Police use water cannon to enforce antiprotesting law
Right groups see new limits as harsh way to stop decent
CAIRO | Police fired water cannons Tuesday to disperse dozens of activists protesting police brutality in Cairo, the security forces’ first implementation of a controversial new law forbidding protests held without a permit from authorities.
The unrest points to the growing backlash against the law, which imposes heavy restrictions on protests, among the secular political factions that rallied behind the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Now, some in the loose coalition are growing impatient with signs that the military-backed interim government is inching toward authoritarianism.
Many non-Islamist activists say the law aims to silence any dissent ahead of a referendum on an amended constitution and other key elections. Those activists oppose provisions in the revised constitution entrenching greater powers for the military and the president, and curtailing rights to free trials and assembly.
The government says the law is needed to restore security and stability and to rein in near-daily protests by Morsi supporters demanding his reinstatement. The Islamist rallies often have descended into clashes with security forces, leaving hundreds dead since Mr. Morsi’s ouster in July. The government’s message has a strong resonance among a public weary of constant protests and unrest.
But rights groups and activists say the law, issued Monday by the interim president, will stifle Islamists and non-Islamists alike. They say it is harsher than restrictions on protests during the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011 in an uprising calling for greater democratic freedoms.
“They don’t want anyone in the streets any more. Not us, not the Islamists,” said Rasha Azab, a political activist who took part in Tuesday’s rally that was broken up by security forces.
International criticism of the law also has been growing.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the law raises concerns because it does not meet international standards and will not move Egypt’s transition forward.
“We urge the interim government to respect individual rights, and we urge that the new constitution protect such rights,” she said.
Skeptical of Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the military, activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Mr. Mubarak have been organizing limited non-Islamist protests in recent weeks demanding justice from police officials who killed hundreds of protesters in the past three years.
“My biggest concern is that it would be more difficult for the people to see the government’s decision-making process,” said Kyouji Yanagisawa, a former top defense official who was in charge of national security in the Prime Minister’s Office from 2004 to 2009. “That means we can’t check how or where the government made mistakes, or help the government make a wise decision.”