This month, Egypt’s parliament passed two new bills that will increase the power of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime. On July 3, parliament approved a draft law shielding senior army officers from accountability for offenses committed between July 3, 2013 and January 10, 2016. Almost two weeks later, on July 16, parliament passed three media regulatory bills that have been joined into one law that allows the state to block social media accounts and penalize journalists.
Together, these laws paint a bleak picture for the future of freedom in Egypt, and help Sisi further centralize his authority. Under the first law, Sisi’s ally – the army – will be shielded from prosecution for any and all crimes committed over a period that overlaps with much of his first term as president. Under the second law, Sisi’s enemies – the public and the media – will be stripped of the ability to criticize the presidency or effectively mobilize to remove Sisi from power.
In addition to giving amnesty to members of the Egyptian Armed Forces, the new military law gives new entitlements and benefits to senior commanders. Reserve status has been granted to a select number of senior army officers, allowing them to enjoy diplomatic immunity. However, this status arguably benefits Sisi more than it does the officers. Reserve status allows Sisi the right to recall these commanders into active duty until their death as he sees fit. It also prevents these officers from submitting their candidacy for any upcoming presidential elections, removing any internal threat to Sisi’s position as President.
Under the new media law, any social media account or blog with more than 5,000 followers, even if run by a single individual, will be treated as a media outlet and obligated, under threat of prison time, to refrain from publishing “fake news.” The bill’s vague phrasing gives authorities wide discretion in determining what qualifies as “fake news.” The three-pronged bill, which also extends to print journalism and state-sponsored media, gives Egypt’s National Press Authority (NPA) the right to manage all media outlets in the country.
This is not the first time Egyptians have experienced this particular brand of repression. Under former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, there were laws that restricted freedom of expression, and allowed the Egyptian police to arrest individuals at will. As Sisi attempts to continue building a cult of personality, he is replicating conditions Egyptians fought valiantly against in 2011.