Egypt cabinet approves new protest law

Egyptian security use water cannon as protesters throw stones in Cairo on February 11, 2013.  By Khaled Desouki (AFP/File)

Egyptian security use water cannon as protesters throw stones in Cairo on February 11, 2013. By Khaled Desouki (AFP/File)

CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt’s cabinet on Wednesday approved a new draft law regulating public demonstrations that was swiftly slammed by rights groups as restrictive.

The law, which needs the ratification of the upper house of parliament, was created “to ensure the peaceful nature of demonstrations,” Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki told reporters.

The law aims “to protect the right (to demonstrate) and prevents mixing peaceful protests, which the state vows to protect, and attacks on people and property as well as disrupting public order,” he said.

The text stipulates that organisers must inform authorities of plans to protest in advance and the interior ministry has the right to reject a demonstration.

Protests will be restricted to a specific location in each province to be decided by the governor, according to the official MENA news agency.

The law also prohibits the setting up of platforms for speakers and the use of tents during sit-ins, as well as the carrying of banners or the chanting of slogans deemed defamatory or insulting to religion or state institutions.

The draft law was criticised as restrictive by rights groups.

It “imposes restrictions on the right to demonstration” and “violates all principles of freedom of expression,” charged Ahmed Ezzat, who heads the legal unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

“The role of the interior ministry goes beyond securing the event to interference in the subject of the event and its organisation,” he said in a statement.

Egypt’s revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak two years ago was largely driven by demands to end the longtime dictator’s police state.

Activists have repeatedly called for a reform of the interior ministry but the draft law, if approved, is likely to spark further tensions between police and protesters.

Egypt has witnessed violence, insecurity and price hikes, fuelling political turmoil already plaguing the country.

Protests between police and protesters, who accuse Islamist President Mohamed Morsi of betraying the revolution that brought him to power, have often turned violent and sometimes deadly.