Egypt's counter-terrorism law guarantees impunity to a violent state

Egypt's counter-terrorism law guarantees impunity to a violent state
Analysis: No one among Egypt's increasingly trigger-happy security services will be held to account for the killing of 12 Mexicans and Egyptians on Monday, thanks to new "terror laws".
3 min read
14 September, 2015
Egypt has reinforced its military presence against Islamist militants in Sinai [Anadolu/Getty]

The "accidental" killing of 12 Mexican and Egyptian tourists by security forces in the country's Western Desert on Sunday is one of the early tests of President Sisi's counter-terror laws ratified in August.

Sisi has waged a crackdown on Islamists and other opponents since 2013, when he led the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi during mass protests against his rule.

Following Morsi's overthrow, a long-running insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula surged, with attacks targeting security forces there and elsewhere in Egypt. The most powerful insurgent group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS) last year.

Highlights of the anti-terror law
- Law enforcers will not be punished for the use of force "in performing their duties".

- The punishment for journalists contradicting the authorities' account of any "terrorist attacks" has been reduced from imprisonment to a fine of $25,000 to $63,000.

- 25 years up to the death penalty for anyone who starts, organises, manages or leads a "terrorist group".

- 5 year sentences to anyone convicted of using social media or the internet to promote ideas or beliefs leading to terrorist acts, impede state officials, or communicate with "terrorist groups".

- The president has the right to impose a curfew, isolate or evict residents from an area should that area be exposed to an act of terror.

Since then, militants have killed hundreds of police and army soldiers, with the Sinai-based Egyptian franchise of IS claiming responsibility for many of the major attacks.

The Egyptian tourism ministry said in a statement on Monday that the tourist convoy was not authorised to be in the area, and that the four vehicles they used were not licensed - adding that the local guides did not have the necessary permits for their safari trip, thus absolving the security forces of any responsibility.

In addition, the 54-article anti-terror law provides protection to its enforcers in the face of the two-year insurgency that aims to topple the current regime.

Islamist militants use the vast Western Desert as a hideout due to its proximity to Libya, which suffers from its own instability and a volatile security situation.

According to the new law, forming or leading a group labelled a "terrorist entity" by the government will be punishable by death or life in prison. Membership in such a group will carry up to 10 years in jail.

"Egypt's desert disaster: an accident or tragic routine?" - read Amr Khalifa's commentary here

Financing "terrorist groups" will also carry a life sentence in prison, which in Egypt is 25 years. Inciting violence, which includes "promoting ideas that call for violence" will lead to between five and seven years in jail, as will creating or using websites that spread such ideas.

Police have previously arrested people for running social media pages that "promote violence" or who post detailed information on police officers.

Last month, the Egyptian police arrested three individuals on charges of spreading IS propaganda through Facebook.

On Saturday, an Egyptian court sentenced 12 defendants to death on charges of forming an "Islamic State-affiliated terrorist cell".

The defendants were facing charges of forming a "terrorist cell" with the aim of "overthrowing the government", "disrupting the provisions of the constitution" and "targeting security personnel".