- Legalized Authoritarianism:How Egypt's lawmakers codify oppression
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The Egyptian Parliament is considering a bill to require residents to submit their names, ID numbers, and email addresses to a federal authority before using social media. Under this law, an errant tweet could result in a six-month prison sentence and $275 fine. As of May, the provisions are still under discussion. While the act seems unlikely to pass, it is not without support—at least 60 out of 596 parliamentarians have endorsed it. [End Page 12]
Although the proposed social media bill is an extreme example, it is telling of the current state of affairs. Throughout its modern history, the Egyptian government has repeatedly violated domestic and international law through practices like arbitrary arrests, torture in detention, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. What is different today is that the government is moving to legalize its crackdown. The pieces of vaguely worded legislation being introduced to Parliament empower the state to use practices that were once unlawful, but are now considered acceptable to protect Egyptians during a time of heightened terror threat.
From July 2013 until January 2016, there was no sitting Parliament, which meant interim President Adly Mansour and his successor, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, enjoyed both executive and legislative authority. Rather than use these expanded powers sparingly, the two presidents collectively issued 341 laws. They amended the Penal Code to allow indefinite pretrial detention in cases of retrial or appeal when a person faces life imprisonment or a death sentence. They designated public institutions as military ones, thus bringing any "attack" by a civilian on or around such institutions under the jurisdiction of the military court system, which often fails to protect due process rights. And they passed a Terrorism Law that defines "terrorism" as any action that causes "harm to national unity and security," granting legal cover for authorities to target human rights workers.
When Egypt's elected legislature finally convened at the beginning of 2016, it had, per Article 156 of the Constitution, only 15 days to review all the presidential decrees. Rather than debate the most controversial pieces of legislation, Parliament rubber-stamped all but one (which concerned the employment scheme affecting government workers). It appeared almost an automated process where discussion was discouraged and deference was unquestionably afforded to the president.
Since then, Parliament has continued to prioritize the agenda of the executive. It passed an NGO Law, ratified by el-Sissi at the end of May, that is now one of the most restrictive pieces of legislation for civil society on the African continent and contains unprecedented provisions constraining the registration, operation, and funding of both domestic and foreign NGOs. Parliamentarians also voted in favor of amendments to the Judicial Authorities Law that give the president the right to select the heads of various judicial bodies, stripping much of that branch's independence. In the wake of twin bombings on two different churches on Palm Sunday, Parliament also signed off on the president's April 9 declaration of a three-month state of emergency. Rather than trying to address the root causes of radicalization and extremism, the act enables media censorship, allows the interception of personal communications, and brings back State Security Emergency Courts, which have no appeals process and whose verdicts are subject to the ratification of the executive. Rather than make the country safer, these measures give credence to terrorist propaganda, [End Page 13] undermine stability, and may ultimately increase the frequency of attacks.
This legislative spree threatens the daily lives of Egypt's citizens. In April, a renowned human rights lawyer became the latest victim of the Terrorism Law. Mohamed Ramadan was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison on accusations of insulting the president, misusing social media, and inciting violence. Authorities reportedly referenced political posts on his personal Facebook page—none of which were violent—as evidence in the case. He was also slammed with an additional five-year house arrest and a social media ban. But Ramadan's sentencing is not an aberration. The following week on April 20, a member of the opposition...