CAIRO: The state has recently upped the ante in its attempt to thwart the political opposition, say observers and activists.
“Over the past few days, we’ve witnessed a resurgence of the campaign against opposition activists across the board, said Moataz Billah Osman, director of the Cairo-based Arab Organization for Human Rights.
This week, for example, numerous members of banned-but-tolerated Islamist opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested. “Over the past three days, at least 70 of our members have been arrested, said leading Brotherhood member and spokesman Essam Al-Arian.
The arrests took place in cities throughout the country, including Cairo and Alexandria, after some of the group’s members were found distributing posters supporting a campaign to end the emergency law spearheaded by opposition movement Kefaya, according to Al-Arian. The new arrests bring the total number of Brotherhood members detained in recent weeks to at least 170.
In the past, the government has charged the group’s members with “belonging to a banned organization , explaining that arrests were meant “to deter the spread of dangerous ideas, according to one interior ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Rights groups point out however, that Islamists are not the only ones facing pressure from the government.
“It isn’t only the Islamists who are targeted in the state’s attempts to undermine the opposition, but any group or individual, campaigning against the state of emergency or for the independence of the judiciary, said Osman.
“We must also consider the arrest of several Kefaya members, detained while demonstrating in support of reformist judges last week, Osman added. On April 27, dozens of activists supporting judicial reform were arrested, while 15 Kefaya members were sentenced to two weeks in jail, according to Osman.
In a parallel development, Amir Salem, the lawyer for jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour, said he had narrowly escaped being arrested on ambiguous charges.
“There were repeated attempts by state security to detain me by force, but I was helped by other lawyers to take shelter in the Lawyers’ Syndicate, said Salem, who had published advertisements in the local press calling for participation in the April 27 demonstration.
While parliament has already approved the extension of the Emergency Laws, critics had said parliamentary debate and subsequent voting would be merely cosmetic, given that the ruling National Democratic Party holds almost 70 percent of the seats in the assembly.
“The fact that decisions in parliament are based on two-thirds majority rulings means that, in all likelihood, we’ll see an extension of emergency law, Osman had said. “Previous proposals to extend the law have been met with unanimous approval by majority pro-government MPs.
Egypt has remained under a formal state of emergency since the 1981 assassination of the late President Anwar Sadat. In the run-up to the country’s first contested presidential election in September of last year, President Hosni Mubarak pledged to replace the current emergency law with a new anti-terror bill.
According to Osman, however, the new bill has yet to be presented to parliament for approval. “It seems it will be another 18 months in the making, hence the delay in introducing it, said Osman.
Neither parliament nor cabinet spokespeople were available for comment. IRIN