Egypt’s Emergency Law needs to go

Issandr El Amrani writes:

Tomorrow is is set to be the “Friday of Deafening Silence,” the latest in “million-man” protests to take place since Hosni Mubarak was deposed on February 11. Yes, it’s a silly name. But this could be one of the more important protests that has taken place in a while.

Unfortunately, the picture has been muddied by last week’s break-in at the Israeli embassy and the raids on interior ministry facilities, which are in part reported to have been attempts at destroying criminal records, etc. Considering the rather surprising reaction to the embassy incident — almost unanimous condemnation by political parties, activist groups, media figures, etc. including many Islamists of the embassy break-in and the other events of the day — the current atmosphere is somewhat confused. On the one hand, last week’s incidents have really driven home the need (and perhaps even more importantly, the public’s desire) for greater order, and the difficult task of simultaneously empowering the ministry of interior to do its job and reforming it.

The ruling SCAF’s reaction to the events, though, are a turn more dramatic and dangerous than the embassy break-in itself. The SCAF has decided not only to reinstate the full force of the Emergency Law Mubarak and his police used to rule for 30 years, but also Mubarak-like restrictions on media and other sundry measures, such as criminalizing (again, under the Emergency Law) “attacks on freedom of work”. At a time when workers’ movements are gathering in a steadily growing number of strikes (teachers, postal workers, etc.) to insure that the social part of the revolution makes gains, it is plain that SCAF is using the embassy incident to advance a draconian security agenda. Combined with the lingering debate over the electoral law, the lack of clarity on the transition process (notably suggestions that SCAF may handpick the members of a constituent assembly and the lack of a date for the presidential elections) and the unresolved question of the use of military tribunals (which may be replaced under the emergency law by “Emergency Courts” which are equally problematic), one gets the sense of “Mubarakism without Mubarak.”

Amnesty International says:

The Egyptian military authorities’ expansion of the emergency law is the greatest erosion of human rights since the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, Amnesty International said today.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) broadened the application of the Mubarak-era emergency law early this week following clashes between demonstrators and security forces at the Israeli embassy last Friday. The confrontation resulted in three reported deaths and some 130 arrests.

Restricted in 2010 to terrorism and drug crimes, the emergency law has now reverted to its original scope, covering offences that include disturbing traffic, blocking roads, broadcasting rumours, possessing and trading in weapons, and “assault on freedom to work” according to official statements.

“These changes are a major threat to the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the right to strike,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We are looking at the most serious erosion of human rights in Egypt since Mubarak stepped down.”

“The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt’s laws back to the bad old days. Even President Mubarak limited the scope of the emergency law to terrorism and drug offences in May last year,” said Philip Luther.

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