CAIRO – Egypt is poised to expand the national security powers of the president and the military with legislation that will strengthen the hand of the country’s authoritarian government, as it appeared to have relaxed its control last week with the lifting of a long-standing state of emergency.
The House of Representatives on Sunday approved new amendments to the national terrorism law granting the extended powers, and the changes will now go to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for ratification, which is little more than a formality. the amendments granting the president the authority to take “the necessary measures to preserve security and public order,” including the imposition of curfews, among other powers.
The changes raised questions about whether Egypt was really taking steps to open up, as the government has been eager to show. With your human rights record once again under scrutiny From the United States and Europe, the government recently announced a reevaluation of some aspects of its handling of political prisoners and other human rights issues. El-Sisi also decided not to renew the four-year state of emergency, which expired last month.
The state of emergency gave the government broad powers of surveillance, arrest, censorship, and other tactics in the name of fighting terrorism, including the ability to quell protests, detain dissidents, and control the daily lives of Egyptians. Those rules, in one form or another, have been in place for most of the last 40 years.
While some rights advocates welcomed the change, many criticized the government’s measures to address human rights concerns as simply a public relations stunt, particularly as the amendments gave the president and the military some powers similar to those that they had under the state of emergency now lifted.
With the amendments to the terrorism law, Egypt will continue to expand the role of the armed forces, which has seen its star and responsibilities grow. expand into a variety of areas, from pasta-making and hotels to the judiciary, since el-Sisi, a former general, assumed power after a military coup in 2013.
If the president approves the changes, the military and police will have an ongoing responsibility to protect public infrastructure, essentially handing them control of facilities that include gas pipelines, oil fields, power plants, roads, bridges, and railways. Anyone accused of invading or damaging said infrastructure would be prosecuted in military courts.
Another amendment passed by the House on Monday would make investigation into the military and its current and former members without the government’s written consent punishable by a hefty fine of up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds, or nearly $ 3,200.
The timing of the latest legislative changes raised doubts even among members of the Egyptian parliament, which is dominated by presidential allies.
“We are not against toughening the penalty for revealing military secrets or espionage, but we have reservations about the timing, as it coincides with the abolition of the state of emergency by the president and the issuance of the human rights strategy,” said a legislator, Maha Abdel Nasser of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, according to the Egyptian news outlet Al Shorouk.
Ms. Abdel Nasser pointed out that the reinforced penalties for publishing information about the army contradicted the national human rights strategy, which promised Egyptians the right to freedom of expression.
Another lawmaker, Mohamed Abdel Alim, a former member of the Wafd Party, who like Abdel Nasser is not fully aligned with the government or the opposition, also expressed concern that the amendments would complicate the work of journalists and researchers, Al Shorouk reported. .
But, lest anyone doubt his patriotism, he was quick to add that he respected the Armed Forces.