The Human Rights Watch organization is sounding the alarm over Egypt’s COVID-related emergency powers legislation, which would expand the power of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regardless of any public health link to a stated emergency.
“President al-Sisi’s government is using the pandemic to expand, not reform, Egypt’s abusive Emergency Law,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian authorities should address real public health concerns without putting in place additional tools of repression.”
HRW says only five of the 18 proposed amendments approved by parliament in late April are clearly linked to public health situations. The amendments allow the president to shut down both public and private entities like schools and businesses in the event an emergency is declared, and to ban rallies and other gatherings, including private ones.
Some amendments would allow the authority to defer taxes and utility payments, and are meant to help Egyptians but not at the expense of human rights. The tension between those rights and COVID-19 response measures has raised questions in a number of countries.
Egypt, however, has been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with 7,588 confirmed cases according to Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Only South Africa has seen more cases on the continent.
“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,” Stork said. “Resorting to ‘national security and public order’ as a justification reflects the security mentality that governs Sisi’s Egypt.”
Al-Sisi has 30 days to accept and sign or return the draft law once he receives it.
Image: Abdel Fattah El-Sisi