Cairo (AsiaNews) - Egypt "is at war with terrorism and these new laws are very good and necessary,” said Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, who spoke to AsiaNews about new legislation approved yesterday by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
For the government, the measures will help to fight the growing Jihadi insurgency. For some human rights groups, the authorities will use them to crush dissent.
Under the new laws introduced on Monday, trials for suspected militants will be fast-tracked through special courts, and anyone found guilty of joining a militant group could face ten years in prison.
Financing terrorist groups will carry a penalty of life in prison (25 years). Inciting violence or creating websites deemed to spread terrorist messages will carry sentences of five to seven years.
Journalists can be fined between 200,000 and 500,000 Egyptian pounds (£16,300-£41,000; ,550-,000) for contradicting official accounts of militant attacks.
The original draft of the law was amended following domestic and international outcry after it initially called for a two-year prison sentence for journalists. However, for human rights activists, the new rules are "dangerous" because they constrain media.
Fr Greiche disagrees with the critics. "I think they are exaggerating because when one is at war with terrorism, or when one is at war in general, one has to be careful in reporting the facts and give the news. The media in Egypt were very fast and loose in dealing with certain issues."
Thanks to President al-Sisi, "Today we feel safer,” the clergyman said. “Not quite safe I would say, because sometimes the Muslim Brotherhood or other terrorist groups put a bomb, and people are tired of these threats. Still, overall we feel safer."
The Egyptian government is especially concerned about Jihadi militants in the Sinai Peninsula. The most active insurgent group – known now as Sinai Province and before that as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis – has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Meanwhile, the highest mufti from various Islamic countries met in Cairo yesterday to find ways of countering IS fatwas (religious edicts).
"The goal of this conference is to unite the message of muftis in light of the challenges faced by the region and world in the shape of extremist fatwas and groups that talk in the name of religion," said Ibrahim Negm, an adviser to Egypt's mufti.
"You do not need to be reminded that leniency (in dealing) with fatwas that ex-communicate" Muslims has resulted in "murder and bloodshed," Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the head of the prestigious Cairo-based Islamic Al-Azhar institution, told the conference.
In February, a video showing the murder of Jordanian Air Force pilot al-Maaz Kasasbeh, who was burnt alive by IS, sparked criticism across the Muslim world.
Reacting to that event, al-Tayyeb lashed out at the killers and expressed his "deep anger over the lowly terrorist act", adding that the Qur'an prescribes "killing, crucifixion and chopping of the limbs" for those who kill innocent people.
The conference could decide to form a General Secretariat for the region’s muftis, as well as centres to control and reject extremist fatwa, and train aspiring muftis.