Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author Manar Heikal.
Revolution being revolution is the maintenance of the public sphere. Egyptians have succeeded in toppling regimes by proclaiming public space and by holding grounds to Tahrir square. Yet now, the new regime is enforcing laws banning unauthorized street protests and thus, in a sense, justifying police brutality in dealing with protestors. By admitting such a law, the military-regime is abolishing the only thing the January 25th Revolution had managed to restore: control over grounds and the voice of the street. Within one year, the perceived successes of the Egyptian revolution have seemingly reversed. The Muslim Brotherhood dominating the parliament as well as the failure of the rather shameful regime under deposed president Morsi, followed by the division between people’s views of June 30th, 2013, the Egyptian people have developed non-trust and devastation towards their revolution.
As the economic condition worsens and discontent rises on the streets, the Egyptians are growing paranoid while the military-oriented regime is increasingly exploiting the idea of ‘how Egypt appears to be difficult to govern.’ The Egyptian revolution is yet to suffer from the fiasco of moving away from democracy and regressing into authoritarianism; this leaves Egyptians with great confusion towards their politics. June 30th, like January 25th, is to be perceived as the voice of the street in resistance to fascist and oppressive governments, and yet again it only resulted with generating crueler governments and agonizing the core of the Egyptian revolution.
Several points have to be made when discussing the impact of the new law banning protest. First, while certain articles such as articles 1-6, which discuss the General Rules and Definitions, indicate a slightly reasonable frame for demonstrators arranging a protest and these definitions are common to some existing protest laws in different countries. However, the articles mentioned in chapter 2 and 3 of the law restrict protesting in many public places and justify police use of force due to the ambiguity of how the violations are stated. In addition, Article 8 requires demonstrators to notify authorities, three days in advance, about their protest, and it also specifies that protestors have to inform authorities about their aims and demands. Demonstrations without prior permission from the authorities are to be treated as a crime; thus, giving the police a right to act against these demonstrations. A clear example of this was the protest held by Al-Azhar University students –Egypt’s oldest religious institution- in which fifteen students were killed and a large number is currently being detained and subjected to court trials. This was applied to both Muslim Brotherhood supporters and secular students who took rallies against the creation of this law. According to article 17, violators of this law can be subjected to fines of up to 300,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $44,000) and sentenced to seven years in prison. These controversial articles as are followed by severer financial penalties and heavy jail terms resulted in a spread of fear among the Egyptian society against protesting.
Human Rights Watch’s office in Egypt suggests that this law is a “violation of right to freedom of assembly” and applying it has major biases, for example, the defendants’ rights to a fair trial is violated by not allowing witnesses to testify in his/her defense. Recently, a video of police showed that as they dispersed a protest they randomly chased demonstrators and arrested them. This is documented proof to police brutality and an exploitation of such a law.
It becomes apparent that the frequent adoption of such laws and other outward signs of suppression are, at best, exploiting the purpose of the revolution. They not only have deprived people’s right of having control over public space, but they have also restricted peaceful political demonstrations; thus, it becomes a violation of international standards and a vague provision that undermines the right to assembly, which goes well beyond the limitations permitted under international law. This law has greatly given excessive authority and power to the government, as police officers can discretely ban protests and forcibly disperse any for unreasonable purposes such as one person throwing a stone. In accordance to the first chapter of the law, the Ministry of Interior can also ban any meeting of a ‘public nature’ that consists of more than 10 people in a public area. Such laws lead us to question whether or not the government is overpowering the revolution through manipulating the legal system.