World Bulletin / News Desk
Egyptian bloggers and rights groups are branding a new anti-terrorism bill drafted by Egypt's Interior Ministry as yet another attempt to muzzle political dissent.
"This bill is primarily designed to silence and terrorize the opposition," Wael Abbas, one of Egypt's best-known political bloggers, told Anadolu Agency.
"How in the name of God can an internet activist incite terrorism?" he asked.
Called the "Anti-Terrorism Law," the bill will soon be referred to the Egyptian Cabinet for approval.
The draft gives the authorities the right to monitor internet and social media activities so as to ensure they aren't used in ways that might "pose a threat to Egypt's national security."
The bill, recently published by local Arabic-language daily Al-Masry al-Youm, designates as "terrorist" any online comment that incites attacks against citizens or institutions; calls for hampering educational and/or religious institutions from carrying out their work; or calls for preventing vital state institutions from operating.
It also gives the authorities the right to block websites seen to be "inciting violence."
The bill also grants the authorities access to the bank accounts of anyone suspected of promoting violence and terrorism.
It further stipulates penalties for violators of equal severity to those meted out to the perpetrators of bona fide terrorist acts.
The bill comes against a backdrop of rising violence that has targeted police, the military, state institutions and Christian churches.
Egypt's military-backed interim government says the anti-terror law is needed to replace the state of emergency, imposed in mid-August following the bloody dispersal of two sit-ins staged by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The state of emergency is set to expire by mid-November. According to an earlier constitutional declaration by the interim president, the government can only extend the state of emergency via public referendum.
But the bill's definition of "terrorism" is so vague, rights groups say, that it could be misused by authorities to crack down on free expression and political dissent.
"The way this bill is phrased makes it one of the worst in Egyptian legal history," Ziad Abdel-Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Center for Human Rights, told AA.
"If approved, this bill will usher in government practices even worse than those adopted by former president Hosni Mubarak," he said.
Abdel Tawab's organization, along with other Egyptian rights groups, is currently preparing a full list of its objections to the anti-terror bill.
They fear that Egypt's interim government, in its haste to combat mounting violence, will sacrifice the few freedoms that Egyptians have earned with the 2011 uprising that unseated Mubarak.
"There are sufficient articles in Egypt's Penal Code to fight terrorism," insisted Tarek Zaghlol, a senior activist from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, a Cairo-based NGO.
"The problem is that these articles are seldom put into practice," he told AA.
Other activists warn that a crackdown on internet activism will throttle the guiding principles of Egypt's 2011 uprising, which had its origins in cyberspace.
The internet is now widely used by Morsi supporters to mobilize the public against the Islamist leader's July 3 ouster by the military.
"The government keeps talking about the need to protect the country from bloggers and activists," said Abbas, one of many activists to have recently fallen from grace among mainstream TV commentators for speaking out against the interim government's policies – including its current violent crackdown on political dissent.
"Unfortunately, it [the government] has done nothing to protect these people from the media's nonstop incitement against them."
Last Mod: 07 Kasım 2013, 16:24