While Egyptian officials argue that a new bill requiring restaurant and shop owners to install cameras will hinder terrorism and boost security, critics counter that the true targets are opponents of the government.
Egypt’s parliamentary committee on local administration met May 15 in the presence of representatives of the Ministries of Local Development, Justice, Tourism and Health and approved a draft law on shops and restaurants, commonly referred to as the draft law on commercial shops. The bill merges and amends three existing laws on shops and restaurants and includes a special provision forcing the owners of cafes and shops to install indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras to obtain a license for their enterprises.
The bill is expected to be passed into law in June.
Parliament member Ahmad al-Sigini, who heads the local administration committee, said that some time ago, the parliament discussed a bill forcing the owners of shops and cafes to install surveillance cameras. “In the meantime, the Ministry of Interior proposed adding an article to the draft law on commercial shops imposing the installation of surveillance cameras.”
Sigini told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview that Article 27 of the bill requires shops and restaurants to install indoor and outdoor cameras in order to obtain a license. Any facility not fitted with cameras will not see its license renewed.
He said that this article outlined general rules imposing the electronic camera surveillance system in line with international security systems, pending the issuance of separate legislation on cameras. “The new legislation on this issue will be more detailed and determine the number of required cameras according to the size of the shop. It will also cover other matters related to the surveillance process,” said Sigini.
Article 29 of the bill defines the cases in which shops will be closed and their licenses revoked. It states that shops shall be closed in case of violation of several articles, notably Article 27, requiring the installation of electronic surveillance cameras.
Parliament member Anisa Hassouna was the first to propose a draft law forcing cafes and public shops to mount surveillance cameras on March 29, 2017. In a press statement on July 18, 2017, Hassouna argued that her proposal was necessary in light of the numerous recent terrorist attacks hitting Egypt.
On Nov. 20, 2017, a parliamentary committee approved a draft law submitted by the government on the installation and use of surveillance cameras and recording devices. This bill, which has yet to be passed into law, consists of 11 articles determining where cameras and recording devices are permitted or prohibited, as well as the penalties in case of violation of its provisions.
The government’s bill amended some of the articles contained in Hassouna's proposal, extending penalties from three to seven years in prison and inflating fines from 500 Egyptian pounds ($28) to 5,000 ($280).
On Feb. 22, 2017, Cairo Gov. Atef Abdel Hamid instructed the governorate's shops, hospitals, churches, mosques, police departments and all state institutions to install surveillance cameras in the name of general security.
Mohamed Sayed, a member of the opposition Dostour Party, told Al-Monitor that obliging public shops to install surveillance cameras is contrary to the Egyptian Constitution. Article 57 states, “Private life is inviolable, safeguarded and may not be infringed upon.” It asserts that means of communication are confidential and may only be examined or monitored by a justified judicial order. “Such a law would violate personal privacy of citizens and their fundamental rights,” he said.
Sayed said it’s unimaginable to “sit in a public cafe and find a camera watching over you,” adding, “All shops, even small stalls opposite the Egyptian High Court of Justice have been forced to use surveillance cameras.”
Sayed believes that the forcing all shops across the country to mount surveillance cameras will result in a surveillance state. “Egyptians would be monitored and watched 24 hours a day in public places,” he said. He suspects that the main purpose of this draft law is tracking state opponents and politicians rather than deterring theft and other crime.
Egypt’s political activists are known to meet in cafes and restaurants in central Cairo, especially since the January 25 Revolution.
Judge Refaat al-Sayyed, the former head of the Criminal Court of Cairo, justified the need for the law, including Article 27. “These mainly aim to anticipate terrorism or criminal acts by surveilling vital public places that have been a favorite target of jihadist and radical movements in recent times,” he told Al-Monitor.
He explained that obliging all cafes and private enterprises to use surveillance cameras does not conflict with the principle of privacy. “The new draft law stipulates that cameras may not be installed in places intended for housing, public baths, treatment rooms or fitting rooms, and other places that naturally should not be surveilled.”
Responding to the questions raised by many observers, Sayyed asserted that the state will not bear any implementation costs. “The draft law requires owners of public shops, cafes and commercial enterprises to cover the expenses related to surveillance cameras,” he said, noting that installing these devices is a necessary safety procedure.
He pointed out that the government sought to submit the draft law on commercial shops in light of the several terrorist operations that targeted different areas in Cairo and the governorate, mainly vital areas in central Cairo. The Isaaf intersection on July 26 Street in Central Cairo, for example, has been the site of several bombings. On June 29, 2015, Egypt’s Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated by members of the Ansar al-Quds organization in the Misr al-Jadida quarter in Cairo.