Egypt’s cabinet is considering controversial new anti-terror legislation that, according to a report by the Washington Post on Tuesday, would expand the definition of terrorism under the Egyptian penal code to include acts that “harm national unity,” “hinder the work of educational institutes,” or “damage natural resources.” The sweeping new legislation is drawing intense criticism from rights groups who warn of the powers it would lend an already alarmingly authoritarian regime.
The measures, which would have to be signed into law by interim President Adly Mansour after being passed by the cabinet, have been defended by the military-led government as necessary in order to address the rise in militant attacks following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi last July. Since that time, more than 430 police and army troops have been killed.
As worrying as escalating militancy in the country may be, the proposed terror legislation seems less geared towards quelling the insurgency as equipping the military regime with the legislative tools to go after a broader swathe of anti-government factions — violent or not. The inclusion of the provision about hindering the work of educational institutes is a clear response to growing protests at universities, most notably Cairo University where pro-Morsi demonstrators have come face-to-face with security forces on numerous occasions.
As Amnesty International points out, the legislation’s expanded definitions of terror would effectively criminalize “strikes and peaceful demonstrations in schools, universities and those emanating from mosques” and even “potentially allow the authorities to bring a terrorism case against virtually any peaceful activist.” Egyptian authorities have already taken serious liberties in stifling dissent and freedom of expression more generally. The prospect of enshrining these repressive measures into law would count as a significant intensification of Mubarak-era repression tactics, making permanent and normalizing the former strongman’s state of emergency law.
Despite the outcry from rights organizations, there is not much standing in the way of approving the legislation, as the Washington Post reports:
The rising violence and instability, coupled with a growth in pro-military nationalism in the wake of Morsi’s ouster, has bolstered support for the campaign against suspected terrorists but also demonstrators and opposition activists. It is therefore unlikely the cabinet will make any fundamental changes to the laws, Egyptian legal experts say.
With presidential elections looming on the horizon, look for emboldened military authorities to grow even more aggressive in their suppressive tactics. Between legislative measures and a robust media campaign (which includes the forced suspension of liberal television comedian Bassem Youssef’s program ahead of the May ballot to “avoid influencing the Egyptian voters’ opinions and public opinion”), the regime has abandoned the pretense that its actions are geared towards ensuring security. Instead, the focus is on enshrining these ever-more ambitious systems of repression in the very fabric of the Egyptian state.