Friday, March 24, 2006

The End for the State of Emergency?

Recent comments from Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif indicates that the State of Emergency, in effect since Sadat's assassination more than two decades ago, may soon come to an end. Amnesty International, and Egyptian reformers, have long expressed concerned that the provisions under the State of Emergency are at the core of many human rights abuses.

Nazif was quoted last week in an interview with Reuters that the State of Emergency would be lifted once parliament passes a law giving the government adequate resources to fight terrorism. Here's the story from the interview.

Egypt's emergency legislation severely restricts freedom of expression, association and assembly. The Emergency Law (Law No. 162 of 1958 as amended) empowers President Mubarak to impose censorship and to order the closure and confiscation of newspapers on grounds of "public safety" and "national security", and anyone considered "a threat to national security and public order" can be detained indefinitely without charge or trial.

Unfortunately, the prime minister's comments are not necessarily a positive sign. It would not be surprising if the government merely substitutes legislative authority for human rights abuses for its current State of Emergency powers. The focus of the debate can not be simply on eliminating the State of Emergency, but also on the abuses that came from it. Any legislation that extends the government's powers to censor, to detain without charge or trial, to hold incommunicado (increasing the possibility of torture) and the use of extraordinary military or security or emergency courts must be opposed. If this happens, it will be just another example of the Mubarak government's effort to provide sham reform in lieum of the real thing.

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