President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, centre, in Cairo, Egypt, on June 30, 2015. (Egyptian Presidency)
CAIRO – Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has signed into law a new anti-terrorism bill, state media reported on Monday, a text that has prompted criticism from rights groups and even some senior judges.
The 54-article law, published on state news agency MENA, provides an extremely broad definition of terrorism, describing it in one article as any act that disturbs public order with force.
It also prescribes stiff jail sentences for a range of crimes, including promoting or encouraging any “terrorist offence,” as well as damaging state institutions or infrastructure, such as military or government buildings, courthouses, power and gas lines as well as archaeological sites.
The law also sets heavy fines of 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds (some $26,000 to $64,000) for publishing “false news or statements” about terrorist acts, or news contradicting the Defence Ministry’s reports.
Egypt has not had a parliament for over two years, and legislative authority rests with el-Sissi, who has passed dozens of laws in his 14 months in office. Any debate is largely through compliant media or behind closed doors.
The Cabinet approved the draft last month, two days after a car bomb in an upscale Cairo neighbourhood killed the country’s prosecutor general, Hisham Barakat. The same day of the Cabinet approval, Islamic militants launched a multi-pronged attack attempting to seize a northern Sinai town, hitting the military with suicide attacks and battling soldiers for hours.
The State Council – a judicial body that must vet bills and advises the government on legal issues – had reviewed the draft and made a few changes to it, most at the request of the government, a member of the council said earlier. The Cabinet then reviewed it to consider any changes sought by representatives of the judiciary, whose opinions are non-binding.
At Barakat’s funeral, a visibly angry el-Sissi shouted that courts must act faster, and his ire was matched by TV reporters calling for the quick implementation of death sentences issued against Islamists, including the former president, Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by the military in 2013 during mass protests against him.
The government has also pushed back aggressively against the foreign media, which officials and the pro-government media accuse of exaggerating the degree of the Sinai attacks. The military spokesman has warned local media against using foreign media reports.