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Egypt government exploits coronavirus spread to expand Sisi's power

Sisi meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) in Novo-Ogaryovo residence on 13 February, 2014 near Moscow, Russia [Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images]
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Moscow, Russia on 13 February 2014 [Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images]

On Thursday the Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's approval of amendments that expand his powers under emergency law, as part of measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The amendments were published in Egypt's Official Gazette yesterday, following their approval in parliament at the end of April.

HRW considered in a statement the amendments as a "pretext" to create "new repressive powers".

Sisi's Prisons - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Sisi's Prisons – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

"Al-Sisi's government is using the pandemic as an excuse to expand the abusive Egyptian emergency law, not to reform it," stressed Joe Stork, deputy director for HRW's Middle East and North Africa Division.

The amendments allow the Egyptian president to close schools, suspend public services, prevent public and private gatherings and impose quarantine on travellers coming to the country.

They also allow the president to limit trade of some products, take control of private medical centres, and transform schools, educational centres and other public facilities into field hospitals.

In addition, under these amendments, the Military Public Prosecutor would be empowered to assist the Public Prosecution in investigating crimes reported by the armed forces responsible for law enforcement during the emergency period.

READ: Reported coronavirus cases in Egypt jump by nearly 500

Stork considered that "some required measures" in the situation of a health crisis should not be exploitable.

"Resorting to the speech of 'preserving security and public order' as an excuse reflects the security mentality that governs Egypt during the rule of Al-Sisi," added Stork.

Egypt has so far registered 7,981 infection cases of the virus; 1,887 cases of which were cured, and 482 people have died.

Egypt has been subjected to a renewed state of emergency since April 2017, the date of the attack claimed by a group pledging allegiance to Daesh.

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