The antiterrorism law Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi approved on Monday is the latest effort by the Arab world’s most populous country to deal with mutating threats from a range of terrorist groups. Several media and human rights groups criticized the breadth of the powers the government gave itself with little debate; in effect, the law institutionalizes practices that the Egyptian government has used the past two years in response to both attacks and nonviolent forms of protest. The message? The Egyptian government intends to continue practices that appear to have expanded the base of dissent against it. And rather than eradicating terrorist threats, such a course complicates the effort.
The antiterror measures are designed to increase punishments–in some cases as a form of deterrent–and seek to address newer threats such as cyberterrorism or incitement of violence online. The law designates terrorism courts to expedite prosecution and sentencing. On the surface, these are reasonable steps. In expanding the definition of a terror crime, however, the law also casts a wide net, lumping a range of groups into one category. Incitement is a problem in Egypt, but it would be counterproductive if the government seeks to prosecute an Islamist or secular activist engaged in nonviolent protests the same way it prosecutes Islamists who plant explosive devices or recruit for Islamic State affiliates. The broadened definitions could lead to an overload of Egypt’s criminal justice system. A more effective strategy would seek to focus resources on combating violent terrorist groupThis article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal.