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Egypt official calls for review of protest law

Bahaa Al Deen urges government ‘to look again at the law that has triggered protests’

Gulf News

Cairo: A top Egyptian official has criticised a controversial new protest law that bans all unauthorised demonstrations, saying it should be reviewed, London-based pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat reported on Saturday.

Ziad Bahaa Al Deen, a deputy prime minister in Egypt’s military-installed government, said he hoped that a consensus could still be reached on the law that has angered secular and pro-democracy activists.

“I personally was not satisfied from the start, and I still have reservations about this law, the way it was proposed and discussed and its timing,” Bahaa Al Deen said in an interview with the newspaper.

Bahaa Al Deen, a well-known business lawyer and economist who became a deputy prime minister after the ouster of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi in July, has emerged as the face of liberal democrats within the cabinet.

His criticism is the first made by a top government official about the law, which the interior ministry has vowed to fully enforce.

“There must be consensus, and it would not be wrong to look again at the law that has triggered protests. It would not be wrong to see what can be done to have a consensus” on it, Bahaa Al Deen said.

Last Sunday, Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour approved the controversial law that requires organisers to seek authorisation three days ahead of any planned demonstration. Permission can be denied if the event is deemed as a threat to national security.

To the anger of secularists who supported the ouster of Mursi by the army in July, police have cracked down against all demonstrations, not just pro-Mursi protests staged by his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

Activists say the ban is hypocritical, as the army justified its ouster of Mursi as a response to mass demonstrations against his turbulent year in power.

Pro-democracy groups have been particularly incensed by the arrest on Thursday of Alaa Abdul Fattah, a prominent activists critical of Mursi who was detained during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, during the military junta that ruled after Mubarak’s ouster, and again under Mursi.

The United States has also expressed concern about the “troubling effects” of the law.

“We reiterate the concerns we share with civil society representatives inside Egypt that the demonstrations law is restrictive and does not meet international standards,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

“Limiting freedom of assembly, association and expression will not move Egypt’s political transition forward.”

Analysts say the interim authorities were wrong to pass the law, especially since the revised constitution would guarantee freedom of expression.

A 50-member panel drafting a new constitution is to begin voting later on Saturday on the final document, which will be put to a referendum.