Egypt outcry over "reactivation" of hated emergency law

Ekram Ibrahim, Thursday 15 Sep 2011

In force for over 30 years, Emergency Law created the lawless police force that brought down the Mubarak regime. By "revitalising" it, does SCAF know what it's doing?

emergency law
emergency law

In the new, revolutionary state, instead of revoking emergency law as promised, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has announced its reactivation, in particular, of articles relating to the spreading of misinformation, arms possession and interfering with traffic. .

In its 193rd decree since the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak, SCAF justified its position by saying the imposition of the state of emergency is legitimate when domestic disturbances or terrorism threaten to disrupt national security or law and order.

Political and civil movements and parties are calling for a No To Emergency Law million-man march on Friday to protest the decision.

Toppled president Mubarak had persisted in indefinitely extending the state of emergency for the duration of his 30-year rule, providing a climate in which "the police is trained in lawlessness," according to prominent human rights lawyer Nour Farahat. "It was under emergency law that torture became commonplace, and so had administrative detentions, often indefinite, and involving tens of thousands, while the whole police force was brutalised beyond measure," said Farahat.

Many of those subjected to indefinite administrative detentions have been released since the revolution. As the Islamist lawyer Montasir El-Zayyat, who was himself jailed on a number of occasions, told Ahram Online, the state of emergency never actually improved security conditions: “Many awful crimes were committed under this law, it will not help in any way.”

He also expressed concern with statements of the current Interior Minister, Mansour El-Essawy, that police will open fire on whoever attempts to attack ministry and police facilities.

SCAF reactivated emergency law following 9 September's clashes at the Israeli Embassy and the Giza Security Directorate Headquarters. The behaviour of the security forces on that day has given rise to many question marks. There was no attempt by the security bodies to contain the demonstration at the Israeli embassy, which went on for hours, destroying the recently completed concrete wall before the embassy, Neither was any attempt made to prevent a few dozen of demonstrators from storming the building housing the embassy.

This has given rise to charges that SCAF, or the interior ministry, had deliberately condoned the chaos in order to use it as a pretext to revitalise emergency law and clamp down on the revolutionary forces. According to Shady Ghazali Harb, a member of the Youth Revolution Coalition, “Till now, no one has announced accountability for the Israeli Embassy incident; the whole incident was so bizarre and unexplained there is reason to believe it was premeditated.”

Several potential presidential candidates have announced they are against the reactivation of emergency law. In a statement released to the press by his campaign on Tuesday, Ayman Nour said he will participate in next Friday’s protests. Mohamed ElBaradei’s tweet in response to SCAF’s announcement reads, “Egypt' s salvation will be through genuine transition to democracy and not through repressive measures; don't clone old regime!” Other candidates are in agreement.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party warned SCAF and the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf against reviving the authoritarian symbols and measures of the Mubarak regime. In a statement, the ESDP said using repressive measures to cow the Egyptian people into submission was futile, since the revolution had demolised the "barrier of fear"; it could however drive the country into disorder and chaos, the statement warned.

Yet there are those who are keen on “safety and stability” enough to compromise basic rights. “Only under emergency law,” Judge Ahmed Mekki, the deputy head of Cairo’s appeals court told Ahram Online, “will the thugs be put in jail.” The Wafd Party too has said it is in favour of the state of emergency so long as it is imposed with discretion to protect the dignity and freedom of the people, on condition that it will be abrogated before the due date of the parliamentary elections.

Activists see it as a step back in human rights, naturally enough. For Hossam Bahgat, the head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), “Emergency law is currently in play, but our main concern is with the administrative detention that takes place under it. This is a major setback, it was one of the worst aspects of Mubarak regime.”

Another incident that gave rise to serious concern among political and revolutionary groups was the closure of the office of Al-Jazeera Mubashir on Monday, two days after the reactivation of emergency law, giving administrative documentation as the excuse and so avoiding the admission that they were actually using emergency law. Al-Jazeera had shown support for the Egyptian revolution and its Cairo offices were closed by the Mubarak regime during the Egyptian revolution.

Still, according to Judge Mohamed Hamed Al-Gamal, former Head of the State Council, ” Emergency law, which SCAF says will be in place until the middle of 2012, was one of the reasons Egyptians took to the streets in the first place.

However, faced with wide-spread censure and outrage, government officials are now saying that emergency law will be removed before the forthcoming parliamentary elections, due to take place in November 2011.


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