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MPs oppose the protest law
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 17 - 05 - 2016

Several members of parliament have voiced frustration over a court verdict that sentenced more than 500 young people to between two to five years in prison for protesting against an Egyptian-Saudi Red Sea maritime border demarcation deal.
Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of parliament's Human Rights Committee, said the ruling against the youths was like a “medal on their chests” that represents their allegiance and loyalty to their homeland and the defence of its property.
On 14 May, Cairo's Qasr Al-Nile court ordered that 166 young people be sentenced to between two to five years in jail for protesting in downtown Cairo on 25 April without prior approval and in violation of the protest law. “Not only did they violate the protest law but also incited citizens to commit acts of violence and sabotage,” the prosecution said.
But MP Al-Sadat, who is also chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, insisted that the protesters expressed their opinion “in a peaceful manner without sabotage or violence”.
He also expressed discontent that the verdict was issued quickly, “while there are other trials that take years for a verdict to be issued”.
He added that such verdicts lead to a loss of confidence in the judiciary. “The judiciary is one of the pillars of stability in this country and lack of confidence in it would lead the nation to chaos.”
Al-Sadat said the verdict against young protesters “shows that there is a pressing need that the protest law be amended”.
Joining forces, MP Akmal Qortam, a businessman and chairman of the Conservatives Party, said some of the protest law's articles should be amended. “These articles violate the constitution which grants citizens the right to organise demonstrations,” said Qortam, urging that the law must be amended “to strike a balance between freedom and national security”.
Said Qortam, “Protests are a major face of democracy and freedom and as long as they are organised peacefully, they should be allowed.”
He insisted that most youths in jail had not participated in violent acts. “Yes, we should respect the law and judicial verdicts, but also wise politics says that the state should refrain from antagonising its young people,” said Qortam.
Qortam urged the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) to issue a quick and final say on whether the protest law is constitutional. “The SCC has been reviewing an appeal against some of the articles of the law since 2014 and we hope it will give a final say on them very soon.”
Al-Sadat and Qortam also urged President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to invoke his constitutional powers in favour of pardoning young political activists.
“While President Al-Sisi designated 2016 the year of youth, we see that security forces arrest young protesters to face harsh prison sentences,” said Mohamed Badrawi, the parliamentary spokesman of the Egyptian National Movement Party. He urged parliament's Human Rights Committee to submit a new draft of the protest law.
“This draft law should discriminate between peaceful protesters who want to convey a democratic message and radical Islamist protesters who incite violence and sabotage,” said Badrawi.
In a debate in parliament's Human Rights Committee on Monday, members of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) agreed that the protest law was one of a number of pieces of legislation that go against the constitution, human rights and freedoms.
“The protest law includes a lot of harsh penalties that should be amended because they are not in keeping with the constitution,” said NCHR member Monsef Suleiman.
High-profile political activist and NCHR member George Ishak described the verdict against the young protesters of 25 April as “shocking” and “horrible”. “It is highly ironic that these terrible verdicts come in what President Al-Sisi calls the year of youth,” said Ishak, adding, “This should be called the year of imprisoning youth.”
Ishak argued that the defendants were arrested in Cairo's Dokki and Agouza districts on 25 April simply for protesting against the government's decision to acknowledge Saudi Arabia's sovereignty over the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir. “Although this verdict can be appealed, it should alert parliament to the dangers of the protest law,” said Ishak.
He urged parliament's Human Rights Committee to speed up amending the law to meet Article 73 of the constitution, which grants citizens the right to organise peaceful street demonstrations, public gatherings, processions and all other forms of peaceful protests.
Ishak indicated that Article 155 of the constitution also states that “a general pardon” can be issued only upon the approval of two-thirds of MPs.
Ishak said most of the defendants are school and university students “who will face a bleak future when they will leave prison after five years”.
MP Suzi Nashed said 10 per cent of the total number of MPs — 60 — can submit a proposed amendment of the protest law to parliament's Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee.
“We do not want the rift between the state and young people to widen, and in this respect another draft law can be submitted to issue a general pardon for all those who were imprisoned for political and protest offences,” said Nashed. “This pardon could even have a retroactive effect, helping political activists who had been imprisoned in the last five years to be pardoned and released.”
Al-Sadat said that he and other MPs will discuss the possibility of sending a letter to Al-Sisi, calling on him to issue a general pardon for all political prisoners in line with his constitutional powers.
Another camp of MPs, however, refused to join the chorus. Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP and a high-profile journalist, said he is against “criticising judicial verdicts”. “The prosecution-general was clear that the 25 April protesters were by no means peaceful and that they were involved in violence and acts of sabotage,” said Bakri.
“The president of the republic cannot issue a pardon for a certain kind of prisoner as long as the verdicts are not final.” He continued, “The verdict against the 25 April protesters can be appealed and in this case the president cannot exercise his powers.”
Ilhami Agina, an independent MP, slammed the National Council for Human rights, insisting that its members adopt foreign agendas. “We do not know how the members of this council were selected and how they serve the agenda of human rights in Egypt,” said Agina. “All we know about the members of this council is that they just like to appear on TV to attack policemen, prosecutors, judges and adopt the chaos agenda of Western human rights organisations.”
Said Agina, “They also want that the release of the 25 April protesters even if the prosecution and judicial authorities agree that they were involved in violence and sabotage.”
Mohamed Farag Amer, a businessman and chairman of parliament's Sports and Youth Committee, urged MPs and members of NCHR to respect the court's verdict. “We can defend the rights of young people but without criticising judges and prosecutors, and we can help release these young activists only after they use their right to appeal,” Amer said.

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