Egypt Egypt Prepares to Give Leaders Special Powers in Epidemics Special powers to enforce sump or lift civic assemblies and limit free speech alongside a no-fly zone are among ten proposals drawn up by the country’s health ministry.
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They want to give presidents and members of parliament the right to impose a “surge medical response” to any public health threat, including the spread of the mosquito-borne virus that causes Zika, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus.
At the same time, they want a ban on organising free public meetings and gatherings under the guise of civic assemblies unless two ministers of the interior, the public prosecutor and the health minister agree to grant an emergency decree.
Members of parliament will also have to receive special permission to hold rallies of more than 20 people.
“This is an infringement on the right to freedom of assembly. The state should not be allowed to designate itself to tell people where they can and cannot go in public, and what they can and cannot discuss,” said Mamdouh Abdel-Halim, head of the political science department at the American University in Cairo (AUC).
These issues are among ten proposals drawn up by the health ministry on how to safeguard health in the wake of recent public health emergencies, which have sparked large-scale rallies and other forms of protest in Egypt.
The recommendations call for mobilising medical staff, strengthening surveillance systems and rapid action at any potential outbreak and backing scientific research and medical systems.
Many of the recommendations go on to compare the state’s efforts to contain any threat to anything that could be compared to an “emergency” in public order. In the case of previous crises, politicians have used similar language when declaring urgent measures to support health care.
However, Egyptian politics often use the excuse of an emergency to temporarily curb the freedoms of individuals or groups critical of the state.
In recent years, several demonstrations and protests have been dispersed by the military, including at the Tahrir Square, while both the opposition and Egyptian civil society groups have been subject to illegal surveillance by security services.
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In the wake of the dengue outbreak, protests and public meetings have continued to spill out on to the streets, with security forces patrolling in armoured vehicles in preparation for possible clashes.
Such intimidation made it harder for public health experts to coordinate research and determine the risks of outbreaks.
Noora Mohamed, a former Egypt researcher at the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the proposals would have the same effect on civil society as sweeping laws could have done with any health emergency.
“There is no way to definitively say who decides about certain decisions on the ground. Who should authorise the government to take such decisions should be something for civil society to determine,” Mohamed said.