Egypt plans blanket anti-terrorism law against 'disrupting order'

CAIRO (REUTERS) - Egypt's Cabinet approved on Wednesday a draft anti-terrorism law that would give the government blanket power to ban groups on charges ranging from harming national unity to disrupting public order.

Authorities have cracked down hard on Islamist, secular and liberal opposition alike since the army toppled elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year after mass unrest against his rule, dashing hopes for a more robust democracy stirred by the fall of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The government already has broad security powers and has been able to exercise them largely at will - jailing thousands of Morsi supporters and more recently many leading lights of the 2011 uprising - because of many Egyptians' weariness with lawlessness that crippled the economy after Mubarak's fall.

The draft legislation, however, would help enshrine the security crackdown in the criminal code by permitting authorities to classify groups as "terrorist" according to a long list of offences, some of them non-violent.

"A terrorist entity is considered any organisation... which practices or seeks in any way to disrupt public order or exposes society's integrity, interests or security to harm," the draft legislation reads.

Any group designated as terrorist would be dissolved, the draft stipulates. It also allows for the freezing of assets belonging to the designated group, its members and financiers.

The government is already able to seize Brotherhood assets based on a specific court order; the new legal draft would ease such action against other groups.

The proposal must be approved by a judicial advisory body before Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as head of the armed forces ousted Morsi in July 2013 and was elected president in May this year, can sign it into law.

Egypt declared Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood a banned terrorist organisation last December and Egyptian courts have sentenced hundreds of the group's members to death in mass trials that have drawn strong international criticism.

The Brotherhood formally renounced violence as a tool of political change decades ago and has denied any link with increased Islamist militant violence following Morsi's exit.

But Sisi's government does not distinguish between it and militants based mainly in the Sinai Peninsula where the army is fighting an insurgent group that recently pledged loyalty to Islamic State insurgents in Iraq and Syria.