After a three year absence, the Egyptian parliament convened on the 17th of January for the first time and passed a number of controversial laws. The House of Representatives, started its duties Sunday by reviewing over 300 decrees, that were issued in the absence of the parliament by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Among those laws passed is the controversial “terrorist entities” law, that some fear will limit freedom in the country.
The “terrorist entities” law was issued by Al-Sisi in 2015 and passed without amendments by 547 to 24 votes. Under the new law, the police and military are given more rights to use “proportional force in performing their duties” while they are protected against legal penalties for the use of such force. Suspects of crimes against Egypt’s “vital facilities” will be referred to military courts, expanding military control further. Furthermore the law cites the penalties for various activities such as inciting a terrorist act and financing, having membership or leading a terrorist group.
After the law was passed, several MPs and NGOs expressed their fears over the power given to the government by this law. Opposition Nour MP Salah Khalifa said that the law “was imposed during exceptional circumstances when the country was exposed to danger but, after these dangers subside, there should be a balance between protecting the state and its institutions and preserving human rights”. 19 Human Rights NGOs urged parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal to review the law .Human Rights activist Nasser Amin said they were “framed in such a way as to allow the state to suppress dissidents, silence critics and detain journalists”.
In order to tackle the amount of laws that needed to be reviewed parliament’s newly elected speaker ,Al-Sisi loyalist Abdel-Aal, established six parliamentary committees. However, after opposition protested he increased their number to nineteen. The election of Abdel-Aal has led to some controversy as opposition said his election was undemocratic. Although Abdel-Aal was elected with a two third majority, independent MP Tawfik Okasha said that his election “rings alarm bells about the condition of politics in Egypt”, while fellow MP Kamal Ahmed called it a “foregone conclusion”. He was critiqued again when he passed by the parliament’s review procedure and approved the extension of the state of emergency in North Sinai for three months. Another controversial law, that gives President Al-Sisi the power to resign the heads of four state regulatory bodies, was also approved in the same parliamentary session.