Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa al-Din said in a statement on his official Facebook page Monday that the cabinet would probably delay the legislation because of mounting opposition. Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said in a television interview Sunday that the government is open to considering amendments to the bill.
But if signed into law by interim President Adly Mansour, the current version would impose a blanket ban on public sit-ins and require protesters to seek advance permission from the Interior Ministry to hold a demonstration. Violators would face harsh fines and up to three years in prison.
The provisions have made liberal activists and others wary of the intentions of a government that has unleashed a brutal campaign against Morsi’s associates in the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands on spurious charges and reinstating emergency law along with a nightly military curfew.
A widening crackdown against pro-democracy activists and intellectuals is raising fears that the government and its military backers are angling to quash all dissent and restore the old authoritarian order. “It’s an attempt to bring back the police state,” said Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a key role in the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. In September, a group of military supporters filed charges of espionage against Maher. But he says he is no longer under investigation.
Mubarak had used a sweeping emergency law and his vast security apparatus to thwart demonstrations, harass and detain dissidents, and try political activists in special courts.
Government officials say the new protest legislation would be different. “It is a law to regulate protests, not to ban them,” Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif said in defense of the bill.
Security forces have accused Morsi supporters of storing weapons at sit-ins and firing on police officers. Since the Islamist leader’s ouster, Egypt has also seen a rise in armed attacks against military and police targets.
“The police will not go back to the time before the 25th of January,” Latif said, referring to the first day of protests against the Mubarak regime in 2011. “But it’s just like anywhere else in the world. And we will implement the law.”
But the move to curb the lively street protests that have become a defining feature of Egypt’s post-uprising political landscape has roused even the government’s staunchest supporters, interrupting the near-universal backing it has enjoyed among non-Islamists.