Egypt's cabinet has approved a new draft law regulating public protests. Rights groups have slammed the law, calling it restrictive, while officials say it will help keep protests peaceful.
The draft law, which was approved Wednesday, was created "to ensure the peaceful nature of demonstrations," Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki told reporters.
The bill will must still be ratified by the Shura Council, Egypt's Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament which has sole legislative power during the country's transitional democracy.
Mekki said the law aims "to protect the right [to demonstrate] and prevents mixing peaceful protests, which the state vows to protect, and attacks on people and property as well as disrupting public order."
The official MENA news agency reported that under the law, protests would be restricted to a specific location in each province decided by the governor. The law also prohibits setting up platforms for speakers and using tents during sit-ins, a form of protest most famously used in Cairo's Tahrir Square during and after the 2011 revolution to oust autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.
Carrying banners or chanting slogans deemed defamatory or insulting to religion or state institutions would also be prohibited under the law, as well as blocking roads and squares and wearing masks or scarves obscuring the face.
Backlash from rights groups
Ahmed Ezzat, head of the legal unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said in a statement that the law "imposes restrictions on the right to demonstration" and "violates all principles of freedom of expression."
"The role of the interior ministry goes beyond securing the event to interference in the subject of the event and its organization," he said.
Heba Morayef, Egypt director of Human Rights Watch, told the Reuters news agency that the law "seems designed to actually increase restrictions."
"If one protester commits a crime, it gives the police the right to disperse the entire protest," he said.
Activists have repeatedly called for a reform of Egypt's interior ministry, but if passed the draft law would likely increase already heightened tensions between protesters and police.
President Mohammed Morsi has come under fire of late, with the opposition accusing him of betraying the goals of the revolution. Protests against him and his government have often turned violent and sometimes deadly, with around 60 people alone dying between January 25, the second anniversary of the revolution, and February 4.
dr/av (AFP, Reuters)