CAIRO: Judicial Affairs Minister Mufid Shehab announced that Egypt’s state of emergency, which has been in place for almost 30 years, will be lifted next year, the Middle East News Agency (Mena) reported.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had pledged during the 2005 presidential elections that the emergency law would be lifted, but then said it would remain until new anti-terrorism legislation was passed, following his election.
According to Shehab, however, the state of emergency – which was renewed in 2005 and is due to expire in 2008 – will be lifted regardless of whether the terrorism bill has been drafted into law or not.
Whether the law on terrorism is passed by this date or not, the government will lift the state of emergency by the end of June 2008, Shehab told students at the Leadership Development Institute in the University of Alexandria.
Critics are concerned that provisions in the eventual terrorism law will simply replace those in the emergency law, which permits indefinite detention without trial, hearings of civilians by military courts, prohibits gatherings of more than five people, and limits speech and association.
Some, like Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, believe it will actually make matters “much worse.
“It will give the president and security officials the ability to persecute any political activist and restrict civil liberties, he told Daily News Egypt.
“A journalist, for example, could be prosecuted for any number of reasons.
The US, which supplies Egypt with around $2 billion in aid annually, has called on the Mubarak government to enact reforms in recent years, particularly with regard to freedom of speech. It was originally expected that the removal of the emergency law would initiate this process.
Yehia Al Gamal, professor of law and president of the recently formed Democratic Front Party, stressed that he would withhold judgment until he saw the final draft of the new law, but admitted that from what he had seen so far, he did “not have high hopes.
Al Gamal told Daily News Egypt, “The most important difference is that this new law is protected by Article 170 of the constitution, which is very dangerous.
“Potentially, it could change Egypt from a state of law to a police state.
Former Kefaya leader George Ishaq said the new anti-terrorism bill would preclude the possibility of any reduction in Egypt’s extensive security measures upon the removal of the emergency law.
“There is no difference between [the emergency law] and the new terrorism law, he told Daily News Egypt.
Ishaq also pointed out that, while the emergency law was a temporary measure – albeit one that has lasted nearly 30 years – it can be changed. The anti-terrorism law, on the other hand, is permanent, making it “the institutionalization of the emergency law.
Yet Al Gamal noted that academics, lawyers, civil society organizations and political parties would be consulted before the draft legislation becomes law.
Whether that will allow them to constrain the powers it bestows on the government, Al Gamal was not sure.
“We will have to wait and see, he said.