Egyptian govt. expands presidential powers, citing COVID-19 pandemic


Egypt has amended an emergency law, in place since 2017, giving the president and security agencies additional powers. Authorities said the amendments were needed to stem the COVID-19 spread. Human Rights Watch condemned the move, saying the Egyptian government has used the global pandemic to “expand, not reform, Egypt’s abusive Emergency Law.”

President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi on Friday approved the amendments, which give him or his delegates powers to take measures in health emergency situations.

They include shutdown of educational institutions, partial or complete suspension of work at government institutions and delay in payments for taxes and public services such as electricity, gas and water.

The law was originally passed to give the president broader powers to combat terrorism and drug trafficking but the government said the amendments were needed to address a legal “vacuum” revealed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Parliament, which is packed with el-Sissi supporters, approved the measure last month.

Egypt, with a population of 100 million, has reported at least 504 deaths among around 8,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Human Rights Watch said only five of the 18 amendments are clearly related to public health, and the new powers can be used whenever a state of emergency is declared.

“Some of these measures could be needed in public health emergencies, but they should not be open to abuse as part of an unreformed emergency law,” said Joe Stork, the New York-based group’s Middle East and North Africa director.

“Resorting to ‘national security and public order’ as a justification reflects the security mentality that governs Sisi’s Egypt.”

The Egyptian government has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since 2013, when el-Sisi rose to power, and unauthorized protests have been banned for years.

The new amendments allow the president to take measures to contain the virus, such as suspending classes at schools and universities and quarantining those returning from abroad. But they also include expanded powers to ban public and private meetings, protests, celebrations and other forms of assembly.

The amendments also allow military prosecutors to investigate incidents when army officers are tasked with law enforcement or when the president orders it. The country’s chief civilian prosecutor would have the final decision on whether to bring matters to trial.

Egypt has already halted international air travel and shuttered schools, universities, mosques, churches and archaeological sites, including the famed Giza pyramids and a curfew is in place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The partial lockdown is to continue for another two weeks, until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Source: Mainichi  Japan)