Egypt’s newly expanding counterterrorism law was denounced by the United States, citing concerns about the possible impacts it may have on the human rights of its citizens. The new anti-terrorism laws are seen as draconian, and further exemplifies the harsher stance of the already authoritarian rule in Egypt.
Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi finished signing a law last Sunday that will expand the surveillance powers of the government. Critics, however, see this move as a way to target critics and hold back dissent. Many human rights activists are now accusing el-Sissi of tightening an already repressive regime.
The new law comes not long after a string of attacks on both the police and the military around the Sinai Province, a local affiliate of the Islamic State.
It also adds provisions that protect security forces from prosecution, and establishes stiffer prison sentences for people who commit terror-related offences. People who are caught spreading false news will also face heavy fines, and a special judicial circuit will be created for terrorism cases.
Impact on Human and Fundamental Rights
Authorities claim that the new laws are a direct response to attacks by Islamic militants and the best way to stop the spread of their ideology. Despite this, rights groups, lawyers, and even Egyptian politicians and senior judges see the measures as too strict and draconian.
The new laws are also drawing concern from the US, Egypt’s partner in the war against terrorism. State Department spokesperson John Kirby stated that “We are concerned that some measures in Egypt’s new anti-terrorism law could have significant impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Despite this, Kirby reaffirmed that the US stands with Egypt against terrorism. Echoing John Kerry’s comments at a strategic dialog in Cairo earlier this month, Kirby said, “Defeating terrorism requires a long-term comprehensive strategy that builds trust between the authorities and the public.”
He added, “enabling those who disagree with the government’s policies to express those views peacefully and through participation in the political process.”
Egyptians have been living under emergency laws for decades now that have given police extensive powers and even encouraging a culture of brutality and excess. Rights activists say that the new anti-terrorism law will only make the current situation worse, with many police under el-Sissi already torturing detainees and denying them basic medical services in increasingly crowded police holding cells and prisons.
Despite this, Cairo and Washington appear to have settled their opinions, with the US resuming military assistance to fight terrorism.