CAIRO – Egypt's outgoing interim president issued a decree making dishonoring the Egyptian flag or not standing for the national anthem a criminal offense, punishable by sentences of up to one year in prison and a fine of more than $4,000, his spokesman said Saturday.
Presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi told reporters the decree states that the national anthem and flag are "symbols of the state that must be respected and treated with veneration."
Egypt is witnessing a rising wave of nationalist fervor following the July military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after mass protests against him.
The decree increased previously suggested penalties from late last year, which were set at a maximum six months in prison and over $700 in fines. The decree also bans raising the flag if it was torn, its color faded, or with distorted design.
Criminalizing disrespect of the national emblems appears rooted in recent controversies around the national flag and anthem during Egypt's last three years of turmoil.
The national anthem was a subject of debate when Islamist lawmakers in the first elected parliament after the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 refused to stand up when it was played. By some ultraconservative interpretation, such show of respect is reserved only for God. Others refused to stand up to the anthem, because, they said, the hundreds of people killed at the hands of the police.
The flag, prominent during most of Egypt's recent protests, saw protesters tear it while some raised factional flags instead. After Mubarak's fall, some also discussed changing the flag.
After a 1952 military coup toppled Egypt's king, authorities replaced Egypt's then-green flag with a crescent to three horizontal lines of red, white and black. An eagle was at the center most of the time since, with a brief change of two stars instead during a brief union with Syria.
At some point, Islamists appeared in protests with Islamic insignia on the flag instead of the eagle.
Interim President Adly Mansour is spending his last days in office. After three days of voting, reports show retired Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who removed Morsi, winning by a landslide. Official results are expected in the coming days.