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Egyptians criticize regulation on protests

CAIRO — A draft law that would strictly regulate street protests in Egypt is drawing fierce criticism from rights groups and exposing fresh cracks in the broad coalition that backed the military coup against President Mohammed Morsi in July.

The legislation, drafted this month by the military-appointed interim government, grants authorities the power to cancel demonstrations or quickly escalate to the use of lethal force for vague reasons, including threats to the public order.

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Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa al-Din said in a statement on his official Facebook page Monday that the Cabinet would probably delay the bill due to mounting opposition. Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi said in a television interview Sunday that the government is open to considering amendments to the legislation.

But if signed into law by Interim President Adly Mansour, the current version would impose a blanket ban on public sit-ins and require protesters to seek advance permission from the Interior Ministry to hold a demonstration. Violators would face harsh fines and up to three years in prison.

The provisions have made liberal activists and others wary of the intentions of a government that has unleashed a brutal campaign against Morsi’s associates in the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands on spurious charges and reinstating emergency law along with a nightly military curfew.

A widening crackdown against democracy activists and intellectuals is raising fears the government and its military backers are angling to quash all dissent.

‘‘It’s an attempt to bring back the police state,’’ said Ahmed Maher, cofounder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a key role in the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. In September, a group of military supporters filed espionage charges against Maher.

‘It’s an attempt to bring back the police state.’

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But he says he is no longer under investigation.

Mubarak had used a sweeping emergency law and his vast security apparatus to thwart demonstrations, harass and detain dissidents, and try political activists in special courts.

Government officials say the new protest law would be different.

‘‘It is a law to regulate protests, not to ban them,’’ Interior Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif said in defense of the bill.

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