FILE – Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal. FILE – Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal.

Crucial yet controversial legislations approved in 2018

Sun, Dec. 30, 2018
CAIRO – 30 December 2018: There is a bunch of controversial legislations the Parliament has passed this year. Despite being arguably beneficial to some sectors of people, many still complain about the drawbacks. Egypt Today displays such double edged legislations.

Military officials granted immunity

In July, the Egyptian Parliament gave a final approval to a law giving select military officials diplomatic immunity while travelling outside the country along their term as called-up military figures.

The law protects military officials named by a presidential decree from being interrogated or sued for “any action committed” during their service or because of their service since the former constitution was suspended in 2013, until the Parliament elected in 2015 started its mission.

Only eight parliamentarians rejected the law introduced by the Cabinet.

The seven-article law stipulates that the selected former officials would be called up again to serve the Armed Forces for their entire lives. In case the former official was found holding a non-military job, he will be called up after his job is done.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for taking the required procedures to give the select officials diplomatic immunity.

The select officials who had not served as ministers or taken up a higher post before they were called up would be treated as ministers and would subsequently have all ministerial benefits and rights, according to the law.

Moreover, the Egyptian president would determine the other grants given to these officials. In case they already receive grants based on another law, they can still receive the grants given to them based on the newly-approved law.

The law will come into effect the following day after it is published in Egypt’s Official Gazette.

Citizenship to foreigners with deposits, properties

The Parliament in July approved a draft law introduced by the Cabinet amending the nationality law and giving adult foreigners the right to apply for the Egyptian citizenship if they have stayed in Egypt for five years and have LE 7 million ($391,400) in deposit.

In case the nationality is granted to the foreigner following the authorities’ approval, the value of the deposit goes to the Egyptian state treasury, according to the law.

Only 11 parliamentarians rejected the law, according to media reports. A number of parliamentarians voiced concern that the new amendments can be exploited, calling on the Parliament to prioritize national security.

According to the law, the foreigners residing in Egypt would be divided into foreigners with special accommodation, foreigners with normal accommodation, foreigners with temporary accommodation and “foreigners with banking deposit.”

Following the approval of the Cabinet, the Interior Ministry is authorized with determining those who can be granted accommodation licenses, the license duration, in addition to the deposit value and the currency used. The ministry also determines, according to the law, the banks the money can be deposited in.


MP and journalist Mostafa Bakri said that although he believes that the authorities will check the foreigners' files before they are granted the nationality, he rejects the idea of obtaining the nationality for “a 5-year bank deposit.”

Bakri expressed concern about the law, claiming that 7,000 terrorists were granted the nationality during former Muslim Brotherhood affiliated President Mohamed Morsi's tenure.

MP Haitham al-Hariri also expressed his rejection to the law, saying that foreign investors call for the facilitation of visa and accommodation procedures and not the nationality.

In a sharp tone, political analyst Mohamed al-Ezaby warned that the law will allow the hostile countries to order their agents to obtain the nationality to be able to control the Egyptian economy.

Threatening the Parliament, Ezaby said that if the Parliament passes the law, a signature campaign will be launched and submitted to the Supreme Constitutional Court with the aim of declaring the current Parliament illegitimate.

The dispute around the issue started about two years ago. Moreover, in 2017, renowned Lawyer Samir Sabri commented on granting the nationality for a deposit, saying that it is wholly unconstitutional.

On the other hand, former Prime Minister Sherif Ismail defended the Cabinet’s draft law, saying that many countries grant their citizenships for foreigners with banking deposits, affirming that the deposit would not be enough for a foreigner to obtain the Egyptian nationality in case security conditions were not fulfilled.

Moreover, a decision granting a temporary residence to foreigners in return for buying a property was announced in November.

Khaled Abbas, deputy housing minister, further explained that the residence will be granted to foreigners in return for purchasing a property, where a $100,000 property will grant foreigners a 1-year residence, a $200,000 property will grant them a 3-year residence and a $400,000 will grant them a 5-year residence. This decision also applies to housing units under construction.

As for the procedures, a preliminary contract between an owner and a foreigner signed by any authority, such as the New Urban Communities Authority, the Tourism Development Authority and the governorate, should be provided along with a letter from the owner's bank confirming money transfer from abroad. The passport administration will determine the period of residence.

Many Parliament members welcomed the Ministry of Housing’s decision, pointing out that it is a positive step to attract more foreign investments, continue the economic reforms, activate the property sector, provide more job opportunities and increase foreign currency inflow.

Anti-cybrecrime law

In May, Parliament initialed a cybercrime bill aiming at combating the illegal use of computers and information networks.

The Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law defines commonly used concepts such as “websites, traffic data, digital directory, personal statements and national security”.

On August 18, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi ratified the anti-cybrecrime law allowing authorities, through a judge, to order the blocking of websites that "constitute a threat" to the state or publish fake news as well as jail or fine those who run them.

