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Egypt's president ratifies new covid law critics fear could further stifle civil liberties

A woman walks in front of the Egyptian company VACSERA, where vials of China's Sinovac vaccine against the coronavirus are produced, in the capital Cairo, on September 1, 2021 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]
A woman walks in front of the Egyptian company VACSERA, where vials of China's Sinovac vaccine against the coronavirus are produced, in the capital Cairo, on September 1, 2021 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

The Egyptian president has ratified a new law which he says is to fight coronavirus but which critics fear could be a further attempt to consolidate control over civil liberties.

Under the new law, the prime minister is authorised to ban public meetings, processions, celebrations, exhibitions, festivals and shut down cinemas and theatres, reports the New Arab.

Citizens must adhere to precautionary measures such as wearing the face mask and getting the vaccination, whilst schools and universities can be suspended.

Also under the law private businesses, public institutions, and transportation can be suspended and sports clubs and places of worship can be closed.

The export of some commodities could be banned. All of this will be overseen by a supreme committee which will decide how the different rules will be enforced.

Rights advocate Sherif Azer told the New Arab that the wording of the law is unclear and evasive and includes articles which were in the emergency law.

It also limits the freedom of individuals and gives authorities unlimited power.

READ: Egypt president meets CEO of French military giant, 1 week after Egypt Papers leaked

For several weeks rights groups have accused the government of bringing in a series of laws to replace the emergency law, which was repealed in October, and have accused the government of simply making a cosmetic change.

Under the constitution, the emergency law was only allowed to last for three months, but President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had constantly renewed it since 2017.

Under the law authorities had quashed protests, arrested and detained Egyptians across the country, and monitored communications.

Egypt has been under increased pressure in recent months from the US and other Western countries over human rights concerns, with a particular push to stop military aid from being delivered to Egypt until it shows clear steps towards improving human rights.

Less than two months before the decision US President Joe Biden said he would withhold $130 million of the $1.3 billion annual aid pending rights reforms.

Three days before the emergency law was abolished, the government proposed three bills to parliament, reports Egypt Watch. One extended trying civilians in military courts if they damaged public facilities.

Another was an anti-terror law which banned the recording of terror trials and allows the president to declare a curfew anywhere in the country.

The third bill criminalised research into the military.

Several people have concerns about the issue of emergency security courts, where several political prisoners are still being tried if they had already been referred, including Patrick Zaki, Mohamed Al-Baqer, Alaa Abdelfattah, and Ezzat Ghoneim.

Coronavirus is affecting the whole world, will it unite us - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Coronavirus is affecting the whole world, will it unite us? – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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