Egypt's military rulers won't lift hated emergency law until next year

CAIRO — Egypt's caretaker military government announced Wednesday that the emergency law that allows it to jail people without charges and try civilians before military courts will not be lifted until the middle of next year.

The announcement angered political activists and human rights advocates, who warned that continuation of emergency rule ran counter to the goals of the movement that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February and could threaten campaigning for parliamentary elections, now expected to be held in November.

"Deciding not to lift the state of emergency is proof that there is an ongoing war against the revolution and that the government does not believe in the revolution," said Ahmed Maher, the head of the April 6 Youth movement, which was at the forefront of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

Shortly after it came to power, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled by decree since assuming power from Mubarak, announced that it would lift emergency rule in September.

But on Wednesday, General Adel al Morsy, head of Egypt's military justice department, said that the emergency law would remain in effect until June 2012.

He declared that Egypt's military rulers would continue to enforce the emergency law until then "to fight all forms of domestic instability, terrorism, disturbing the national security and public order or financing any of the aforementioned cases."

The government had expanded the scope of the law after a crowd of thousands stormed the Israeli Embassy Sept. 9. At least three people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the melee that followed.

Among the offenses covered by the expansion were possession or sale of weapons and ammunition, drug trafficking, obstructing traffic, and "spreading or broadcasting any false news, information or rumors."

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told local reporters that "the emergency law will be used to protect the revolution and fight anyone trying to harm it." His assertion failed to silence critics.

"Extending and widening the scope of the emergency law is a contradiction" to the military council's declaration that it favored constitutional government, said Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour, the head of al Ghad (Tomorrow) party, who was sentenced to five years in prison after he garnered 7 percent of the vote in a 2005 challenge to Mubarak's presidency.

"I am very concerned about the coming elections that will take place under emergency law," Nour said. "It is very dangerous to have this door wide open for violations and abuse in the name of protecting the country."

Egypt's state of emergency was announced on Oct. 6, 1981, after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat brought Mubarak to the presidency. Mubarak routinely extended the emergency decree when it was due to expire throughout his presidency, most recently signing a two-year extension in May 2010. It was that extension that Gen. Morsy said would remain in effect until next year.

Maher, who was detained and jailed four times under the emergency law during Mubarak's rule, said the extension criminalizes "public gatherings and protests."

"The country does not need any emergency law or martial law," Maher said. "All we need is a police force that does its job properly."

(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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