Egyptian activists and politicians accused the ruling military leaders of breaking a promise to end emergency law, after authorities said they would reintroduce special security courts following an attack on the Israeli embassy.
Eight months after protesters toppled President Hosni Mubarak and the military took power on an interim basis, many supporters of the protest movement say they are concerned that the military rulers are backsliding on reform pledges.
Ending emergency law, seen as a tool of Mubarak’s repression, has long been a key demand.
Israel pulled its ambassador out of Egypt after protesters stormed the building housing Israel’s embassy on Friday night.
Egypt’s military rulers said they would try suspects in emergency state security courts. Emergency law would now apply in cases such as blocking of roads, publishing false information and weapons possession, they said.
The measures add to a list of developments that activists say worry them, including the banning of cameras from important trials including that of Mubarak himself, and the army’s failure so far to set a firm date for a parliamentary election.
“The new procedure violate the constitutional decree that the military council issued after Mubarak, in which it pledged to end the state of emergency within six months and said a public referendum had to take place for it to be extended,” Mohamed Adel, leader of the April 6 youth group, told Reuters.
“Egyptian law has many rules against thugs and terrorism, so I still don’t see a reason to extend emergency law,” he added.
Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said: “It is the normal right of every Egyptian to be tried in front of an ordinary judge, but it is unfortunately not what we see as we are relying more on military and extraordinary courts.”
Emergency law was widely applied under Mubarak’s rule to stifle opposition. The law, in place for decades, gives the state ultimate powers to question or detain citizens.
It was due to be lifted before the parliamentary election which is expected anytime starting November. No poll date has yet been set, although the army has said procedures for a vote, such as voter registration, will start in September.
The Muslim Brotherhood, one of Egypt’s most organised political groups, condemned the use of emergency courts in one of its strongest statements against the military to date. The group, expected to benefit from an early vote, has tended to take a softer line than other activists in the past.
“We confirm our rejection of any attempt to abuse the events to issue martial laws or decrease the margin of freedoms,” the group’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice party, said.
The Islamist group condemned violence by protesters targeting the embassy and other police sites, but also blamed the army for not taking a tough enough stance against Israel.
Presidential hopeful and former Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh said he feared the new security measures were “part of a pre-prepared scenario to take over the revolution.”
“I warn the governing power in Egypt against moving forward in this path. And I hope everyone knows the Egyptian people will not allow such scenarios and will not allow their revolution to be aborted.”
Egyptians marched on the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday, demolished a wall built around the embassy building to protect it and stormed the Nile tower block that houses the mission.
Protesters outside the Israeli embassy
The New York Times reports:
Egyptian security forces raided the offices of an Egyptian affiliate of the Al Jazeera news network known for attentive coverage of street protests, eliciting allegations on Sunday of a crackdown on the news media as the military-led transitional government seeks to ensure law and order after allowing an angry mob to invade the Israeli Embassy over the weekend.
The raid on the television network came as both the Egyptian and Israeli governments began tentative steps to repair the diplomatic breach between the awkward allies after the embassy attack on Friday night.
The raid also came after a warning last week by Egypt’s minister of media, Osama Heikal, that the government would take legal action against stations that “endanger the stability and security” of the nation, and some analysts said they feared the raid could signal a broader effort to curtail the new freedoms of expression experienced since the uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak this year.
The network, Al Jazeera Live Egypt, was founded in the aftermath of the uprising and has become known for its attentive, if not sensational, coverage of street protests, including the Israeli Embassy attack on Friday. The raid forced the network to halt its programming for a period before it resumed broadcasting from Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
Officials of the Interior Ministry said they had raided the network because it lacked a license, and that neighbors had complained about noise. Numerous satellite channels have sprung up since the revolution, and Mr. Heikal, the media minister, said in his statement last week that the government would stop issuing new permits because of concerns about broadcasts that endangered stability.
But Islam Lotfy, a lawyer for the channel, said the channel had applied for a license in March without a response.
