Egypt’s Controversial Protest Law to Be Amended within Days
Published 2014-09-17 16:08:41| Amwal Al Ghad English
Egypt’s protest law is expected to be amended within the coming few days after the government reviews changes suggested by both the National Council for Human Rights and the Ministry of Transitional Justice, a source close to the government has told Ahram Online. Earlier this week, Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, the vice head of the National Council for Human Rights, told the media that the government “seemed understanding to all the comments made by the council about the law and will consider them seriously.” Other members of the council also confirmed that the law would be amended “soon.” Kamal Abbas, labour activist and member of the NCHR, told Ahram Online that the draft of the amended law had already been presented to the cabinet, which is expected to discuss it at Thursday’s meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab. “After the meeting we expect the government to announce the amendments they approve of and they will be sent to the State Council for legal approval, before being referred to the president, who will issue the law,” Abbas added. Abbas hopes that the changes required by the council, and after a wide social dialogue with different political parties, will be put into consideration. “All prison penalties in the law are expected to be cancelled and substituted with reasonable fines, but it is not clear yet if the government will abide by the recommendations of the NCHR concerning the notification [requirement].” Controversial articles in the law, which was enacted by interim president Adly Mansour in November 2013, include requiring protest organisers to notify authorities three days in advance of a protest's aims and demands, and imposing heavy jail terms and fines on individuals who break the law. “Even though the amendments to the law would not guarantee the release of thousands of people who were sent to prison for crimes related to the current law, it would at least open the door to the retrial of many of them and this is a good step towards their release,” Abbas added, explaining that many of those who were sentenced to jail after being arrested at protests are facing charges that are already present in the criminal law. Meanwhile, a new political campaign against the law will be announced on Wednesday night with the participation of a number of political figures and groups who have been campaigning against the law for months and recently announced their solidarity with prisoners who have been on hunger strike for weeks now. More than 240 people are now on hunger strike, inside and outside of prison. Those participating at Wednesday’s conference include Freedom to the Brave, which demands the release of “all political prisoners,” the Constitution party, the Popular Current of ex-presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, among other post-25 January 2011 leftist parties. “We will take all the procedures needed to push for the release of those detained for protesting or expressing their political opinion, even if we don’t share their stances,” political activist and member of Freedom to the Brave campaign Khaled Abdel-Hameed told Ahram Online, “and it takes more than amending one law or another. It takes political will.”
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The United States will ramp up its response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa with plans to build 17 treatment centers, train thousands of healthcare workers, and establish a military control center for coordination, U.S. officials said. The plan will be unveiled by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, senior administration officials told reporters. Obama, who has called the epidemic a national security crisis, has faced criticism for not doing more to stem the outbreak, which the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week had killed more than 2,400 people out of 4,784 cases in West Africa. The president will visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta on Tuesday to show his commitment to the issue. The stepped-up effort he will announce is to include some 3,000 military forces and a joint forces command center in Monrovia, Liberia to coordinate efforts with the U.S. government and other international partners. The plan will "ensure that the entire international response effort is more effective and helps to scale up to turn the tide in this crisis," a senior administration official told reporters on Monday, ahead of the president's trip. "The significant expansion that the President will detail ... really represents a set of areas where the U.S. military will bring unique capabilities that we believe will improve the effectiveness of the entire global response," he said.
Qatar has pledged to expel exiled leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as one of the conditions of an agreement forced on the wealthy Gulf state by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other neighbours. In a move that reflects shifting political alignments in a deeply divided Middle East, seven senior Brotherhood figures were ordered at the weekend to leave Doha, which is seen by the Egyptian government and its conservative Gulf backers as a centre of subversive Islamist activity. They include its acting leader, Mahmoud Hussein, and two other senior colleagues. Qatar also agreed to stop attacking Egypt in al-Jazeera broadcasts. The TV network is based in Doha and is seen across the region as a reflecting the emirate's policies and preferences. The conditions were part of an agreement signed in Riyadh in November 2013 and designed to patch up an angry quarrel in which Qatar was blamed for backing the Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamist groups from the neighbouring UAE to Libya. It has never been made public, and until recently had not been implemented. Fears about the threat from Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria helped to convince Qatar to back down, diplomats said. Turkish media reported that the country's president, Recep Tayep Erdoğan, had extended a welcome to the exiled leaders. Amr Darrag, the Brotherhoods's foreign relations officer, has already arrived in Turkey, according to al-Jazeera Turk. Gamal Abdul Sattar, the former deputy head of Egypt's religious affairs directorate, was planning to move to Istanbul, it said. For the last four years Qatar and Turkey have been the chief backers of the Islamist movements that flourished during the Arab spring uprisings only to experience crushing defeat in Egypt when the Brotherhood's democratically-elected president Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by the army. Morsi's fall was openly supported by the other Gulf states and implicitly backed by the west. Under his successor, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been killed or imprisoned and the group has been outlawed as a terrorist organisation. The departure of the Egyptian Brotherhood leaders from Doha was announced at the weekend and described as intended to spare Qatar embarrassment. Details of the Riyadh deal, revealed by Gulf sources, underline the heavy pressure brought to bear. In March, in one of the worst spats the region has seen in recent years, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. Kuwait and Oman, the other two members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), are less hawkish. Riyadh tried to impose new conditions, including the closure of US thinktanks based in Doha. "The Saudis wanted to go beyond the original agreement and dictate to the Qataris, and the Qataris said no," said a well-placed Arab source. Palestinian sources denied reports on Tuesday that the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, had also been asked to leave Doha. Qatar has played an important role backing the group, which is linked to but distinct from the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel has attacked Qatar in recent weeks for its support for Hamas. Doha has also been under fire for alleged links with Isis, which it has flatly denied. Like Saudi Arabia, it backed Islamist groups in Syria, some of which morphed over time into Isis. Pressure on Qatar to implement the Riyadh agreement peaked in late August, when the Saudi foreign minister, interior minister and intelligence chief visited Doha. On 6 September, Qatar was given one further week to begin implementation. "The Qataris have been forced into a situation where they have had to step back," said Michael Stephens of the Doha office of the Royal United Services Institution. "They tried as best they could to maintain their foreign policy without interference from other parties, but they were always going to have to make some kind of compromise. I am only suprised it has taken so long. "This is a big deal in terms of understanding the balance of power in the Gulf. There's definitely a sense that they have to give some ground, that they can't just be this maverick state with its fingers in so many pies in the region." Qatar has signalled that it will continue to support the Brotherhood more discreetly, while backing Gulf-wide efforts to fight Isis.
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