contact information of its organizers. The information has to be provided 24 hours prior to the protest, according to the law.

The law prohibits the protest from going past the end time as reported to the police station, and also prohibits the use of fireworks, face masks or protesting in the vicinity of places of worship.

One article also empowers the Ministry of Interior to cancel or change the course of the planned protest if it acquires any information suggesting that the organizers could violate any of the law’s stipulations. It also empowers security forces to disperse protests and arrest demonstrators if they “violated the general order.”

Security forces would be required to begin dispersing demonstrations with verbal warnings, then, if needed, would progress to firing water cannons, tear gas and then beating protesters with batons. However, if required for “legitimate self-defense and protection of assets,” “more force” would be authorized, the article continues.

The law has been met with voluble criticism. In addition to perceiving the law as a violation of the basic right to assemble and protest, many also worry that the vague language used in articles granting permission to use force against protesters or cancel protests could open the door to severe violations of demonstrators’ rights.

The April 6 Youth Movement issued a statement today after the law’s articles were published, calling it one of the most oppressive laws in the region, and a reminder of Mubarak-era legislation.

“The law deprives Egyptians of their right to stage sit-ins, forgetting that this right is what brought down dictatorships. Is the regime afraid that it will be brought down like its predecessors?” the group asked in its statement.

April 6 reminded the current Cabinet that the ministers reached their current positions through protests that removed the Morsi government, and warned that the “war on terrorism” — the state’s battlecry in its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood — is now being used against the revolution. 

Former MP Mostafa al-Naggar also criticized the law on his Facebook page, urging the government to learn from past mistakes and not make new enemies by passing similar legislation.

“We want a law to organize the right to protest, and not ban protests; we want a law that incriminates the killing of peaceful protesters, not legalizes it; we want to widen the space for liberties, and not shrink it,” he wrote.

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