Egypt Pulse

Sisi under fire over proposed defamation law

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Article Summary
Even loyal followers of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are up in arms about the proposed defamation law criminalizing the January 25 and June 30 revolutions.

Although many Egyptian journalists support most of the decisions made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, he sparked criticism among his supporters in the media community when, in a meeting with journalists, he announced that the state was determined to issue a law criminalizing defamation of the January 25, 2011, and June 30, 2013, revolutions.

Journalist Ahmed Moussa said Dec. 2 on his talk show "Ala Masouliyati" that the law targets the media. He added that passing the law would be a mistake by the presidency and a violation of the constitution, which guarantees Egyptians freedom of opinion and expression. Journalist Mustafa Bakri criticized Sisi’s idea in his show "Haka’ik wa Asrar" (Facts and Secrets) Dec. 4, saying, “The law is not acceptable, and the two revolutions have no immunity.” The idea was also criticized by many other journalists.

Nevertheless, Ayman Abu Beih, secretary-general of the Council for the Care of the Revolution's Martyrs and Wounded, said on a Dec. 7 TV program that Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb assured him that the defamation of the January 25 Revolution would be criminalized.

Mahmoud Kbeich, dean of the School of Law at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that the idea of criminalizing defamation of the revolutions does not violate the Egyptian Constitution. Its preamble states the events' important role in the history of Egypt. Kbeich added, “The freedom of expression that is guaranteed in Article 65 is not absolute. It is regulated by the laws that ensure that it does not turn into [protection of] the defamation of the state members or bodies, such as the army and the judiciary, or to what the state views that way, such as the January and June revolutions.”

Zizo Abdo, a political activist in the April 6 Youth Movement, told Al-Monitor that the revolution does not need legislation to silence those who criticize or even defame it. Rather, it needs laws to bring about political, economic and social reforms to fulfill the revolution's goals of improving Egypt. He pointed out that the improved conditions would promote loyalty to the revolution and prevent its defamation.

“The idea of the law contradicts the principles of the January 25 Revolution, which called for freedom, including the freedom of expression,” he said.

Mohammad Zare, a human rights activist and head of the Arab Organization for Penal Reform, shares Abdo’s opinion. He told Al-Monitor that the law runs contrary to the principles of freedom of opinion and expression and may contradict the constitution that guarantees these freedoms. He explained that the attempt to criminalize the defamation of the revolutions is strange, because revolutions are usually subject to controversy. The January 25 Revolution, he said, is seen by some as a conspiracy; the June 30 Revolution, as a coup. He cited the revolution of July 23, 1952, and even the French Revolution, despite what it has achieved for France.

“The biggest fear is that the law will expand and criminalize criticism of any of the revolutions or any practices during, considering the criticism defamation,” Zare said.

Kbeich explained that to ensure the application of the law is not expanded, crimes must be clearly defined, because, “'Defamation' is a general term,” he said. “The law must include a definition of the term 'defamation.' For instance, describing the January 25 Revolution as a conspiracy is a crime, or describing the June 30 revolution as a coup is a crime.”

It is worth noting that news sites got the details of the expected law wrong, and reported that some of those who insulted the January 25 Revolution in the past will be held accountable. Kbeich told Al-Monitor that, if passed, the law will not concern those who violated it previously “because laws do not have a retroactive effect. The defamation of the January or June revolutions after the law is passed will be criminalized,” he said.

Al-Monitor tried to communicate with representatives of the Egyptian Cinema Industry Chamber, which includes the owners or managers of nine major satellite channels, but they were not available for comment.

The law is not the first of its kind in Egypt’s history. Similar laws have been passed, like the Political Parties Act (Act 40 of 1977), which stipulated that any party whose platform contradicts the principles of Islamic law or the principles of the July 23 and May 15 revolutions shall not be established.

It should be noted that the "May 15 Revolution" is a term used during the rule of President Anwar Sadat to describe the day in 1971 when a number of senior state officials were arrested. They were symbols of the regime of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it was said that they abused their influence and became "centers of power."

In 1980, Sadat issued the Law of Shame, Law No. 95 of 1980, to criminalize the defamation of “the basic and religious values and political, economic, social and ethical fundamentals of the community and the protection of national unity and social peace.” This law, which did not define "defamation" or the specific values, was rejected by many, including writer Ahmed Bahaa El-Din, who described it as a "clear disaster." The law was applied until constitutional amendments discontinued it in 2007.

In the constitution that was adopted under the rule of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in 2012, Article 44 criminalizes insulting or "prejudice" toward "the messengers and prophets" without specifying the form of forbidden insults or prejudice and without defining "messengers and prophets," simply stating that it “prohibits undermining or subjecting to prejudice all messengers and prophets.”

Sisi may issue a law to criminalize the defamation of the January and June revolutions as part of an attempt to achieve political harmony that probably requires him to prove that the state is loyal to the January 25 Revolution, particularly since Mubarak's innocence was declared and under repeated accusations that the Sisi regime is a continuation of the Mubarak regime.

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Found in: june 30 protests egypt, january 25 revolution, freedom of press, egyptian revolution, egypt, defamation, constitution, abdel fattah al-sisi

Ahmed Fouad is an Egyptian journalist working as newsroom assistant manager for Al-Shorouk. He specializes in coverage of Islamists and analysis of the political situation in Egypt, especially since the mass protests of June 30, 2013, the one-year anniversary of Mohammed Morsi's presidential inauguration.

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