Cairo – Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, has signed a restrictive new “protest law” that would require Egyptians to seek approval days in advance before organising demonstrations.
The law will take effect later this week once the final text is published in the official state register. It gives police wide latitude to use force against demonstrators, which could give the government a pretext for a widespread crackdown.
The law has gone through numerous revisions, but rights groups say the latest version requires protesters to seek approval from police three days in advance, and allows the interior ministry to block rallies that could “pose a serious threat to security or peace”.
Election campaign events are subject to a 24-hour notification period in some drafts, and “processions” of more than 10 people are only allowed for “non-political” purposes. Violators could face fines of up to $4,360.
“They could have stuck to earlier versions, where if the interior ministry wants to ban a protest, the onus is on them to go to court and seek a ban,” said Heba Morayef, the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch. “Instead they’ve done the opposite. The end result is that we could see an increase in violent crackdowns on peaceful protests.”
Egypt’s interim cabinet is also debating a slate of other restrictive laws. One would criminalise “abusive graffiti”; another, a vaguely-worded “anti-terrorism” law, could be used to further clamp down on peaceful political activism.
The cabinet says the laws are needed to regulate near-daily protests in Cairo and across the country, some of which turn violent.
Authorities last week lifted a three-month state of emergency and night-time curfew imposed after security forces cleared two Cairo sit-ins filled with supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in July.
More than a thousand people were killed in the clearings and several days of unrest that followed.
Many of the ongoing protests have taken place on university campuses, which have become a hotbed of political unrest.
One person was killed late Wednesday night in clashes at Al-Azhar University between police and student supporters of Morsi. Protesters accused security forces of firing live ammunition at them; the interior ministry said students threw petrol bombs at police. Daily rallies have occurred since at Al-Azhar, Cairo University, and other schools.