Al Ahram reports:
According to identical accounts offered by Egyptian officials and foreign diplomats in Cairo, Egypt had asked Israel before the developments of last Friday to keep the Israeli ambassador in Tel Aviv and to reduce the volume of its staff to the minimum, but Netanyahu insisted on sending the ambassador back only a few days before the latest protest.
“We are not expelling him, but we thought a long holiday for the Israeli ambassador in Egypt would be useful for all of us now; unfortunately, Israel thought otherwise and when anger erupted on Friday evening they had to solicit the intervention of the Americans who sent a plane to carry him and the rest of the staff out of Egypt,” said one official.
Today, there is a tacit agreement between Egypt and Israel that the long holiday for the ambassador is in place and there are guarantees offered by Cairo to both Washington and Tel Aviv that stepped up security measures will be in place to prevent another attack on the embassy.
Al Ahram also reports:
In the Islamist Al-Dawa Al-Salafiya (Salafist Call) reaction statement to the protesters’ storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo on 9 September, they slammed the attack as “not thought-out,” which will work in the favour of Israel.
The Salafist movement claims that the 9 September mobbing of the embassy “will work in favour of Israel and will transform them from perpetrators to victims and the focus will shift from our demands to amend the Camp David agreement to Israel’s calls for help to protect their embassy in Egypt.”
The movement also pointed out that the “Egyptians are united in their hate for Israel (thank God). We must fight cultural normalisation [with Israel] and we should push for the international isolation of Israel.”
The group also condemned the statement released by President Obama in which he told Egypt to “honour its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli embassy,” and reminded the US president that Egypt has changed after the January 25 Revolution.
The statement also claimed that most of the calls for violence are actually from a US-backed ex-police officer, Omar Afifi, who resides in the US and uses the internet to incite divisions in Egypt.
In a local press review, Ahmed Zaki Osman writes:
The Israeli government must be exhilarated that it is no longer being held responsible for the chaotic events taking place in Egypt. Instead they are now being portrayed as victims of a different “foreign hand,” which sponsored the storming of their embassy in Cairo.
Friday’s incident at the Israeli Embassy, in which thousands of angry protestors – surprisingly – managed to storm the embassy, is being portrayed by Egypt’s flagship newspaper Al-Ahram as fueled by elements of the “counter-revolution” that seeks the fall of the Egyptian state.
In its main headline, the paper speaks of “the involvement of a number of neighboring countries in providing ‘huge beyond imagination’ funds to Egyptian NGOs.”
Justice Minister Abdel Aziz al-Guindi told Al-Ahram that a country from the Gulf gave LE181 million to a small Egyptian NGO.
Guindi added that he has received a report that shows that several neighboring countries have offered million of pounds to Egyptian human rights and civil society organizations, some of which are not registered.
He also said that he has submitted a report to the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the prime minister to take appropriate action against the inflow of funds, adding that the cabinet will announce the report’s findings within the next few days.
Guindi added that these “foreign hands” – and local ones – have been behind other incidents of violence in Egypt, seeking to sabotage state institutions, undermine national security, and intimidate citizens.
One might cast doubt over the relationship between the demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy and a small NGO receiving millions of pounds, but Al-Ahram doesn’t address such logical inconsistencies.
An editorial in the same paper echoes the article’s sinister tone, with a lead blaring, “The secrets of the plot facing Egypt.”
It reads, “Today, the details of the plot facing Egypt are appearing. The plot doesn’t challenge the Egyptian revolution only; more dangerously, it aims to make Egypt reel in chaos.”
Following the events at the Israeli Embassy, the Egyptian government announced its intent to fully implement the decades-old Emergency Law.
It’s easy to forget that the repeal of the state of emergency was a top demand of protesters who took the streets against former President Hosni Mubarak in January and February. That mood has clearly changed now, although the SCAF declared last month that they had begun the process of ending the state of emergency before parliamentary elections that are expected to be held in November.
Despite this very fact, state-run Al-Gomhurriya praised the move of fully implementing the exceptional measures enshrined in the widely-reviled law. The newspaper runs a lengthy feature quoting “legal experts” defending the re-implementation of the law, saying that such a move would restore the prestige of the state and its stability.