Cairo – President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ratified a host of amendments to Egypt’s emergency law which an international rights groups says expands “repressive powers” as the country’s battles the coronavirus.
Egypt has been under a state of emergency since April 2017 when twin church bombings claimed by an Islamic State group affiliate killed dozens of people.
The amendments , published Thursday in the official gazette after their approval by parliament, give Sisi and security agencies “additional sweeping powers”, according to Human Rights Watch.
They allow the president to close schools, suspend public sector work, ban public and private gatherings and quarantine inbound travellers.
Sisi will also be able to restrict the trade of certain products, order private medical facilities to assist with general healthcare and turn schools, youth centres and other public facilities into field hospitals.
The military prosecution meanwhile will be allowed to assist the public prosecution in probing crimes reported by armed forces personnel tasked with law enforcement under the state of emergency.
In a report on Thursday, the New York-based HRW warned that the amendments first announced in late April to fight the coronavirus were a “cover for new repressive powers” and “could curb rights in the name of ‘public order'”.
“President al-Sisi’s government is using the pandemic to expand, not reform, Egypt’s abusive Emergency Law,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
Stork said that while some of these measures could be needed in public health emergencies, “they should not be open to abuse as part of an unreformed emergency law”.
“Resorting to ‘national security and public order’ as a justification reflects the security mentality that governs Sisi’s Egypt,” he added.
Egypt’s health ministry has so far recorded 7,981 COVID-19 cases in the population of 100 million.
Of those, 482 have died while 1,887 have recovered.
The state of emergency gives security forces broad powers of arrest and detention and curtails constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.