The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) [NYT backgrounder] on Saturday issued a decree banning discrimination on the basis of race, gender or religion. The SCAF article, Law Decree No. 125 / 2011, amended Criminal Law provisions first passed in 1937. The new article imposes heavy penalties [Egyptian Gazette article], amounting to fines of up to EGP 100,000 (USD $16,778) and a prison sentence of up to three months, on civil servants who discriminate against citizens either as individuals or as a sect in ways that threaten social justice or equal opportunity or disturb the public peace. Ordinary citizens who commit the same crimes will be fined up to EGP 50,000 (USD $5,033) and sentenced to up to three months in jail. The introduction of the article [Reuters report] comes in response to public calls for tougher legal measures against all forms of discrimination, and the measure follows last Sunday's clashes between troops and protesters, many of whom were Coptic Christians. Twenty-five people were killed in the fighting, representing the worst street violence since the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jezeera profile] in February 11. Many have accused the ruling military of using tactics reminiscent of Mubarak's police force against the protesters in last week's violence.
Earlier this month a similar SCAF amendment altered election rules to ban the use of religious slogans [JURIST report] in campaigning. The article came ahead of the upcoming November elections and is expected to have an immediate effect on the Muslim Brotherhood [party website; JURIST news archive] whose traditional slogan "Islam is the solution" was banned under the new electoral guidelines. However, two days later an Egyptian court overturned a ban [JURIST report] that prohibited presidential hopeful Ayman Nour [BBC profile] from forming the Islamic-based political party Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya [party website]. In March, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced that it would lift the state of emergency [JURIST report] before parliamentary polls were to be held. The election announcement came a week after an overwhelming majority of Egyptians voted to approve several constitutional amendments [JURIST report] in a national referendum. The majority approval is considered by some to be a milestone [JURIST comment] for Egypt during its transition to a democratic society following the national uprising [JURIST news archive] against Mubarak.