The law imposes jail terms of up to five years and fines ranging between LE 10,000 and LE 20 million ($560 and $1.1m).

According to the law, people whose social media accounts have more than 5,000 followers could be placed under supervision.

The law authorizes authorities to suspend or block any personal account which "publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred".

The danger of fake news nowadays lies in their ability to spread rapidly over the internet through social media platforms and websites of high traffic.

Media, journalism regulation law

Following considering the comments of the State Council and the Press Syndicate on the controversial media and journalism regulation law, the Parliament gave a final approval to the law.

Several concerns were raised by a number of the Journalists Syndicate's members regarding the new law. A debate was launched on the ground and on social media between supporters and opponents of the new law.

In a statement, Journalists Syndicate's members listed several points referring to the new law as “standing against the freedom of media and journalists.”

However, other officials described the new law as "balanced". Osama Heikal, head of the Parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, said in statements to media outlets that the new law sets a number of the needed principles to regulate media work inside the country, adding that the law is balanced and protects journalists and their rights.

Some administrative regulations were among the criticized points in the new law before it was amended, including: reducing the representation of journalists in the board of directors to the minimum and appointing half of the board members from outside the media institution, as well as allowing the National Press Authority to directly manage the newspapers' boards of directors and public associations.

“The new law doesn’t allow the newspapers' boards to make important decisions without getting the authority's permission,” the statement read.

According to the statement, the new law also stipulates that journalists have the right to reach for all the information they need.

Moreover, the media draft law included several terms and words which could be described as elastic and incomprehensible, according to the statement, such as “spreading hatred, incitement, threat of democracy", and many others. Several other notes were listed in the statement, commenting on some of the privileges granted to journalists by the draft law, including criminalizing any attack on journalists while on duty.

Article 100 of the new law states that: “Any person who transgresses a journalist during or because of his work shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine of not less than LE 10,000 and not more than LE 20,000 or one of these penalties.”

A journalist or a media person has the right to attend public conferences, sessions and meetings, conduct interviews with citizens and use the camera in places where photography is allowed, after obtaining legal permissions in the required cases. The phrase “in the required cases” was added.

A journalist or a media person cannot be fired from his job before he/she is investigated. In addition, the syndicate has to be informed with the reasons behind the firing decision. Only 30 days after the syndicate is informed, the member can be fired; during the 30 days the syndicate will try to solve the problem and the individual’s salary must not be stopped during these 30 days. “Thirty” days replaced “sixty” days.

A journalist or a media person is not allowed to accept any financial donations, aid, or benefits for his work from any person or any local or international site, directly or indirectly. The sentence: "If the individual was proven guilty of the violation, the value of the financial donations, aid, and benefits go to the pension fund of the member’s syndicate," was erased from the law.

A journalist or a media person is not allowed to seek getting ads or earning money or benefits through publishing or broadcasting ads. He/she is also not allowed to sign on an ad or to appear in an ad or participate in it with his voice. The phrase: "If he is proven guilty, the value of the money and benefits go to his journalistic institution or to the media channel he/she belongs to," was erased.

Any newspaper must have at least 70 percent of its actual staff from members of the Press Syndicate. Formerly, only 50 percent of the newspapers’ staff had to be members of the syndicate.

The word “custody” in the law was removed in the recent amendments. Meeting the demand of the Press Syndicate, the amended law stipulates that no “freedom restricting” penalties can be imposed on a journalist in publication and publicity crimes except those related to inciting violence, discrimination between citizens or slandering other individuals.

In all situations, it is impermissible to broadcast or rebroadcast from outside the media sites approved by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation. However, it is allowed for a media company or office to broadcast from outside the studio if it has a studio inside the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC). The media entity will also need a prior permission from the council including the date and place of broadcast.

The Supreme Council will study the request of the media channel to be established or operated within 90 days from request submission. A media channel shall obtain a 5-year license to be operated; the channel shall be able to renew its license following the approval of the Supreme Council.

The Supreme Council is tasked with creating a list of penalties that can be imposed on the journalistic institutions and media corporations that violate the media law.

The boards of the national journalistic institutions would decide on the retirement age of journalists and directors and would extend it if necessary. Heikal said that the retirement age can be extended, year by year, to 65 years for distinguished journalists only.

The NPA is not allowed, according to the law, to act in a way that may affect its independence. It is also impermissible for the authority to accept gifts or grants. However, the NPA will be able to accept donations and grants on legal bases following the approval of two thirds of the authority’s members. In this case, the NPA has to consult with the security authority before accepting the grants.

According to the law, 1 percent of the journalistic institutions' revenues will be used to fund the national journalistic institutions whose need for fund is recognized by the NPA.

The National Media Authority, according to the law, has the right to rebroadcast sport championships taking place inside Egypt. The law will solely give the NMA the authority to allow others to rebroadcast these events for a percentage of the broadcast right cost. However, the broadcast right cannot be obtained except by the state-owned national corporations.
 
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