Update (May 2, 2017): On Tuesday, May 2, President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi ratified an amendment to Article 10 of Egypt’s Protest Law. The amended article allows the interior minister or relevant security official to refer a demonstration to the appropriate primary court if there is information or evidence of a threat to security or peace. The primary court is then empowered to decide whether or not to permit or to make a logistical change to the protest; the decision may be appealed thereafter per Egypt’s Civil and Commercial Procedure Law. Article 10, which originally allowed the interior minister to make these decisions, was found to be unconstitutional in December 2016 during the Supreme Constitutional Court’s review of Articles 7, 8, 10, and 19. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) applauds the amended version of Article 10 as a measure to incorporate judicial review into the procedure for permitting protests. At the same time, TIMEP also recognizes that the impact of this amendment relies on implementation by an increasingly politicized judiciary. This concern is especially salient given the recent passage of of the Judicial Authorities Law, which has the potential to compromise the Egyptian judiciary’s ability to conduct independent judicial review.
Update (December 3, 2016): On Saturday, December 3, the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court reviewed Articles 7, 8, 10, and 19 of the Protest Law and determined to uphold Articles 7, 8, and 19 and reject Article 10 as unconstitutional. Articles 8 and 10 address notifying authorities of planned protests and the interior minister’s power to cancel them, while Articles 7 and 19 address violations of general security and public order, forbidding actions that impact transportation and traffic, among others. While TIMEP applauds the decision to reject Article 10 as a valuable step toward repealing the protest law, it condemns the upholding of Articles 7, 8, and 19, and continues to call upon the Egyptian government to repeal the law, which has been responsible for the detention of thousands since its passage in November 2013. This includes the high profile cases of Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, Muhammad Adel, Alaa Abdul Fattah, the Tiran and Sanafir demonstrators, and pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The ban on protests is in violation of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, documents which uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and which Egypt is obligated to respect. Peaceful protest is an institutional means of expressing dissent; closing these spaces fuels greater instability, as evidenced by a series of violent unplanned demonstrations that have taken place over the past year.
Update (October 26, 2014): On October 26, 2014, 23 activists were handed sentences of three years in prison and 10,000 EGP for violating the protest law. The activists had been arrested for their presence at a June demonstration calling for the repeal of the law. TIMEP reiterates its call for the immediate repeal of this repressive law, as well as for the release of any sentenced under it.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) calls for the release and pardon of Egyptians Ahmed Maher, Mohammed Adel, and Ahmed Douma, who have each been sentenced to three years in jail and fined 50,000 EGP for violating a controversial protest law. Maher, Adel, and Douma will have the opportunity to appeal their sentence in a Court of Cassation, a lengthy process that could take years before reaching resolution.
According to the protest law, enacted by the interim government last November, security forces may disperse authorized protests and arrest participants who behave criminally or violate what is described as the “peaceful nature of expressing their opinion.” The government’s enforcement of the law has proven to be harsh, paving the way for a crackdown on political dissidents. Shortly following the enactment of the law, 25 defendants—including prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah and protester Ahmed Abdel-Rahman—were charged under the new law. The same month, 21 women and girls were found guilty of violating the law and sentenced to over a decade in detention (either in person or in absentia). While observers celebrated the later release of Abdel-Fattah and Abdel-Rahman on 10,000 EGP bail, many others remain in prison or face sentences passed in absentia.
Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, inter alia, “No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of [the right of peaceful assembly] other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, [or] public order… .” This language is mirrored in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Egypt has also ratified. Yet, the ongoing crackdown of public dissent in Egypt suggests that the rights to freedom of expression and assembly have been excessively curtailed in favor of public order.
TIMEP stands with Egyptian and international civil society members in calling upon the Egyptian government’s release of peaceful political activists and for the repeal of the protest law. Peaceful political expression was a fundamental cornerstone of the Egyptian uprisings of 2011 and is integral to the development of a democratic society. The protection of political expression is particularly critical in the lead-up to presidential elections, as the right to peaceful assembly is an inherent part of a free and fair elections process. Today’s ruling marks a lamentable regression in Egypt’s transition toward democracy, and Egypt’s government must respect the widespread demands of the Egyptian people for greater political participation by undertaking reforms that protect the rights to freedom of speech, expression, and assembly.
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The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.