Egypt’s parliament to vote on three controversial laws this week

Egypt’s parliament will begin holding plenary meetings on Sunday and is set to take a final vote on three controversial laws, including the Youth Institutions Law, which aims to ban members of public youth clubs and centres from engaging in political activity.

The 47-article Youth Institutions Law was provisionally approved by the House in a plenary session on 24 October.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal decided that the final vote will be postponed if a full quorum of a two-thirds majority is not realised. Parliament’s schedule of debates said the final vote will be taken on Sunday.

According to the first article of the legislation, members of youth centres are to be barred from exercising political or partisan activities or turning these centres into forums for propagating ideas that serve political or religious agendas.

Abdel-Aal said that “the exercising of political activities should be confined to licensed political parties only.”

“In accordance with the constitution, youth centres cannot be forums for raising political issues,” said Abdel-Aal, arguing that “there is a difference between politics as a science and political indoctrination as an activity.”

“Politics as a science includes many ideas that we study in schools and universities, but politics as an exercise aimed at indoctrinating young people to be politically active cannot be practiced at public entities such as youth clubs, which should not discriminate among its members on political and religious grounds,” said Abdel-Aal.

MP Ayman Abu El-Ela, a member of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, agreed that youth clubs should not be used “as a magnet for disseminating certain political or religious agendas.”

“Talking politics should be confined to political parties, parliaments and civil society organisations only,” Abu El-Ela said.

Article 31 of the law also bans smoking, gambling, serving alcohol at youth centres. It also states that youth centres cannot be allowed to be engaged in financial speculation activities.

Ban on drones

The second law, which was provisionally approved on 7 November, bans the use of remotely operated aircraft – commonly known as drones – that might be used in terrorist attacks. The six-article law stipulates heavy fines and hard prison terms for violators.

Abdel-Aal said in a plenary meeting that the final vote on the law would be postponed until it has been revised by the State Council in legislative and constitutional terms and in line with the constitution.

The law – officially titled “the Regulation of the Use of Electronically and Wirelessly Operated Aircraft and the Handling and Trading in it” – was quickly approved by MPs two weeks ago.

The law bans “drones capable of carrying explosives or weapons systems that could pose a danger to the country’s national security and that can be operated by a remote-control system.” Article one states that the Ministry of Defence will be the only institution authorised to license the use of such aircraft.

Article 2 states that local administration units, such as public ministries, local councils, public institutions, companies and individuals, will be banned from the import, manufacturing, assembling, handling, possession and trading in drones. They would need prior approval from the Ministry of Defence for any such activities.

Article 3 states that violators of Articles 1 and 2 could face prison terms ranging from one to seven years, as well as fines ranging from EGP 5,000 to EGP 50,000.

Violators could also face the death penalty if they use drones in committing terrorist acts. The Article gives the Ministry of Defence the right of sequestering any technologies of this sort that could be used in launching terrorist attacks.

However, Army Major General Mamdouh Shahin, deputy defence minister for constitutional affairs and military justice, told parliament in a plenary session on Tuesday that the law does not impose a total ban on the use of drones.

“It allows the use of such drones only with prior and exclusive approval from the Ministry of Defence,” said Shaheen.

A final vote on the law is also expected to take place on Sunday.

Trade union law

The third law – titled “the Trade Union Organisations and the Protection of the Right of Forming a Trade Union” – was also provisionally approved on 7 November.

Parliament speaker Abdel-Aal said the final vote will be postponed until a quorum of a two-thirds majority is attained and more debates are held on some of the most contentious articles.

Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, a member of parliament’s Manpower Committee, told MPs that the 83-article law strives to adhere to Egypt’s 2014 constitution.

Article 76 of the constitution states that “workers should be free to form trade unions in a democratic way and that these unions can only be dissolved by a final judicial ruling.”

“The new law also strives to conform to international labour and trade union conventions to which Egypt is a signatory,” said Abdel-Fattah, adding that “the law sounds the death knell of the old socialist policy that brought trade unions under the umbrella of a single government-controlled entity.”

Article 12 stipulates that a quorum of 250 workers in any industrial plant or economic establishment is sufficient to form a trade union committee to safeguard the rights of all workers.

Article 13 stipulates that no less than 20 trade union committees comprising at least 30,000 workers are needed to form a fully-fledged trade union.

Abdel-Aal voiced concern that the draft law still includes socialist articles such as giving trade unions privileges such as exemption from taxes and custom tariffs.

“This is unconstitutional because this article violates the principle of equality among public institutions,” said Abdel-Aal.

Parliament decided to cut exemptions granted by the law to trade union organisations from 12 items to just five, leaving unions exempt from paying taxes on offices, contracts, celebrations, and from paying public notary fees and stamp taxes.

A final vote on the above law is also expected to be taken on Sunday.

In its debates this week, parliament is also expected to discuss a new law aimed at forming a syndicate for workers in the area of antiquities.

Source: Ahram online

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