CAIRO: With only days to go until the expiration of Egypt’s highly controversial Emergency Law, the Parliament Sunday passed a measure to extend the legislation for another two years. Condemned for its authorization of sweeping arrests and detentions by Egyptian national security, the Emergency Law is viewed by critics as a tool to stifle any opposition movements.
The state of emergency does not eliminate terrorism but it facilitates the work of the security forces in their attempt to protect our homeland, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told lawmakers during Sunday’s session. President Mubarak wants stability for the Egyptian people and this will only be possible when total security is achieved in the country, which will require the extension of the state of emergency until anti-terrorism legislation is adopted. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood wore black sashes inscribed with the slogan No to the Emergency Law to the legislative session Sunday. Last week, Egyptian authorities reportedly detained more than 40 members of the banned Islamic group, including 25 as they were hanging posters which read: Together against extension of the Emergency Law.
Emergency Law No. 162 of 1958, enforced in October 1981 immediately following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, was due to expire in May 2003. A measure was passed months before its expiration to extend the law until May 2006. As part of his bid for reelection last September, President Hosni Mubarak vowed to do away with the Emergency Law and in its place, put anti-terrorism laws similar to those passed in the United States and Britain.
“The president, in his election platform, called for drafting of an anti-terrorism law to replace the application of the state of emergency, notes Mohammed Kamal, a member of the influential policies secretariat. “The party has formed a committee to study a new anti-terrorism law. It’s not going to be as general and wide in scope as the emergency law.
The decision to officially renew the law comes less than a week after a triple-bombing killed 18 people in Dahab. In general, the Egyptian constitution, drafted in 1971, grants overwhelming power to the president, who has the authority to appoint the prime minister, one or more vice presidents, the entire cabinet and governors for each governorate. The constitution also declares that cases involving terrorism and national security may be tried in military or State Security Emergency courts.
“You know the Emergency Law is in place for the purpose of strengthening the national forces, says George Ishaq, one of the founders of the Kefaya opposition movement. “They are doing this to stifle any opposition. It is only for the [government’s] benefit so that all of the people who are arrested were arrested for no legitimate reason and this is how it will continue now that it has been renewed. “This decision is completely against the wishes of the people of Egypt, adds Essam El-Arian, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. “The government admitted that it would renew this law. We will not stop our campaign against the law. It is against any opposition in general. It is definitely against the Muslim Brotherhood. It should only be used in emergencies, not against the people trying to help this nation. By renewing the Emergency Law for another two years, government officials say it will give them adequate time to formulate an anti-terrorism bill suitable for Egypt. Critics say the liberties of Egyptian citizens will be equally stifled by laws looking to combat terrorism.
In the United States, the controversial Patriot Act of 2001 gives the Department of Homeland Security authorization to enhance surveillance over a number of civil liberties, as well as enhanced presidential power and the government’s right to search and seizure. Similarly, Egypt’s Emergency Law provides national security with the absolute right to detain suspects for months at a time, often without granting due process. “No one ever objected to holding us in prison, notes Amr Darrag, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who spent time in prison last year. “There is always a case in the Emergency Law that allows people to say ‘it’s not fair, let them go.’ An anti-terrorism law is going to be much worse because everything will be legal.