The newly passed and highly controversial Protest Law should have been issued by an elected legislative body, said Ziad Bahaa El-Din, interim Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Cooperation.
The law was issued by interim President Adly Mansour last Sunday and has been receiving domestic and international criticism ever since.
Bahaa El-Din released a statement on the implementation of the Protest Law upon his return from Brussels, where he signed a deal worth €90m with the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. The minister explained in his statement that the trip kept him from commenting on the issuance of the law earlier.
“I have refused this law and I still do,” Bahaa El-Din said. “Its articles restrict the freedom of peaceful protest.”
Bahaa El-Din stated that the Egyptian Penal Code includes “sufficient articles” to deter non-peaceful protests. He added that issuing the Protest Law at this timing, before parliamentary elections, and in the absence of a legislative body threatens the unity achieved after the 30 June protests and the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi.
The Deputy Prime Minister stated that the practices which followed the issuance of the protest law last week contradict the “democratic path”.
“There’s nothing wrong with reconsidering a law which would only widen the gap between the state and the youth,” Bahaa El-Din said. “Admitting we were wrong and retracting our mistake indicates the readiness to listen and correct.”
Bahaa El-Din stressed that he recongnises the importance of taking the necessary measures to protect society against violence and attacks on lives and properties, both acts the minister claimed have been practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood since Morsi’s ouster.
“Holding onto the democratic path through the unification of national movements … is what will protect the state against the return of the oppressive Muslim Brotherhood regime,” Bahaa El-Din said.
Bahaa El-Din’s statement came amid strong support to the Protest Law by Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi’s cabinet. In a statement released on Friday, the cabinet stressed its full support for the law alongside the police and its sacrifices for the sake of Egypt’s stability and security. It also said it respects freedom of opinion and expression as long as it is practiced within an “organised framework” and so that freedom does not turn to “chaos, which would destroy achievements.”
The cabinet warned against “falling into the schemes of terrorist and backwards movements which target all without exception.”
The Protest Law had been heavily criticised by many political parties after it had been drafted and following its ratification by interim President Adly Mansour.
The legislation consists of strict restrictions on protests, marches and public meetings and requires a prior notice for protests at least three working days in advance; it also allows the Minister of Interior to move, change the route of or cancel assemblies. Articles in the Protest Law also allow security forces to use water cannons, batons, and tear gas to disperse protesters, as well as “escalatory measures” that would include the use of rubber bullets and metal pellets.
The law was condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Egyptian civil society, and bodies including the United States State Department. A wide array of political movements also condemned the law upon its issuance.